Meet Our Member: Maryland’s Own Tara S.

Meet Our Member

Written by Cara O'Neill

Cara O’Neill is a Project Manager at GCG Event Partners where she has happily set up shop for over 15 years. Her professional background may be in the meeting & event industry; however, she enjoys the multi-tasking involved in her day-to-day operations contributing to marketing GCG and the many services it provides.

July 23, 2018

Located just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Tara has managed hundreds of meetings and events for GCG Event Partners. Having joined our membership in February of 2012, Tara has become a vital addition to our network of onsite professionals. Whether it be managing medical meetings, educational symposiums, dinner meetings or movie theater events, she has always gone above and beyond to ensure the event has a flawless execution. Our clients specifically request her services for their meetings taking place in the North-Central Maryland cities of Baltimore, Columbia and Abington to name a few. I’ve personally partnered with Tara on many assignments and have been waiting for the right time time to introduce her to you. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tara and learn a little more about her beginnings and experiences working in the industry.

How long have you been working in the meeting and event industry?Tara Smith
I have been working professionally in this industry for 13 years. I originally began planning events for family and friends and then extended my business to assist friends of family and friends back in 2000.

What do you enjoy most about being a meeting planner?
When it comes to meeting planning, what I love most is the diversity it offers. I’m afforded the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and be exposed to new things about different countries, heritages and religions. It has also allowed me to learn the do’s and don’ts of planning events for various groups. I’ve been able to network with so many different individuals and make new connections in other industries outside of the meeting and event industry.

For which types of meetings do you provide on-site meeting management services?
I am most involved in providing meeting and event services for medical, corporate, nonprofit and the social industries. Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of being introduced to the sports industry and have planned and managed a professional car racing event.

How has the meeting and event industry grown and changed in Maryland in the last decade?
Like most states across the country, working in this profession in Maryland can be challenging at times. Because there are so many new event planners who have joined the industry, it can be difficult acquiring new contract opportunities. Over the past few years its become obvious that there are more planners in our industry than opportunities available. The great thing about Maryland however, is that its hospitality industry is growing with the influx of new restaurants, hotels and casinos opening in the area which will undoubtedly provide for more employment opportunities.

What are your favorite types of onsite management assignments?
I enjoy working at all types of onsite management assignments. I absolutely love full-service assignments where I serve as the lead on-site professional because it gives me an opportunity to interact with everyone involved and demonstrate how we can bring a montage of ideas together to create a successful event. Registration assignments are great because as a registrar you are the first face the attendees see. Your demeanor can make or break that event for them simply by the way you interact with them. Meet and greets are another favorite type of assignment because I LOVE TO SMILE AND TALK and these types of assignments are all about helping others and leaving them with a positive and memorable impression.

What do you enjoy most about independent contract work?
I enjoy being an independent contractor because it allows me to work with a variety of industries, people and organizations. I have been given opportunities that I may not have been given otherwise if I were tied down to full-time employment with just one organization. It also allows me the ability to accept those assignments that work for my schedule and decline those offers that don’t without having to worry about receiving repercussions for declining. Independent contract work has helped me gain expertise in areas other than meeting and event planning as well. It has opened more doors for me and provided me with the opportunity to enlist the help of others on some contracts. I really enjoy mentoring professionals who are new to the industry.

What has been your biggest challenge working as an onsite meeting professional?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced has been when clients don’t let me assist them. I have had onsite experiences where clients are confused as to what my role is and why I am onsite with them. In some instances, even after I’ve had a chance to provide an explanation to them, they have chosen not to use my services as if I wasn’t there.

What do you consider important strengths to possess to be a successful meeting professional?
Although it may sound cliché, being a great listener is an extremely important strength to have. You can miss valuable information being communicated from your client which can cause you to omit very important key points in their meeting. That can be cause for an unsuccessful outcome for their meeting and an extremely disappointed client.

What was the best piece of advice someone working within this industry has offered to you that you found to be helpful?
The best piece of advice that was given to me without an explanation was to be the surgeon that saves the life of an event. Of course, I was like “WHAT?!”, but then once the time came where I encountered a problem at an event, I understood that statement completely. I quickly came to realize that not only was I was the onsite representative at that event, but also the responsible party for making sure the issue was resolved and the event went on seamlessly.

What is the best piece of advice you would offer to someone new to the meeting and event industry?
The best piece of advice I would offer is to not wear your heart on your sleeve. This industry is not for the faint at heart or for those that are not ready and willing to take constructive criticism or just plain old criticism. It would serve someone well to learn not to take everything personally as this can be a tough business.

In your experience as an onsite professional, what tip or valuable lesson learned would you like to share?
Always, always, always be prepared for anything and everything. My family always laughs when we go on trips or out for the day and say there’s the event planner because I am always prepared for the what-ifs. You never know what or when something can go wrong during an event or meeting. When managing an event that calls for A/V equipment, I pack my own equipment and bring it with me just in case what has been ordered doesn’t work.  My trusty supply kit includes my WIFI connector, my laptop, two, yes two flash drives with backup presentations and boxes of pens (which are never returned); people love pens for some reason. I try my best to be as prepared as possible to ensure my clients’ meetings and events are a success on all fronts.

So, outside of your busy professional life, what are your other interests and hobbies?
I LOVE TO SHOP! Oh…I know it’s a terrible hobby or shall I say habit. I also love traveling and again I always seem to find somewhere to shop!! Over the past 5 years I have acquired a new hobby rehabbing houses with my boyfriend. I have found it to be a great way to release tension and showcase my talent with interior decorating. I also enjoy cooking and spending time with my family, sharing wonderful old memories and creating new ones.

If you’d like to learn more about or from Tara, please let me know. I’d be happy to connect you.

You May Also Like…


  1. M

    Worked with Tara for the first time in 2017. She was so terrific that I requested her again for the same event this year — thank goodness she was available and accepted the assignment!

    Tara most definitely presented as extremely collected under pressure and maintained a notable air of professionalism from start to finish. As I clearly recall, she REALLY DID SMILE all morning — even during the not so glamorous post event tasks.

    By the time the day was over, it felt like Tara was a longtime member of the organization’s staff. She truly was that high quality ‘right hand’ you need and come to depend on in the events industry.

    I look forward to connecting with Tara again in a few weeks as I know that I’m getting one of GCG’s best!

    M. Henderson

    • Cara O'Neill

      Thank you for your glowing comments about Tara. We completely agree with you about her can-do attitude and exceptional level of professionalism. That is what makes her a standout among her peers and one of the best in our network!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *