Getting Involved: From Student Member to Board of Governors

By Megan Johnston, CSEP, DMCP | Director, Event Services at Accent Indy, a DMC Network Company

Let’s rewind a decade - I was finishing up my degree at Ball State University in Hospitality Management, eager to start my professional career, and looking for every opportunity to stand out as a young professional. I had a job lined up after a successful internship, and I asked my boss what I could do to jump-start my career. She simply replied, “get involved.” At the time, she was serving on the Board of Directors for our local International Live Events Association (formerly International Special Events Society) chapter, and that seemed like a great place to start. I joined ILEA the very next day, and over the course of a decade, I volunteered with our local chapter as a committee member, a board member in a variety of roles, and eventually, Indiana Chapter President. Now, ten years later, I’m still a proud ILEA Member and serving as a Director on the International Board of Governors (and I’m not even 30 yet!).

Being surrounded by like-minded people that care so deeply for this industry and having the ability to champion it every single day is inspiring. Many associations are concerned about loyalty and engagement from the millennial generation, but when an undeniable bond and immeasurable value are reciprocated by the organization, there’s no doubt that associations will be a critical part of our industry for decades to come.

I may have grown up a Buckeye, but I’m a Hoosier now – and in Indiana, we love Top Ten Lists (thanks to David Letterman)! Here I present my Top Ten List of reasons to get involved with a professional association:

10. You’ll grow your skills in ways you didn’t know you needed

This one seems like a no brainer, but professional development is important. I took a position on the communications and marketing side of ILEA to make myself more well-rounded as a professional. I use a lot of the skills I learned in these roles on a daily basis.

9. There are endless chances to find a mentor and BE a mentor

Maybe you are newer in the industry and want to find a mentor outside of your organization, or maybe you are a seasoned veteran and want to give back to the next generation. Your mentors should make you want to be better, and you should in turn, return the favor by challenging the next up-and-coming professionals to level up their expectations of themselves.

8. There’s no shortage of Continuing Education opportunities

Stay up to date on the latest information when it comes to every niche of the industry. Whether best practices are changing, you’re learning about a different segment of the industry, or you’re getting the most up to date COVID-19 event related protocols – we never stop learning. Some can even count toward credits for certifications or recertifications.

7. You could fill roles on your own Professional Board of Directors

This is group of 5-7 people in your life who have diverse skills and backgrounds that help with your professional development. Each person fulfills a different role on your personal board. This is different from a mentor as your board could include friends and/or family, but your mentor should be one of your board of directors.

6. You never know who you’ll meet!

Association networking opportunities allow you to spend time getting to know other vendors in your area that you may not cross paths with otherwise. It also allows you to nurture relationships with vendors that you already work with, as you know that vendors are going to work harder for you when there is an established relationship.

5. Embrace fear – you could conquer what makes you uncomfortable

I used to be that person who hated networking or speaking in front of others. Over the years it has become easier for me since I have become used to engaging with others and getting behind the mic at local and international events. In turn, this has made me more confident in front of clients in high-pressure situations.

4. You just might earn some street cred

There are several different certifications and credentials within the events industry. Find the one that is right for you, whether it’s your DMCP, CMP, CSEP, CAE… the list goes on! Associations are a great place to start your research, get those CE hours, and even join a study group.

3. Associations protect the Integrity of our Industry

Our industry is hurting right now, but we know it will recover. It is likely that many people who started with a job in hospitality in 2020 will change roles or completely move to a different industry in 2021. This talent shift will create a lower barrier to enter the hospitality industry. Involvement in an association will help you to stand out and ensure that the integrity of the industry remains intact as job postings start to happen again.

2. We’re all in this together!

2020 has been challenging for everyone. An association gives the opportunity to band together as a community and lean on one another during these unique times. Whether it is leaning on a fellow member to vent or to determine how we can partner and evolve together during this time, there is someone who always has your back. I have cultured true friendships all over the world through my ILEA experience and know I can reach out to any of them to celebrate, collaborate, and often, commiserate.   The companionship that you gain from being involved with industry organizations is truly invaluable

1. You set yourself and your company apart from competitors.

Involvement is not only being IN the industry, but being someone who deeply cares about the future of this industry. This is where you get out what you put in – the effort spent volunteering, connecting with other members, and learning WILL pay you back someday. We often tell our new clients, “I’ve been working for you for 10 years, you just don’t know it yet”.

I can’t deny the fact that there are costs with being involved. Industry organizations cost money and time, and we all know time is money. There are annual membership fees, meeting registration costs, etc - but the knowledge gained and the personal /professional development is invaluable to an employer if it is done right. Industry associations are like gym memberships - if you don’t put in the work, you won’t get the results you’re after. My ILEA involvement is my volunteer second job. Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours doing my volunteer tasks after coming home from my paying job, creating more long nights (and we know how many of these we already have in the industry). Would I do it all over again the same exact way? Yes, in a heartbeat because it pushes me to work harder and become a better employee.

The biggest takeaway from that seemingly small and insignificant conversation with my boss was her answer. She didn’t say join ILEA, or join MPI, it was simply “get involved”. It didn’t matter which organization I picked, it only mattered that I joined and made the absolute most of the investment. I pass this wisdom on to you, too - whether you are new to the industry or a seasoned veteran, get involved. Trust me, it will be worth it.