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Our Featured Meeting Planner:
Karen E. Gilster


Karen Gilster has been the Executive Officer of Wisconsin Land Title Association since 1996. Prior to this position, Karen was a licensed real estate broker and sales agent for 20 years in the La Crosse market. During her years as a Realtor she served on almost every committee for the Greater La Crosse Board of Realtors and was a Director for many years. Karen also was on the Board of Governors Education Committee for the Wisconsin Realtor Assn. and active on Education level for the National Association of Realtors as well. She was named Greater La Crosse Realtor of the Year in 1988.

Karen began her business career as the Public Service Director and High Quiz Bowl Coordinator for Channel 8-TV in La Crosse. This was a position that taught her a lot about media, public relations, event and production planning, scripting, community, entertainment, advertising and many more skills that contribute to her success as a meeting planner.

Karen has chaired the Parent Teacher Organization for the West Salem Elementary School for 2 years, is now establishing a Middle School PTO and hopes to eventually activate a High School PTO for her community. She has served as Secretary, Director and served 3 terms as President of West Salem Hockey Association. Other community activities include 4-H adult leader, Citizens for a Rational Debate (an ad-hoc group supporting public debate on a county building project), West Salem Schools Building Committee, St. Leo's Altar Society, Rec League Baseball Coach, Board of Directors for La Crosse County Democratic Party.

Karen has 3 sons. Norman (24) will be married this October. Ethan (13) and Andy (11). She loves gardening, antiquing, traveling and especially exploring Wisconsin. The most important things in her life surround family activities and events. She grew up on a farm and is the oldest of 10 children.

How I came to be a meeting planner:

In 1996 I experienced professional "burn out." The Real Estate Industry had been good to me but it was time for a new challenge. One very obvious thing I had learned over the years of being "involved" in both my trade association as well as my community, was that I had a real love for organizing, committee work, event planning and the science of parliamentary law. I made calls to two of my mentors in the real estate world and told them I was looking for a job that would employ those skills. Within a week, one of them called and told me the Executive Director of the Title and Abstracting Industry was retiring. Would I be interested? I interviewed for the position, got it and 8 years later am still excited about the career change.

Meeting stories to learn from:

Being first is not necessarily the best!

A few years ago we had our biggest function of the year at a brand new resort in a quiet little community. The only function the staff had previously done was a wedding the week before. The facility was beautiful but so new that there weren't even pictures on the walls and much of the common area furniture had not yet arrived. We were doing a very polished opening ceremony using a color guard to present the colors with a video of panoramic views on a large screen set to America the Beautiful. It was all planned at the request of our very first woman president and we were hoping to really put on a class act. All of the details had been set with the hotel but on that morning, just one hour away from the event, the hotel told us they didn't have a VCR and had to run to Walmart to get one and then try to find someone to hook it up into their system. It did not get done in time and we had to scrap the production, much to our complete disappointment. But that was not the end of the nightmare of working with an inexperienced staff. From then on, it was one goof up after another. Room keys consistantly did not work, events were not in the rooms they had originally assigned me, staff forgot to put silverware on the banquet tables, they didn't know where things were in their own kitchen. One employee dumped Au Ju over a past president, and it went on and on. By the end of the event, I knew the kitchen better than they did and was completely exhausted. Would we go back? Absolutely! The place was gorgeous. But the moral of the story: If you are going to work with a brand new facility in a small market, being "first" is not necessarily the best!

Don't trust the sales package-see for yourself!

I once previewed the video of a speaker who came from out of state, was employed in the title industry and had served as the president of his state association. His selling point was that he could talk our language, had a message but that he also entertained in his presentation using a banjo. His promotional material was very polished and so we hired him. I told him to be completely set up with his equipment early that morning so that we would not have to interrupt our agenda for set up time. This he did, however, when it was his turn to go on, he couldn't get the amplifier to work. He fumbled around with it, starting and stopping over and over again. At first my audience and I thought it was part of a comedy act but after 10 minutes, we all realized he was completely unprepared, frazzled, nervous and so we took a break. Some of my attendees left shaking their heads and didn't return. When we came back to the session and he completed his presentation, it was horrible. The print materials and the video were so very much better than his actual show. None of it tied together with the industry. It just plain "stunk". Now the big joke is, Karen can always hire a banjo player for our upcoming event. It is pretty funny now but it wasn't at that time. Moral of the story: Don't ever hire a speaker based on flashy, polished promotional material alone. First hand knowledge or referrals directly from someone who has personally heard the speaker is the absolute best insurance policy for success!

Don't turn wine into water!

At an event not long ago, a spouse of a member called me to say it was going to be her husband's 50th birthday while we would be at the old "bunny club" which is now a beautiful resort. Would I help her do a little birthday recognition for him??? We brainstormed and decided to give him a cake with the "bunny logo" on it and that we would have someone come in with it dressed like a bunny. Not a "Playboy Bunny" but a person dressed in a baggy pink one piece pajama complete with bunny bedroom slippers and bunny ears. The outfit and idea were cute but there were no volunteers. My committee convinced me that I should do it and so during dinner, to get up enough courage, I started drinking wine like it was water. After 4 glasses, I donned the costume and carried the "well lit" birthday cake out to him in costume with painted-on whiskers, a pink nose and white tail and lead everyone in Happy Birthday! It actually was pretty cute and everyone roared. But this bunny knew that it was time to retire to her room and sleep off the wine! A very smart decision, considering -- but not much fun! Moral of the story: Bunnies should not drink too much wine! And if they do, they should disappear!

Greatest Success Story

I had attended an event that a local radio station had put on that was lots of fun and got all of the persons in attendance involved in a contest. In my 3rd year in my position, I called the radio station and talked to the disc jockey who had planned the event and he shared with me how he had one it. I then hired a disc jockey (who coincidentally ended up being a Registrar of Deeds, an office my industry works with on a daily basis). The only other cost involved, besides the disc jockey, was the cost of some prizes. I researched and found ten number one songs in years spanning the 40's thru the 80's and matched each with current event trivia from each of those years. We made a contest out of which songs went with which years and the trivia of current events from each of the years. We intermingled the contest with other music throughout the night and at the end of the night we gave them the answers and gave the winners their prizes. I had a Past President, his wife, daughter and her husband approach me who said, "Karen, we have been attending WLTA events for many years and we have NEVER stayed till the end of the entertainment. This is the MOST FUN WE HAVE EVER HAD! THANK YOU! Moral of the story: Involve your audience and give them a memorable experience! It doesn't always have to cost a lot of money. And don't forget to Gloat in your Success!

Featured Meeting Planner

Favorite Quote

"Involve your audience and give them a memorable experience! It doesn't always have to cost a lot of money. And don't forget to Gloat in your Success!"