Name: Susan Shaffette
Organization: Team Dynamics
Location: Mandeville, Louisiana
Birthplace: St. Paul, Minnesota
Education: Associate of Arts in Accounting
• Freelance accounting, event planning and conference management, 1989-2002
• Nonprofit community work following Hurricane Katrina in 2005
• Founded Team Dynamics in 2009
When people think of meeting and event planners, swanky hotels and glitzy events often come to mind. But meeting planning is usually far from glamorous, and in many sectors, like non-profit and government agencies, planners must have specialized skills and training.
“It’s a totally different animal — it requires an extra level of work, which is why I and everyone I hire are CGMP [Certified Government Meeting Professional] trained,” Susan Shaffette, CEO and president of Team Dynamics, a Louisiana-based meeting planning agency, said about planning government meetings. “There are lots of details other meeting and event planners don’t have to consider, such as working on a government per diem rate and budget, or that people need to be seated according to the rank they hold.”
Shaffette came into her role by accident. While doing the accounting and database management for a nonprofit organization as a contractor, she was tasked with coordinating the annual meeting. It was her first experience handling all the particulars — from breakout rooms to catering — needed for a successful meeting. She realized the nonprofit and government events were a niche that required planners who could organize events within required parameters. She founded Team Dynamics in 2009 to handle meeting planning for that niche.
Today Shaffette has a staff of 20 who work remotely across the country. Her client roster includes government entities like the Louisiana Supreme Court and child welfare services, along with People First of Louisiana, which serves people with disabilities, and many other groups that focus on social welfare issues. She has produced the Together We Can Conference for 20 years, gathering social workers, judges, educational leaders, foster parents and others who work with abused and neglected children.
“This is heartstring work,” Shaffette said. “My favorite part of what I do is developing relationships with people who are doing such important work for families and children.” Shaffette brings her professional network and creativity to bear for many government agency clients, such as the National Indian and Native American WIC Coalition.
“We helped organize their biannual event and became their support team,” she said. “Where many of these events had been organized and run by volunteers in the past, they already have a job that is not organizing a national conference. And because we are fast and professional — this is our area of expertise — we improved things, and it was the first time the event had been in the black.” While much of the work she does is to help organize people who deal with fairly extreme situations and heavy subjects, Shaffette makes a point of creating activities that are fun and designed to forge connections.
“We deal with some seriously intense topics, so we plan an evening event where everyone goes to Acadian Village for Cajun food, dancing and Zydeco music — everyone can relax and refresh themselves,” Shaffette said. “Many times the attendees are working on opposite sides, like a parent advocate and a public defender representing children. You have a whole lot of people trying to do the right thing and they have good intentions, so it means so much when a client says it was perfect.”
Tips from Susan Shaffette
• Always use the CVB contacts at your meeting destination — they know their meeting spaces very well and can help through resources, RFP distribution and filtering, and fun options.
• Reach out to your SGMP chapter if you work with government funds and get certified as a CGMP. You learn so much about government meetings and regulations.
• Remember to have fun! Add a day onto each location and explore. Can you really say you have been somewhere if all you did was stay in the hotel?