26 Meetings and Events Industry Leaders Share their Best Career Advice

Career Advice

Looming deadlines, fires that need putting out, the strain of constant travel, and all the little details that need to be taken care of are just a few reasons why working in the meetings industry is so challenging. Because of this challenge, and because most customers of eVenues have some connection to meetings and events, we thought we’d do a little outreach and ask some of the leaders in the meetings industry to contribute some of their best career advice.

This is what they had to say:

Liz Lathan“The best career advice I have received (and have definitely found it valuable in my career) is: Understand the basics of the business around you & always be curious about it. It’s important to be an expert in your field, but also important to have a broad understanding of your company, marketing (in general), and how sales works at your company. If you manage lead-generation events, understanding what margins your company gets on sales helps you calculate the necessary pipeline that your events need to generate for positive ROI. If you manage training events, understanding the content well enough to know the right environment for your training is essential.”

–Liz Lathan CMP, Event Marketing Director at Dell and Blogger at Event Philosopher


Corbin Ball“The best career advice I can offer is to join and get involved in a local chapter of one of the several meeting industry associations available such as MPI, PCMA, IAEE or others. The meetings industry is a very well connected one – it is a relationship-based industry. This is where you can learn from your peers, find the best planners/suppliers, get known by others in the industry and make great friends as well.

However, it is not a simple as just sending in your membership fee. 80% of the volunteer work is done by 20% of the members. If you get active in your chapter (and there are always plenty of jobs needing filled), you are working with this top 20% — the movers of the organization. Those that get the most out of their chapters are the ones that are giving back. Activity at the local level leads to opportunities at the national and international association level as well.

Two other quick suggestions:

1. Work to get a certification such as a CMP, CMM, CEM or others. Designations demonstrate a commitment to the industry and are an opportunity to learn and make great connections as well.

2. Do your best to keep up with technology which will likely change the meetings industry more in the next five years than it has in the past twenty years.”

–Corbin Ball CSP CMP, Owner at Corbin Ball Associates.


Dennis Shiao“Stay current and have empathy. Staying current often relates to technology, but in a broader sense, is all about keeping tabs on innovations and trends in the meetings and events space. These days, that includes social media, mobile, sustainability and much more. Regarding empathy, be sure to attend a healthy number of meetings and events throughout the year. It’s the only way you can truly understand the attendee experience.”

–Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing at INXPO and blogger at It’s All Virtual


Doreen Ashton Wagner “Be CLEAR on what YOU want. Some of it is regular stuff: salary, the hours, how much travel, how much advancement potential. But also less obvious stuff: how much autonomy to make decisions, what motivates you to get up everyday, what kind of people you like to work with, what you’re NOT WILLING to compromise.”

–Doreen Ashton Wagner, Managing Director at Greenfield Services


Michelle Bergstein-FontanezStick with what you do best and become a master at it and never over-promise. Your stellar work can act as the over promise without mention. The pitfalls of over promising is most likely you will under deliver, not intentionally, but because you promised more. You can’t control the unexpected and the unexpected usually happens when you over promise.

Be clear, upfront and honest in your communication. If you can’t meet a deadline communicate that. Accountability goes a long way! Life happens and its best to admit fault, we are all human, better to be approachable and real about any situation, no matter how much you may fear that phone call, or conversation, the burden that gets lifted alleviates so much stress you wouldn’t believe! You’ll thank me later!”

–Michelle Bergstein Fontanez, Marketing Maven Event Industry Marketing by BeatCreative


Donna KastnerWhile getting up to speed on meeting logistics is important and something you should quickly master, it’s foundational. It’s the price of admission.

Aim higher. Dream bigger. Think about WHY people attend meetings and events. They want to experience something new and meaningful. Something that helps them address their critical issues faster/better. Something they’d never find anywhere else. Lift your vision from meeting planner to business results driver. Leverage smart technologies to accelerate the value curve whenever possible.

Do this well and your event audience no longer budgets for you – they invest in you.”

–Donna Kastner, Director of Education and Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting


Shawna Suckow“Getting an industry designation is really important for credibility, especially for those who are younger or newer to the industry. The industry’s job market is pretty competitive right now, so anything you can do to set yourself apart from those just looking to “hang a shingle” will really help. If you don’t have the requirements to pursue the designation yet, then volunteer or pursue an internship – create your own internship if needed, by offering to work for free for a company that interests you. It will gain you valuable connections and experience, even if it’s only part-time for a month or two, whatever time you can spare.”

–Shawna Suckow CMP, Founder and President of the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN)


Kyle HillmanYou have to always keep learning. What was once delegated to the role of a consultant is knowledge that sets you apart. “

 

–Kyle Hillman, CMP: MPI Board Member, Co-Chair of MPI Chicago TechCon 2013


Dawn Penfold“Everyone tells you that you should do what you love. Sounds good in a blog or on a poster. It isn’t necessarily realistic or possible. Enjoying your work, being valued in your industry and community, and making money makes sense. Bottom line, keep a realistic outlook on your career.”

–Dawn Penfold CMP, President at Meetingjobs


Jessica Levin“If I could talk to my 21 year old self, I would tell her to get both classroom education and hands-on experience. I would make sure that she worked (or volunteered) in a variety of settings so that she knew what type of job(s) she would enjoy and what she wouldn’t. I would make sure asked a lot of questions and network with people who were smarter and more experienced than her. I would tell her to get involved in industry organizations and participate as best she could. I would tell myself that there will be people who will try to hold me back, but even more who are willing to help me succeed. I ask her to start helping others however she could, even if they might know more than her in certain areas. I would make sure that she talked to as many people as she could and listen to what everyone says. Then I would remind myself to form my own opinions. I would tell her to invest in a good pair of comfortable shoes because she will be on my feet a lot. I would also tell her to dress for the part she wants, not the part she has. I would encourage her to challenge the norm, once she had an understanding what the norm was. And most important, I would tell her to ask herself if she loves what she is doing and to make sure that her work is fulfilling.”

–Jessica Levin MBA CMP, President at Seven Degrees Communications


Randall Whatley“At first you will be the youngest person in the room and think you are much smarter than the old ones. At the end you will be the oldest person in the room and think you are much smarter than the young ones. If you do this, you will have been wrong both times.”

–Randall Whatley, President at Cypress Media Group


Michelle Bruno“Broaden your scope of knowledge and experience in meetings by volunteering (easier when you are new to the industry and have less on your plate) for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations and ABL (Always Be Learning).

Build your own brand whether you are self-employed or not so that your (excellent) reputation can always precede you in any job or project. Use social media channels to demonstrate your thought leadership or unique perspective.

Be proactive in cultivating friendships because it’s more satisfying to do what you do with friends and because they will be there after the job goes away.

Take criticism or “feedback” for what it is: a gift given to you to make you better at what you do. Don’t concern yourself with the person or the method of delivery. Instead, glean out the teachable nuggets and move on.”

–Michelle Bruno, President at Bruno Group Signature Events and Head Thinker at Fork in the Road


Samme Allen“As an “ex” recruiter, offering career advice is something that I’ve been fortunate to do for the last 6 or 7 years and taking my own career advice as helped me develop my career in the meetings and events industry.

1) Ensure you have a clear concise CV outlining not only the day to day responsibilities of your previous jobs but most importantly, your achievements whilst completing these duties. Employers want to see success and this is the first opportunity to highlight your skills.

2) Network. The old cliché of “who you know, rather than what you know” exists. Peer recommendation is often the biggest recruiting tool so join associations such as MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and go and meet people who not only may employ you or recommend you but they will also be your support and offer advice during your career.

3) Don’t blanket send your CV to all and sundry. It’s a personal thing getting a job and you would not want to be treated the same way.

4) Remember to enjoy the interview and really ensure that you have asked the questions and determine whether the role is right for you. If, at interview, you feel this is the case, TELL THE INTERVIEWER! Many people don’t express their enthusiasm due to nerves etc and often get passed on.

5) Social media/MPI career connections. Ensure your linked in profile is up to date, you have recommendations for each role on linked in and that the link to your profile is on your CV. Log onto www.mpiweb.org for an updated list of international meetings and events jobs.”

–Samme Allen, Head of Sales – Business Events at Barbican Centre and President, MPI UK & Ireland Chapter.


Mitchell Beer“Take a wide view, and be curious! That’s the starting point if you want to advance in your organization, differentiate yourself in a crowded job market, and anticipate the trends, issues, and challenges that will continue to reshape the meetings industry. Meetings and hospitality are vulnerable in a shaky economy, so meeting professionals and venues miss important cues if we aren’t paying attention. That’s why it’s risky (not to mention far less interesting) when we focus most or all of our attention on the logistics of a specific event, rather than the bigger picture.”

–Mitchell Beer CMM, President at the Conference Publishers


Tahira Endean“Be open to learning and you will grow every day. Think of every event as if you were the guest – would you enjoy it? You simply cannot do an event alone, surround yourself with people who are smarter and more savvy than you and make them want to be part of your team. Be courteous, kind and respectful of and to others – there will be many challenges on the road to awesome events. Remember ‘all of us’ are smarter than ‘any of us’!”

–Tahira Endean CMP, Director – Creative and Production at Cantrav and Blogger at Events, Life and Impact Points


Mariela McIlwraith“My advice for everyone in the industry is to find a mentor and to be a mentor. You’ll learn a great deal from both of these experiences, and make sure to leverage these roles for networking. Ask your mentor for introductions, and introduce the person that you’re mentoring to others – both will increase your visibility in the industry. Getting involved in professional associations – on committees or boards, is also a great way to learn from others and to make meaningful connections that translate to business results. Finally, I’d also recommend having the confidence in yourself to hire yourself – a great way of expanding your own limits and skills is to have the experience of being self-employed.”

–Mariela McIlwraith CMP CMM MBA, President at Meeting Change


Jenise Fryatt“Use social media to find and make friends with many people who share your interests. Don’t worry about whether or not you think they can benefit you. Just try to help people and be consistent. Within two or three years, many of those relationships will benefit and/or open doors for you in ways you never dreamed of.”

–Jenise Fryatt, Co-Owner and Director of Icon Presentations


Keith Johnston“There are four simple things that you can do to excel in the meetings and events industry and lucky for you, 95% of people do not do them.

The first thing that you need to do is learn every day. If you are a meeting planner, take the time to understand the positions of everyone that you work with from the caterer to the A/V techs. You do not need to know how to do their jobs, but you should understand what they do so that you can understand that they are mission critical to your success.

The second thing that you need to do is be involved in the industry. Get out to networking events and be involved with social networking groups like EventProfs. If you are known, people can recommend you.

The third thing that you need to do is work harder than everyone under you or above you. Nothing commands respect more than a good work ethic. This means being the first one at the event in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. No one said this gig was easy.

The final thing that you need to do is have an opinion that matters, that means saying “I think that we should do it this way because…..”. There is nothing worse than “I don’t know” or “it does not matter”.

Four simple things that most people fail to do and because they fail to do them, you can take advantage of them and create a career that matters.”

–Keith Johnston, Event Consultant at Plannerwire


Judy Kucharuk“Never stop learning. By leaving yourself open to new ideas, you will be a more valuable team player and more creative: great ideas breed even greater ideas!”

 

–Judy Kucharuk, Owner at Footprint Management Systems


Jennifer Taylor“If you want to get into event planning, start off working in hotel’s catering department, rental companies or a catering company. This will help you learn the business of event planning.”

–Jennifer Taylor, Owner at Taylor’d Events


Christine Shimasaki“Someone once shared with me: “opportunities never die, they just pass on to someone else” and this saying always reminded me to be open to what came next…even when my brain was telling me it didn’t look like an opportunity! And it has served me well having worked on events for the then flourishing Atari (now I’m dating myself), my hotel career with the rapidly growing Marriott Hotels and Resorts, and for the past 19 years (wow, now that is a long time) for the non-profit world of convention and visitors bureaus. And as I mature, I have recognized there are in fact an abundance of opportunities (some which I can see and many which I can’t). The way I gain access to those opportunities (visible or not) is to be in a practice or constant learning about myself and being mindful of the choices I make every day.”

–Christine Shimasaki CDME CMP, Managing Director of EmpowerMINT.com


Amy Spatrisano“I love that our industry is in essence a playground for manifesting ways to bring people together. Be bold enough to take chances in designing fresh, innovative ways to connect people thru meetings even when others may be skeptical of your ideas or approach.”

–Amy Spatrisano CMP, Principal at MeetGreen


Shawna McKinley“Take time to be present, listen and empathise. I was given the advice during my first summer internship when I was working a job that involved a lot of customer and membership services. It’s something that has stayed with me ever since and been key in every position I’ve ever held. I think it’s even more important now information moves so fast and expectations only continue to increase. It’s hard to pause and present. And it takes extra time to understand others’ perspectives and create collaborative solutions. But when you can the results are so rewarding.”

–Shawna McKinley, Director of Sustainability at MeetGreen


Liz King“PUSH THE ENVELOPE. Every time you learn about an aspect of our industry, look for the challenges. What does not work as it should? By constantly innovating, you will put yourself ahead of the others entering the industry at the same time as you. Don’t just learn how everyone does things, but figure out how you can put your stamp on it and make it better!”

–Liz King, CEO and Chief Event Specialist at Liz King Events


Jeff Hurt“Don’t be bland! Stand out. Be different. Offer contrast in this world of status-quo, cookie-cutter camo sameness.”

 

–Jeff Hurt, Executive VP, Education & Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting


Hugh Robertson“When it comes to business leadership, there is nothing more valuable than a supportive network of genuine friendships based on trust, respect and authenticity. This close community is not something that can be substituted or bought. It is forged out of the challenges we deal with every day; from approaching work with a ‘can do’ attitude, gaining respect and being true to yourself. In a close-knit industry, the value of transparency and authenticity has never been higher. It is what wins new business, creates market leadership and respect amongst your peers. To remain an authentic leader, it is important to ‘say & do’ and truly champion your vision with conviction.”

–Hugh Robertson, Founder and CEO at RPM Marketing Agency


We’d like to thank everyone for taking valuable time our of their schedules to provide some incredible career advice. Please feel free to contribute some of your own advice in the comments below!

Leave a Reply