The Women Who Make It Happen

Whiskey In A Teacup

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 Eliza Nicola is our Director of Venue Procurement. Looking to host us, contact Eliza. 

Eliza is from a small town, Brandenburg, in Kentucky. She Graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2007 with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Marketing Major / Entrepreneurship Minor. 

She moved to Nashville in August 2007 to work in the Hospitality Industry and worked for various hotels as Catering Sales Manager from 2007-2013. In January 2014,  she accepted Sales & Event Manager position at Morton's The Steakhouse and trains for other locations.

She is a newly wed, as she just got married in Barbados to her husband Mike Nicola or aka "Jersey Mike." When she isn't spending time with her husband or walking her adorable Pomksy, Mosby you can find Eliza reading novels, autobiographies, attending concerts or watching  comedy movies and forensic/crime shows.

Straight Whiskey, No Chaser

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 Holly Carpenter is our Director of Registration. 

Growing up Holly thought she wanted to be an elementary school teacher until her first semester in college when she realized she didn't like the idea of being in a room full of children every day. After making friends with the Adviser for the Hospitality program she decided to switch her major to Hotel and Restaurant Management.  This is also when she decided she wanted to follow her dream to move to Nashville and work for Gaylord Opryland someday.

After working for a couple of hotels as a front desk manager, Holly started to research how she could get on the sales team because they got to go out for lunch every day.  From there she started networking through the local chamber and eventually planned weddings for the Historic Hotel Northampton. In 2009 she decided to finally bite the bullet and move to Nashville to chase her dream.  

After living in Nashville six months she was hired as a Conference Coordinator at Opryland!  She was also apart of the clean up crew and reopening team after the flood in 2010.

Currently Holly is the Nashville Event Sales Manager for A. Marshall Hospitality and plans events and catering for Puckett's Nashville and Deacon's New South. Holly is  very involved in multiple organizations like MPI, Business Networking International (BNI), Music City Concierge Association(MCCA) & her favorite is Heels and Handshakes! She has never met a stranger and  wouldn't be where she is today if someone didn't take a chance on her. She is currently taking applications for a husband LOL - When she isn't working, she is enjoying time with her 2 fur babies Smudge and Maggie as well as working towards her next goal of loving herself inside and out (Currently lost 22lbs in March 2018).

Red Bull, She Keeps Going and Going

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 Colleen Cussick is over Community Service and Director of New Members. 

Colleen has been involved in live events since she started booking bands in high school, booking concerts at the University of Arizona, touring as a PA, providing production for all events - social, musical and corporate, then planning Galas and Special Events while also serving three terms on the Meeting Professionals Int'l Tennessee Board as Director of Strategic Alliances, and hopes to continue planning events with the non-profit world. 

Colleen has been giving back to the Nashville Community since arriving over 20 years ago, volunteering for the Am. Cancer Society, Hands On Nashville, Second Harvest Food Bank, Nashville Reads, the Humane Society, among many others. As a mom to four kittyboys, a former educator, and a woman in the male-dominated production industry, she believes in helping women, children and animals find their voice and power since they unfortunately aren't given it enough in our society. 

Colleen has never met a stranger, and her voice not only helps those who have been muted by circumstances, she is also the "human microphone" for our events when there isn't one available! 

Meet Us

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Classic Cosmo

 Shannen Stewart is the Founder of Heels and Handshakes. You will see Shannen at various networking events throughout the city. She has served on the board for the International Live Events Association and completed the Nashville Junior Chamber’s Leadership Institute and is an active member of the Tennessee Chapter of Meeting Professionals International where she previously served as the Director of Special Projects. When Shannen isn’t attending educational luncheons or networking events she is running her own. Shannen started Heels and Handshakes as she wanted to have a community for women in the events industry. This private networking group gives women access to business leads, job opportunities and most importantly connections with other successful women in the event industry. Among her passion for events and networking, Shannen loves spending time with her husband, adorable son, and two fur babies. 

Board Members

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Amanda Bledsoe, Director of New Members
 

Amanda Bledsoe has an extensive background in catering and event planning. She started her career in the hotel industry as a catering manager in 2001. She has worked with TomKats as the Director of Catering and Events and Vanderbilt University as the event planner for the Department of Public Affairs. She also opened the Hutton Hotel as the Social Events Manager and was previously the Community Relations Specialist for the City of Brentwood. She is currently back to her love of high-end events and catering and is the Business Development Manager for G Catering. 

Amanda grew up Brentwood and went to Alabama for college. She returned to Nashville after a few years in San Francisco to be closer to family and because she loves the south. She currently resides in Brentwood and has a nine-year-old son. 

She volunteers for the Williamson County Heritage Foundation, Williamson County Habitat for Humanity and Lipscomb Elementary PTO. 

Heather Gibson, Director of Sponsordhip

Heather Gibson, Director of Sponsorship 


Writing a bio is hard for someone like Heather who prefers to work behind the scenes. Since beginning in the event industry over fifteen years ago, Heather has planned events big and small, appreciating how a well-thought-out event can really drive a message home. Whether an intimate wedding of 80 or a parade of 80,000, Heather brings dedication, passion and an eye-for-detail to truly deliver a partner’s vision.

Originally from California, Heather loves living in Tennessee and planting her “southern roots.” When not working, you can find Heather running through the Brentwood greenway, taking her three furbabies to the dog park, or eating all the bbq she can get her hands on.  She loves renovating her house with her husband, learning about SEC football and volunteering at the YWCA’s Weaver Center. She’s pretty well traveled so if you need any recommendations, feel free to hit her up and pick her brain!

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Old Fashioned, Manhattans & Margs, Oh My!

Marcy Mac, Director of Recruitment
 

Marisa McWilliams is our Director of Membership.  a.k.a. "Marcy Mac', she truly began her career in Hospitality at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel after taking a summer internship in southern CA while attending the University of Texas San Antonio. Her deep Texas roots pulled her back to the south when she transitioned into the Music Industry here in Nashville. Since that time, she has worked as a leader in the Entertainment, Hospitality, Events, Meetings, Media, & Trade Show industries.

Having moved back to Texas & working for a world-renowned Exhibitions Co., she realized that although she was a true Lone Star state gal at heart, she missed her life back in Tennessee. Every day. July 4th weekend 2011, with her sweet Momma & beloved Beagle girl Reba Mac in tow, she made the trip back to Nashville that would eventually lead her to her hearts desires...in career, friendships, professional growth, music, sports & in love. Formerly of SouthComm & Rudy's Jazz Room, she is currently the Sales & Marketing Manager for BB King's Blues Club Nashville. She has served in membership as well as in leadership on various industry Board of Directors, both professional & non-profit, to include VP Membership, Director of Member Care & Gala Chair(s) for the Meeting Professionals Intl. TN Chapter. Currently a member of NCVC, Chamber of Commerce Music Advisory Group & as a vocalist in her spare time, a very proud member of the Nashville Symphony Chorus. 

Growing up a Coach & Music teacher's daughter, I learned very early on how to take constructive criticism. I also learned the power of encouragement & the power of a kind, spoken word. Nashville is a city who does both really well.  And if Nashville is the well-versed & kind-hearted Matriarch, then Heels & Handshakes is the experienced, connected, classy, funny, kick-ass older sister. 

About Us

Scotch, neat.

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Ashleigh Cote, Brand Warrior

 

Ashleigh is from the great white north and started working in trade shows for the Michigan Restaurant Association while getting an (ever practical) degree in German language from Michigan State University where she graduated Cum Laude. While six months of winter and 300 cloudy days a year is tempting, she ended up moving to Florida after school where she started contracting for a German presentation-management company that worked with large medical conferences (there’s that practical German degree coming in handy)! She was soon promoted to project manager and moved to Tennessee when that company was purchased by an audio visual company in Nashville. Since tech-blacks are flattering on every figure, she decided to continue in the AV world with Macro Productions in 2011 and hasn’t looked back.

Ashleigh also serves on the MPI board of directors as the director of strategic alliances and enjoys volunteering with teenagers weekly, traveling with her husband and dogs, reading, and skiing (both water & snow). Book recommendations: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, and “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson.

Champagne in a red solo cup

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 Amanda Flynn, Creative Director

Amanda Flynn was born and raised in the tiny truckstop town of Smiths Grove, Kentucky.  Named after the Bob McDill penned classic "Amanda", her love for all things songwriting and Country Music began from the very beginning. 

Moving to Nashville over a decade ago, she's witnessed the extensive and rapid growth of Music City first hand, as a songwriter and entrepreneur. By investing her time curating collaborative events such as "Hits & Giggles" and "Workin' Women's Wednesday", embracing those new to town, with her heartfelt intention to keep the "it" city's authentic, community driven ‘small town feel’ alive.  

In 2017 Amanda had the opportunity to showcase her creative talents and passion for the community by embracing a new and unique role at the historic Acme Feed & Seed as their Community & Creative Sales Coordinator.

It's her enthusiasm combined with her ‘grit and grace’ approach towards keeping Nashville true to its roots that continues to launch her into what will be a very successful impact and career in Music City

Makers Neat

Director of Community Engagment
Jenna White joins us from…well from all over really! Jenna began her

 Jenna, Director of Community Engagement

Jenna White joins us from…well from all over really! Jenna began her professional story over 20years ago with Enterprise Holdings in Washington, DC and journeyed from there to Seattle, South Jersey and Gainesville, FL before finally taking root here in Nashville. Throughout her career she’s been a facilitator of new initiatives and her passion for innovation and teamwork has helped her build teams across diverse industries and markets.

Family brought Jenna to Nashville and when she landed she said “I want a job that’s fun, innovative with quality people and music,” which landed her at Ole Red as part of the original hire group when they opened. Since joining Ole Red, Jenna’s been promoted from operations to Event Coordinator and loves the dynamic, collaborative and empowering environment of her team. Jenna’s just getting started in the Nashville community but has a passion for community investment having served on the CEO Council for Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, United Way of North Central Florida’s Board of Directors and as Social Justice Chair for United Church of Gainesville for several years.

Jenna can be found enjoying anything outside, weather permitting, with her sidekick Clover (her Boxer-baby) and is always down to enjoy any SEC sporting event. Jenna’s a bourbon neat girl for sure, nothing fancy just straight forward good taste – so feel free to introduce yourself anytime!

About Us

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Amy Kortman, Director of Programs

 

Amy is a Southern California girl born and raised. After 3 years in Nashville, Music City finally feels like home. Amy fell into the meetings and events industry 4 years ago when a Catering Sales Manager position was offered to her at a networking event. After years in Aerospace Sales (boring!) and Direct Sales (rough!), she immediately thrived in her new career. Amy is now the Group Sales Manager at Holston House Nashville. When she is not working, you can find Amy at home loving on her husband and 2-year-old son. Amy is always looking for a good book recommendation and dreams of being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune one day. 

Whiskey & Ginger

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 Laura Wheeler

She graduated from Ball State University with a BA in Speech Communications and 3 minors:   Organizational Communication, Marketing and Foundations of Business.  In 1995 she packed up and left her hometown in Indiana headed for Nashville.   She started bartending and serving at the Wildhorse shortly after she arrived and was there for 20 years.  17 of those years she spent there as Sales & Catering Manager.  After leaving in March of 2017 to spread her wings, she has now landed as the Event Sales Manager for Famous Saloon, running the department, providing the best of service to her clients and growing the business! 

Making her even prouder is her son, Devon, who just turned 24 and is now graduated from TN Tech and working in the finance and insurances industry.  When she is not with her son, networking, booking or setting up events Laura spends her time with the Southern Cross Boston Terrier Rescue as the event planner for their annual Boston Tea Party, helping with fundraisers and also as a foster mom to a incredible 14 year old forever foster plus her 3 previously rescued Bostons.  In fact, if you go to her house you simply must see the guest bathroom which of course is decorated in all (you guessed it) Boston Terrier!!!   Aside from her son and her pups, she also loves teaching yoga at the Donelson YMCA where she has been now a fitness instructor for 19 years.  When requested Laura  also teaches morning yoga to the convention groups who come into town.  She loves the opportunity to share her passion for taking care of mind, soul  & body. 

Rose all day

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Ashley Mcduffie, Director of Student Members

 

Born and raised in Memphis, TN Ashley is a true Tennessee at heart. Around 10 years old, Ashley decided she wanted to be a wedding planner. From then on, she took over planning anything and everything she could. Whether it was her senior prom or a friend’s birthday party, Ashley was always the one planning. She decided to attend Mississippi State University for college. After an event planning internship and serving as her sorority’s social chair, she knew she had found her calling. Upon graduating from Mississippi State University in May of 2019 with a degree in public relations and marketing, Ashley knew it was time to go back to Tennessee. She set her sites on Nashville to pursue a career in the events industry. Ashley found out about Heels & Handshakes through a contact she had been emailing back and forth with. She joined the Facebook page and immediately got plugged in. She started her career as a Project Assistant at Chef’s Market through a job alert on Heels & Handshakes and dived right into the industry. In her free time, Ashley can be found spending time with her friends and family, watching SEC sports, and going to CycleBar