New Meeting and Event Planning Instructors Share Their Insight

Four new instructors are teaching Meeting and Event Planning classes at SDSU Global Campus this spring and fall. 

Nicole Matthews is the founder of The Henley Company, an event, travel, and lifestyle firm. She is teaching Meeting Planning Basics, and can’t wait to apply her local and international event planning expertise to her course. 

Weddings & Social Events will be taught by Staci Tiras-Jones. Tiras-Jones is the founder and event coordinator for STJ Events. She focuses on planning unforgettable events and celebrations. 

Marla Harr is teaching The Art of Selling in April. She is the founder of 3C Management and a consultant at Business Etiquette International. She is well versed in leadership training,  business etiquette, and consulting. 

Kira Finkenberg is the owner and founder of The Kira Co., a concert marketing and event company. Finkenberg’s expertise ranges from local music events to international stadium events. She will be teaching Festivals and Public Events this fall.

All four instructors have adapted to the changes in the meeting and event planning world, and are looking forward to sharing these skills with prospective students. 

Instructors’ Perspective 

How did you start your event planning career and how did that take you to where you are today? 

Marla Harr

Harr: Like a lot of us, I had several parties and helped other friends with their events and thought this is easy–maybe a career change! I was really wrong on the “easy” part. I started working part-time (kept my real job–one has to eat) and quickly learned I was headed from retail into a new world with a new language, protocols, and players. A friend in the industry invited me to an MPI lunch as a guest and I knew then that I did want to change careers and jumped in with establishing Celebrations by design. My involvement with MPI helped me succeed with making connections, learning our trade, and even getting some of my favorite jobs.

I always encourage students to get involved with obtaining their certificate, CMP, and joining a professional organization like MPI–get active–join a committee–attend meetings.

How has event planning changed over the last few years?  What can you do to adapt to changes in the industry?   

Staci Tiras-Jones

Tiras-Jones: Prior to COVID, social media really changed the industry. In addition to the crazy amount of information out there, there are so many pictures and ideas for people to see and get inspired by. It was no longer enough just to be a good planner…you also needed to have a social media presence, and be able to focus on pictures and branding. 

In the last few years, COVID has really changed the landscape of our business. Now we have to really think “outside the ballroom” to produce safe and unique events, many of which are actually outside. Prior to COVID, we’d have one backup plan. Now we have to create a variety of scenarios weeks before an event since we aren’t sure what will be safe/allowed. In order to be successful now, it’s vital to be flexible…to think of new ways of engaging people, and of course… understand the nuances of hybrid events.  

How does your course help students start their event planning careers? What are you excited about focusing on?  

Matthews: It’s always a pleasure to teach an entry-level event planning course because I get to not only help students establish a foundation and best practices, but also to share real-world examples that hopefully inspire. After 20 years in the industry, I have plenty of stories to share from the trenches. Even with decades of experience, I feel lucky to be an event producer. 

Nicole Matthews

Finkenberg: I try to give the students a broad look at events, that it’s not just wedding planning and charity events, look at the big picture. My background is in live music and concerts, so I use that experience and my relationships in the industry to give students a real look inside of the industry!

Tiras-Jones: My course gives students great information on the nuances of weddings and social events. In addition to weddings, I’m excited to introduce a variety of social events that perhaps people aren’t as familiar with. We will discuss how weddings differ from culture to culture and important things to know about the industry. 

I am also looking forward to talking about the wedding industry as a whole and how collaboration between coordinators and vendors can take your business to the next level.

Kira Finkenberg

What advice would you give to a newcomer to the event planning industry?

Harr: Welcome, your new ideas and energy are needed and appreciated. Get involved in meeting/hospitality professional organizations, and take classes to learn from experienced meeting/hospitality leaders. Most importantly, be open-minded to learn from those of us who have the experience of the real world rather than a book. Don’t get me wrong some books are really good, however, the text version doesn’t often translate to actual on-site situations – this is where seasoned professionals can really guide you. 

Try for an internship, find a mentor or even a part-time job in any aspect of the industry. It’s a great industry, it’s fun, it’s hard work, and it’s rewarding.

Advance Your Career with the Meeting and Event Planning Certificate

Whether you’re hosting your first event or you’re an industry veteran, our Professional Certificate in Meeting and Event Planning can help you expand your network, adapt to industry changes, and create memorable and engaging experiences for your clients. 

Courses are now open. Visit our website to get started!