This week were featuring SEPA (Student Event Planners Association)! We’ll be discussing how we are working to create future Event Icons! We are thrilled to welcome our guests: Kate Patay of Creative Coverings, Aubri Nowowiejski the Founder and Board Director at Student Event Planners Association, Kathy Newby of #AskForKathy, and Kelly Treadway of EventCurious. This incredible team of event icons will be discussing how SEPA is impacting the events industry, and offering tips for students who want to get involved! Join us and bring your questions!


How To Subscribe:

Follow our iconic panel on Twitter:

Epic resources mentioned:

Subscribe to #EventIcons

Transcript of this episode of #EventIcons:

#EventIcons Episode #31: SEPA

Laura:Welcome, everybody, to another episode of Event Icons. I am your host, Laura Lopez of Social Tables. We have an awesome show lined up today. If you aren’t familiar with Event Icons, and this is your first time logging on, welcome. Event Icons is our weekly show of every Wednesday where we interview the coolest people in the events industry. It’s really your show and it’s your time to ask these event icons any questions you have about anything at all. This is as much of your show as it is ours. Thanks so much for joining us. If you want to ask any of these event icons a question in today’s chat, be sure to throw them into wherever it may be. Throw it into the questions pane and we’ll answer them throughout the day. Also, to make this the most fun episode possible, and to get the most people in the room, be sure to share this show. It’s going to go on for an entire hour, so make sure to Tweet it, tag all of the panelists in it, and let’s get the biggest audience possible.
Today’s show, it’s one that I’m super excited about. We are going to be talking about the Student Event Planners Association, SEPA, as it will be known from here on out. We have Aubri Nowowiejski, Kelly Treadway, Kathy Newby, and Kate Patay. Let’s just go ahead and get started. Do you all want to go ahead and introduce yourselves? Tell us what your name is, which company u work for, and how you got involved with SEPA. Of course, we will start with the lovely Aubri Nowowiejski. Aubri, take it away.
Aubri:Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. My name is Aubri Nowowiejski, like no beer, no wine, and I am the very proud founder and board director for the Student Event Planners Association. I’ve been involved with SEPA since conception in 2009 at Texas State University, and we’ve since expanded nation-wide.
Kelly:Hi, everyone. I’m Kelly Treadway with Event Curious. Event Curious is a boutique marketing agency for special event companies and for special events and live events. I got involved with SEPA by first getting to know Aubri, here’s an amazing young woman doing amazing things, and got to learn more about SEPA and expressed wanting to have more interaction with the members and be more of a resource for them. That’s how I got pulled into the advisory board.
Kathy:Hi everybody, I’m Kathy Newby. I am currently with #AskForKathy, which is an independent production management company, but I do have 22 years of event rentals under my belt, everything from tabletop to tenting and full logistics of events, whether they be corporate or social, big or small. I got involved with SEPA about a year and a half or 2 years ago, starting as a mentor for the different students throughout the United States, and now currently with these other ladies sit on the advisory board to help make sure that the people coming in to our industry are well-educated, understand what they’re getting into, and what the importance of being a professional event person is all about.
Kate:I’m Kate Patay. I’m the executive director for Creative Coverings. I’m also a lecturer at the International School of Hospitality in Las Vegas, and on the Search Foundation board of directors. When I met Aubri I knew I had to be a part of SEPA as well. It’s really the upcoming and premier organization for student event planners. She was just so dynamic, as was her board. It’s a privilege to be a part of this great organization.
Laura:Great, that leads me to my very first question here, thank you, Kate. What exactly is SEPA, for anybody who is learning about it for the first time here today, and how is it impacting the events industry? It sounds like everybody’s touched on it. Aubri, we’ll start with you again. Why did you start it, and how is it impacting events?
Aubri:The Student Event Planners Association caters to the younger generation within the events industry, specifically we’re targeting millennials at this current juncture, but eventually will evolve to Gen Z and so on and so forth. Our whole mission is to develop student event planners into professionals. We [had 00:04:45] the name Student Event Planners Association. My honest belief and opinion is that you are always a student and you never stop learning. However, those crucial years when you’re starting your career, just graduating from school, you really need a helping hand to help you discover what niche you want to go into, and help pursue that, have the connections and the network the you need, because we all know that your network is your net worth, and it’s all about who you know, especially in this industry. It’s really focusing on them and our personal and professional development through our programs, through our chapters and the professional speakers that come in, mentorship, hands-on experience. We provide all of those things to help develop these individuals into well-rounded and highly sought after future event professionals.
Underlining mission is that we’re developing more than future event planners. We’re also developing leaders, which is something that not just our industry needs, but the world needs. 1 of our big pushes is that millennials have been described as lazy, entitled narcissists, and I call bullshit on it all the time because the people that I work with every day throughout our organization at regional or local level, and at national level, do not fit that stereotype at all. It’s my objective to help push them to the forefront and let them shine and show the previous generations that we are capable, and that we want to learn from them more than anything. SEPA is not about saying millennials are the best generation, here we come. If anything, we’re here saying, “We need you to feed into us, to invest in us. We need to come together and figure out how we can bridge this gap between generations in the industry so that we can truly go forward and duplicate that success when Gen Z come in to play.
Laura:Where did the idea of forming this amazing advisory board of board of directors for SEPA?
Aubri:It was birthed at the Special Event Conference in 2016, this year. I had Nick Borelli who had approached me, and also Aaron Kaufman, and they were like, “You really need to have an advisory council.” [crosstalk 00:06:53]
Laura:[crosstalk 00:06:53] first members.
Aubri:Yeah, exactly. Then I ran into Kelly. We had set up a meeting to meet right after I met with Nick. She’s like, “Do you have an advisory council? I’d love to be on an advisory council.” I’m like, “Actually we’re in the process of forming it.” Kathy has been a mentor for our organization for several years. Her and I have corresponded for a while now, so invited her, and then Kate Patay. She, I had met the previous year at [TSD 00:07:21]. When putting the feelers out there she had also raised her hand, and I was really excited about that. Now we have a mastermind alliance to help make sure that we’re getting the guidance that we need. That support from the different generations within the industry, and also every single person on the advisory council has affiliations with other professional organizations in the industry. It’s not necessarily being loyal to any 1 of those organizations, but more so loyalty to the industry as a whole and making sure that we’re all in alignment on that.
Laura:I love that. Let’s change gears here. Kathy, you actually mentioned that you serve as a mentor to some of these students that you chat with. My question for you, and actually we’ll rotate because I’d love to hear from all of you, is what is a common challenge that you’re hearing from students who are looking to get in the industry? Is there a commonality between some of the things that students are voicing? What are you hearing?
Kathy:I think the biggest thing is it’s not just about [inaudible 00:08:34], that there are so many different niches within the event industry, whether you’re a vendor, like Kate and I are, or if you’re on the creative end, like Kelly, and getting them to understand it’s an amazing industry to be in, but it takes a lot of work. If you’re looking at a Monday through Friday job from 9 to 5, this is not the industry to get into. For instance, I just did an event for the Golden State Warriors last week, and in 3 days I walked 22 and a half miles, based on my steps on my iPhone, and this was just at somebody’s house. I think that’s the common thing, is letting them know that there are so many different areas that they can work in, whether it’s the food and beverage side, or the rentals, or the creative end, that it’s not just a straight and narrow road. They just really need to find what interests them and where they want to be, and doing their internships with different companies to find out maybe food service really isn’t what I thought it was, and find what they really want to do. That’s been the biggest thing, is just opening their eyes to all the different areas within the industry.
Laura:Kate, I know that you are a faculty member at the International School of Hospitality in Vegas. Do you hear anything from maybe within the walls of the classroom that students voice where it’s a challenge or something that maybe they perceive to be really scary about the industry, or a misconception? What are you hearing in the classroom?
Kate:I think the biggest thing is helping them to find their voice, and find those internships, and not be afraid to ask for give me more, or let me learn, or at least encouraging them to be a sponge. Never say no to any opportunity, regardless of what it is, whether it’s setting up striking, writing emails, whatever that might be, because you’re going to learn so much about the industry and be so much more well-rounded. You have to go and ask for it because people are going to come and search you out. It’s finding your voice and reaching out and creating your network like Aubri had touched on, meeting people and not being afraid to say, “What can I do? How can I help,” and just jumping right in.
Laura:Kelly, what about you? You’re more on the creative side, correct?
Kelly:I am, and I haven’t had the opportunity to be a mentor yet, but I look forward to that with SEPA. I’ve done a couple of chats with the members, and I think my biggest thing for them is to encourage them to build their network because you never know, whether it’s a millennial or 1 of us, or someone that we can introduce them to, you never know where you’re going to need that person to cross a bridge to get to the next level of where you’re trying to go. The networking part of it is so important in our industry. It’s a large industry, but it’s a small world. There are all these little small worlds within it.
Kate:1 of the things I’d been told a while ago, and I tell every student I talk to, every organization, is when you’re joining an organization or being part of this, it’s like going to the gym. My good friend Danielle Couick from Magnolia Bluebird first gave me that analogy. She had said, “You can’t sign up for a gym membership and just have your name on a roster and expect to lose 10 pounds and all of a sudden have great abs. You need to put work and effort into it to achieve those goals. It’s the same when you’re part of any kind of organization. It’s taking the leg work, get on the board, join a committee, be involved, be present. That’s how you’re going to get your most ROI.
Kelly:What I love about it, though, is that it’s a student organization run by students, for students. It’s unique in the industry, and completely unique to when I was in school. When I was in school there wasn’t [inaudible 00:12:29], or ILEA, or Isis. It wasn’t any of that. The opportunities that they have … I emailed with 1 of them today, with [Rhiannon 00:12:39] I think is how you say her name. I was telling her, “I’m quite jealous, I wish I was 20 years younger to experience being an SEPA member.”
Laura:1 of the beauties of SEPA is that it is nation-wide. There’s tons and tons of chapters. It’s far reaching, which is super exciting. My other question, kind of piggy-backing off what Kelly mentioned is the fact that it is such a big industry, but it’s a really small world. For these student chapters, and Aubri, I’ll ask you this, how do these individual chapters add value to the overall mission of SEPA? If I’m a student at a super small school, but there’s an events program, how do I go about starting a chapter where I’m at?
Aubri:Great question. I always preach to our leadership that the national board of directors is like the air cover, and that our chapters are like the ground forces that both of us have different vantage points. They can see tings on the ground level that we can’t see or don’t know what are going on, and we similarly can see things at a high level industry-wide, etc, that they don’t necessarily see. That marriage between the 2 is crucial to our success. I couldn’t be more proud of having an [inaudible 00:13:58] board of directors, which as Kelly mentioned, our entire leadership team, ground level to national board of directors, are all made up of existing student members or alumni of our organization. Everyone is a millennial, everyone’s invested in our success.
A lot of our chapter development team specifically are past presidents of our existing chapters. They’ve since gone on and graduated, but they’re still so invested in seeing that these future leaders have everything that they need to be successful, and if anything, just being that friend, that resource that they can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’re very, as you can expect, non-traditional in our communication methods. It’s literally Facebook, Inbox messages, or text messages, or send me a Tweet, I don’t care. I always say, “However you wanted to contact me, reach out to me.” I think that’s the other thing that’s special about our organization is I don’t see levels, I never have been that way. We truly are a family and we truly are a team that’s working together. Whenever I go speak to different chapters or have phone conversations with the leaders, they have my direct cell phone number, they have me on Facebook. They can send me a message at any time, and I get messages from leaders all the time saying, “Hey I know you’re extremely busy. Give me your email address and I’ll send you a more formal email.” I’m like, “No, you can send me a Facebook message, that’s totally fine. Whatever way you want to get in contact with me.
As far as chapter development concern is very simple, and it’s just a fact of life. If you can find 1 leader who has the passion, that’s all that you need to get a chapter established at any school. We do have a system in place, a process, and guide them through that entire process, but really it’s just finding someone who has the interest in getting a chapter started. I have a call with them and go over the steps with them. They confirm with their school what the requirements are, and then we work to give them whatever resources it is that they need to satisfy those needs. We work with them to promote on and off-campus to build their leadership team, and just some strategies and tips around how to do that. We’ve had people establish chapters in a manner of weeks. It’s ridiculous. It takes 1 person.
Laura:How many chapters are there currently?
Aubri:It fluctuates but there are about 30 chapters in existence right now, and we have over 100 chapter interest forms in our database that we’re working through. Those are not just nation-wide, those are world-wide. I currently am holding back the flood gates on international expansion until we have been solidified here at home.
Laura:Let’s pivot here and let’s talk about students. It’s a SEPA show, so I’ll pose this 1 to Kate. Here’s a question for you. What’s a tip for students looking to get their dream job in events?
Kate:That goes back to be willing to do anything. If you know what direction you want to head in, and I think all of us have started at some point. I did catering and events for 15 years before crossing to the dark side of being a vendor. I started in every side of it. I wasn’t afraid to say no to any single job out there. I think be open to take whatever you have to to get your foot in the door for it. It’s that hard work that’s going to show at the end of the day. Like Aubri touched on, there is that stigma of a millennial where, especially with her group, I don’t see that at all. I see some of the hardest working people out there. Any 1 of them came to me tomorrow and said I’d like to come in and start, I would find a space for them regardless. Don’t be afraid to take whatever’s out there and show that you’ve got the chops, because esp in this industry, I feel like personally we very much promote based on merit and what you get done. It’s not how many years you’ve been here. It’s really your output and what you contribute as a whole.
Aubri:[inaudible 00:17:48] back on that. Kate actually recently posted a job opportunity, and I cannot tell you how many people Inbox messaged me from my leadership saying, “I need to move. I need to move now. I have to go and work for Kate.”
Kate:I would take any of them, too, just so you know. Anyone of them that came to Reno, they’re in.
Aubri:I will let them know.
Laura:Who here is hiring? I hope there are students that are [inaudible 00:18:09] contractor or looking for a new gig. Kate, just a follow up question, you mentioned that you’ve done a lot of different jobs in events. What’s the weirdest job that you’ve had in events?
Kate:The weirdest one?
Laura:Actually, let’s just ask that question of everybody. I’m sure everybody [had 00:18:32] a weird job. [inaudible 00:18:34]
Kate:I was a catering manager back in New York and was helping to get an event set up, and they didn’t have their mascot come in. The guy no-showed them. They literally looked at me and said, “Can you?” I put on a bear suit, you guys. I was a 6 foot tall bear with a screen for my face to look out of it. I stood there for an hour and played hacky sack with people in this room and interacted. How did this become my life? I jumped in, we made it happen. No one had any idea that things had gone sideways. I think that’s 1 of the keys with an event person. The real successful ones, you find a way to get it done. It just happens, period. I know these ladies all subscribe to that rule too. What about you, Kathy, what was your [crazy 00:19:17] one?
Kathy:It was more of a curve ball that a client threw me. I was doing a, and I don’t know which one it is, either an NFC or AFC championship football game. We were producing the half-time show and all the entertainment. 1 of the entertainer’s stylists calls me and says, “We need hair extensions.” I went, “It’s Sunday and you didn’t bring those with you?” There was no way any of us on our staff were going to be able to get out and get back into the stadium at this point. I ended up sending her limo driver with a wad of cash because we found a store, they wouldn’t take an NFL check, and went and got hair extensions. That’s 1 of the weirder things that’s ever been thrown to me.
Laura:These are great. Kelly, I know you’ve got some good ones.
Kelly:My background, I started my career in musical theater. I started from an acting background, moved into arts administration, and then into events. My path is circular. During the last 2 decades, during that time at certain points I have been a caroler for special events, so hired during the Christmas season in Victorian costume, which I have hundreds of stories about crazy events being a caroler. Any Christmas carol, I just about know all the words to.
Laura:Aubri, do you have any weird jobs?
Aubri:I have a couple. My biggest epic fail, I obviously learned [Texas 00:21:09]. We were doing a client event at the Fort Worth stock yards, which is this historic part of Fort Worth. For whatever reason, when we did this site visit, they had told us that we had the ability to move an 18-wheeler in close to proximity, because I worked in oil and gas. We were taking heavy oil and gas equipment and moving it into this particular space. The floors weren’t even, I don’t know the lead coordinator thought this was a good idea. The 18-wheeler was trying to turn in and ended up knocking over this historic fence in [inaudible 00:21:44]. It was god-awful and I was mortified. We rectified the situation as best we could, but the fence was completely ruined. As I was checking into my hotel, which actually happened to be adjacent to, I overheard the ladies at the check-in be like, “Oh my gosh, did you hear that some idiot knocked over the fence?” I was sitting there like, “Can I have my room key? Thank you.”
Laura:Wasn’t me, wasn’t me.
Aubri:That same exact event … In oil and gas, they totally try and cut corners and don’t get you the staff that you need to actually set up things, especially with heavy equipment, as I mentioned. They had 2 guys from Houston who were supposed to set up this complete exhibit with all the equipment. The show was the next day. 1 of the guys was a bit of a pansy and ended up pinching his nerve. I had to rush him to the hospital because we didn’t know that that was the issue at that time. He was completely out of the game. Me and this 1 other exhibit guy, I was like, whatever it takes. I was getting to work, we were polishing equipment, lifting it, busting open crates, all that kind of stuff. You do wht you have to do, but that was …


Kate:It goes back to that rule of don’t assume that people know. I always get as much and clear, concise direction as possible. I just had a timeline recently that I did for an event locally. It’s a charitable board that I sit on, that I host their event every year. I gave specific directions as to how to get to the loading dock, how to pull up to it, what time it was open, who to call. All of a sudden I hear this noise behind me and I look, and they had driven their truck into the freight elevator and brought their entire truck down instead of putting it onto the cart and bringing it down, in the middle of the event space. Of course, the event manager’s looking at me like, “Are these your people?” I’m like, “Ugh, yes.” Apparently I wasn’t clear enough when I said back up to the freight elevator. They backed into it. Always very clear direction. My timelines are … I think this last one was 32 pages long, for the show flow. It was crazy.
Kelly:You’re always learning.
Kate:Always, never stop.
Kelly:Even when you’re not a student member.
Laura:Let me go back to that original question. This was a great tangent. Was students and their dreams jobs in events. Kathy, what would be your number 1 tip for students who are looking to get their dream job?
Kathy:I personally think that it’s going to take them a while to find that dream job. It’s not something that they’re going to get right out of college. I’m still looking for my dream job. Right now working for myself is about as good as it’s going to get. It’s not going to happen right out of school. Because there are so many different niches within this industry, like I said earlier, you may think you want to get into venue management, and you start getting into the venue management. You’ve got to be there from first load in to last load out, and dealing with clients that don’t know what they want or don’t have a great timeline. It’s way out there. I personally don’t feel that anybody’s just going to find it right away. Some people never find their dream job. I think it’s something that they’ve got to go through and see what they really like and what interests them with the networking, going to different events, seeing what all the different elements it take to put an event together. I don’t know if there’s really such a thing as a dream job. I don’t know, that’s just my opinion.
Kelly:I think you have to be passionate about the industry so that each step along the way is a dream job, because they all connect in some way. My career started with venue rental, moved to catering, moved to hotel catering, moved to special event rentals, and then my own company that now represents all of those types of companies. It’s connecting the dots and not getting frustrated along the way that you’re not where you want to be yet, because it’s 1 of those industries where it takes learning, it takes doing it to learn, to get in the groove of it, and to have the stories, to have the crazy stories like we have to learn to be able to execute. It’s why you have to have passion.
Kathy:It’s an ever-changing industry, too. There’s new things, new elements coming in, like Laura with Social Tables. I remember the days where we sat there with our little templates and our little grid paper, and we used to draw things out by hand. Whoever knew we would be doing all that on CAD programs these days. It’s ever-changing.
Kate:It looks like a lot of fun, too, you have to add. People watch us traveling and what we’re doing. We have a great time, you have to. You have to love what you’re doing for a living here, but there’s a lot of years that went into getting to that point of being the one that’s attending some of them because most of it is behind the scenes. It looks glamorous, but when you take those heels off at the end of the night, it’s like, “Oof, that was a good one.” Ask Kathy with her steps. I think she’s the queen of them.
Laura:Aubri, do you ever have students who come to you and say, “There’s this job I really want. I think it’s my dream job. What should I do? What’s the first step I need to be taking here?” Maybe they don’t have a network behind them. What would you advise to him or her?
Aubri:All day, everyday I get that question. [inaudible 00:27:37] jump back real quick. There are some individuals, 1 in particular that comes to mind. Her name is Katherine [inaudible 00:27:41], and she is a phenomenal leader in our organization who did land her dream job straight out of [inaudible 00:27:46]. Her dream was to work for Disney’s fairy tale weddings, which is impossible to get into that team, nonetheless straight out of school. Going back to what Kate had said, she is a person who will not take no for an answer. She will find a way. If you have a will, you have a way. This girl just worked her tail off in the internship that she had with Disney. She worked to build connections, always networking and seeing where she could volunteer and raise her hand to be like, “I’ll take that on.” Because of that, she has a lot of leverage in her current position. I think the other thing that’s important, and going back to what Kathy, and Kelly, everybody said, is sometimes your dream does change, it evolves. Her original goal was to get into Disney fairy tale weddings, but she’s now resetting her goal and figuring out, “Now that I accomplished that, what’s next for me?”
Going back to what Laura had asked me, what advice do I give to those students? It’s they irony of being like you have it right here in your hands. If you’re a member of SEPA, you have everything that you need to be successful. You just have to do exactly what Kate said and apply yourself. You have to actually show up and take advantage of those membership benefits and apply what you’re learning and what’s available to you. All 5 of the programs that with offer, that’s exactly why we offer them. We have an opportunities program that helps them get hands-on experience working day of events, whether that’s setup, during, or tear down. They can try everything out. Like Kelly said, you learn just as much from the things that you don’t like as the things that you do like in helping you to narrow down and figure out what niche you want to go into.
We have an e-mentor program, as Kathy had mentioned. Once you’ve zeroed in on what it is that you want to do, associating and aligning yourself with people who are in life where you want to be, that is the definition of a mentor. Being able to ask them and even look at their LinkedIn profile and see what was their career progression, what skills did they have, and therefore what skills do I need to have to be in their shoes 1 day, being able to ask those questions and get that guidance. We’ve got an e-learning program that focuses on personal and professional develop. You can have all this experience and knowledge in the world, but if you can’t speak in front of people, if you can’t set goals right and do time management, all of those other interpersonal skills that it requires to be successful, then you won’t be. That satisfies that.
We’ve got leadership as well. Again, I think that’s 1 of the biggest things that not just our industry needs, but every industry needs. There’s things that you learn in leadership positions that you would never learn otherwise because you wouldn’t have a reason to challenge yourself and grow in that particular area. I talked to a president of a different organization last night and I said, “You’re going to grow so much in this year. You’re going to face all kinds of challenges, but what I loved having graduated from school, having been in that position is that I felt like I could accomplish anything that came at me because I’d already accomplished that, if that makes sense. With our accreditation program, it really lays the groundwork, it sets the road map for everything that you need to do.
If you do these things, there’s no way you won’t expand your network, there’s no way you won’t have the experience that you need on your resume, not to mention all of our partners that are also backing us in this mission to make our membership and our members shine even brighter if they take advantage of it. That’s really what it is. I say, “Go and take advantage. Run like hell and get as much as you can. It’s all there for you. You just got to take advantage.”Every time I talk to event professionals who find out about SEPA, the first thing they always say is, “I wish something like this existed when I was in school,” and the second is, “How can I help?” We have everything that they need to be successful.
Laura:That’s fantastic. I want to do a slow clap right now. [crosstalk 00:31:29] yes, we need this for the events industry. That was awesome. That brings me to my next question. Kelly, we’ll start with you on this one. Do you think that students are well equipped for events and the events world ahead of them, and why or why not?
Kelly:I think that they’re equipped. I think going through the programs that they have available to them today, that they’re much better equipped than my generation was. So many of my age group, which I’m not going to give my age, but so many of my age group came into it from the back end. We came into it from and [love 00:32:13] for something else, usually the arts are entertainment, another way. These students are focused on the events industry, live events, hospitality. The programs are there for them. I think if they’re taking advantage and they’re grasping everthing that’s being shown to them that’s available to them, I think they can come out and be prepared. I feel like the resources are there for them.
Laura:Kathy, what do you think? Do you think that students are well-equipped for the events world?
Kathy:I do. They’re much better prepared now than when I first came into it. I fell into it. I started in the hospitality industry, and met, at that time, 1 of the hotel’s biggest clients. I ended up working for him, did his events, ran his school, and then ended up being able to get into event rentals because I had been planning these events at hotels. I feel they’re much better prepared than years ago because there weren’t a lot of hospitality programs in the colleges and universities, or specialized training. It was you were a waitress or a waiter, and you went and were bussing and doing food service, and then you got into it, or you were in theater and were designing sets and different things. I feel today’s students are much better prepared, and with SEPA there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be well-prepared to get into the industry.
Kate:They’re a lot better prepared than they had been in the past, but I’m going to be the one that always goes down the road of where can we do better? I think that’s where Aubri and SEPA steps in is where we have to core curriculum and we can teach on paper what needs to be done. There’s really nothing that compares to that hands-on experience, getting the internships, getting connected, getting out there and see what really goes into it. You can be taught on paper, this is how you solve this formula and this is how you have plan b or c, but until you’re standing in that room when something goes sideways, you need to know how to truly react to that. I think she’s helping to bring people really into the industry and give them that hands-on that’s going to make them more well-rounded and more successful long-term within it. There’s always gray area.
Aubri:If I can jump in real quick, since we’re painting all these roses, let’s talk about some of the [inaudible 00:34:58] that aren’t. What are the challenges, even for SEPA, being that we do cater to millennials. As much as I want to rep my generation, we’ve got so many great things going for us, there are challenges even with our membership. I think this is my PSA to even some of the other professional associations who reach out to me on a regular basis saying, “Hey Aubri, how can we increase our student membership? How can we get them involved?” The reality is that there are a lot of students that will join your association, just like Kate mentioned, as far as the gym membership. We have this, in a sense, entitlement mentality that we pay money, we expect a product. A lot of people will join SEPA thinking that I now have bought my success, this is my ticket. I just needed to sign up, and now I’m going to be this event planner. That is absolutely not what it is. The first video message that they get from me is, “Congratulations, I’m going to give you a pat on the back for that. However, this is where your journey actually starts.”
SEPA, what I think has also drawn membership to us, and when people meet me, is that I am not as snugly as I should be because I know that they need somebody to talk to them real talk and say, “You know what, if you want to make it in this industry, you have got to apply yourself.” I’ll go to chapters and I’ll say, “Hey, I’m so glad that you showed up because that’s 90% of it, showing up, but I will tell you right now there’s people in this room who will not make it in this industry, point blank, period. People need to hear that. They have never had someone … Millennials we’ve always given trophies, we’re always giving awards for things, we’re always given this recognition without much effort, and that is not going to make you successful, if you can’t take constructive criticism, if you can’t take the good with the bad and understand that you do need to grow and stretch and develop yourself.
I think the definition of a mentor, the people that meant the most to me in life were people who told me, “Aubri, you’re better than this. You can do better than this and I expect more from you.” Having that person, that influence, that’s kind of what SEPA is for a lot of these members. It’s a boot camp, it’s a reality check of oh shit, if I actually am going to do this … I showed up, I committed, and I put the money down. I always say that when members pay their dues, they’re not paying SEPA. I say, “You’re paying yourself.” You are basically saying, “I am invested in myself, I believe enough in myself to make this investment.” Anything that comes in life for free has no value to it, we don’t appreciate those things. Even if it is just a $30 annual membership, a lot of people filter out right at that decision process of do I submit my credit card information or do I not? Then we are able to filter down and get the people who are actually more likely to succeed in this industry, and that’s what we want.
Laura:I’m going to take just a quick moment. We still have a pretty full room here. If anybody who is watching today’s episode live with us, pleases feel free to ask our panel a question. There is a questions panel, so you can go ahead and enter in as many questions as you like. We’ll go through all of those. Thank you to all who have already posted a question. Keep them coming. Just wanted to take a quick moment to say that because we’re, surprisingly, more than halfway done with today’s show. Please keep the questions coming.
I think every single one of you have mentioned internships couple times throughout today’s session. That brings me to my next question, which is about internship. What is 1 thing that event companies are doing totally wrong when it comes to building internship programs? If I may throw in somebody’s name, I know that there is the Simplifiers, and I know that they do a ton of internships, and they like, “Hey, what’s up Simplifiers in the UK?” It’s Mary [Baird-Willcock 00:38:58]. I know that she just notices that there’s a lot that event companies are doing wrong in the way of internships. We’ll love to hear from you all on what you think that event companies are doing wrong, and how your company is doing something right. Let’s start with Kate this time.


Kate:I’m all over this one, I’m big on it. We go through interns a bit here. It’s something we utilize because I think that the upcoming generation has a lot to offer that maybe we aren’t looking at as a whole with some of the ideas that they have, but I think that they’re not always set up for success as far as having a [inaudible 00:39:34] job in what you’re doing. I’ve had so many that I speak to that they go in and they sit down, and it’s like, “Okay, your intern’s here,” and there’s no real outline and there’s no real guidance, and they’re not checking back in with them and letting them know where they’re doing well, where they’re failing, or they’re just giving them the most menial work of, “Hey I need you to go in back and buss 50 of whatever this is.” Give them a true opportunity, in my mind, and set them up to succeed. Set it up to have a stronger program for interns moving forward. It does take work on the front side. I know that, it was a lot of hours to put it together, but it’s worth it when you can give them a real role and tasks, and feel like they’re heard in some way. There’s my soapbox, I’ll jump down and give someone else a chance.
Laura:That was great, I love it.
Kelly:I completely agree with that. Go ahead, Kathy.
Kathy:You cannot just stick them in an office and not give them any guidance. Interns are not slave labor. You need to be able to give them real roles and responsibilities so that they can learn and not just be your data process entry person and putting in all your registration people into a computer. When I personally give tasks, to me they need to know why they’re doing it, and how it affects the job that we’re doing as a team overall, which comes to the front end of planning, like Kate said. In California, I don’t know how it is in other states, you cannot have interns … A real intern in the state of California needs to be in an accredited program, and you need to know what it is and who their instructors are, and you can’t let them work for free. You have to pay them, even if it’s minimum wage. If you are interning in California and you’re not getting paid, it’s against the law. To me, the biggest thing is they need to feel like they’re an integral part of your team and what you’re doing so that they can be a part of the pathway to make the goals, so that everybody is successful. It’s not just, “Here, go put these cards in order. Why are you doing it? This is important because … ” I feel interns are taken advantage of sometimes, a lot of times.
Laura:I’m so glad you brought that up. Will actually put in a chat to me that we should pay them. Like you brought up, it’s actually illegal if you have a student who’s planning or executing on your events, and they’re working all hours of the day, night, that’s illegal.
Kathy:Even if you’re just paying minimum wage, you still need to pay them something.
Laura:Right, that’s a great point. What do u think, Kelly?
Kelly:It’s funny, when I was launching Event Curious, 4 and a half years ago I reached out to Mary before she had started the apprentice program. I had been a fan girl of hers and had written about her in some articles I had done for magazines, and knew how well her program was put together. I reached out to there and she helped form ours in the early years, well before she started the apprentice program. We are really slow here to hire interns. In 4 years we’ve only had 3. It’s because I’m very particular that there’s a strategy, that there’s education laid out for them from beginning to end, and that there’s accountability for us and for them, and they they’re paid. We’ve been slow to bring them in because we do it at times where I know that our workflow with our clients, with their peak seasons, that we can work around that. It’s crazy because a lot of event companies will bring in interns during their peak season because they look at them as, like someone said, slave labor, when I have a completely different view on that. I just don’t think that that’s … It’s a disservice to them and to your company that you’re doing that, and it’s a liability, like Kathy said.
Laura:Aubri, anything to add? Is there anything that you’ve observed in the [crosstalk 00:44:01].
Aubri:I just got back from Orlando and I ran a roundtable about internships in the event industry. I’m going to be speaking, shameless plug, at [TSE 00:44:10] in 2017 on this very topic. In a layman’s terms, yes, we have a lot of work to do in the events industry, specifically as it relates to internships because yes, they are absolutely being abused. Not all, there are some situations where people are doing great things. Mary with the apprentice program, I sit on the advisory council for that and I cannot be more proud of what she’s doing to revolutionize internships in the events industry. I know personally, internship I had in college, and again, I’m not above doing anything, but I literally had to change the lady I was interning with, her dog’s poopy diaper. That was 1 of my jobs. I don’t know how that fit into my career. Yes, absolutely, there’s some work to be done in that arena.
You do have to look at the legality and figure out, I think it’s more of a mindset shift of are they adding more value to my company or are we adding more value to them as an individual? As an internship, by definition, should be adding value to that individual, and the byproduct of that can be that it benefits your company. Of course, having extra hands works, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus. I can’t tell you how many calls I get from businesses who will literally be like, “Hey, I need somebody,” and as I start to drill down into what it is, they need an employee, but they’re trying to treat them like an intern that’s unpaid.
Laura:I would imagine you leave that bullet point of the dog diapers off your resume, right?
Laura:I cannot believe that. That’s so crazy to me. We have another question in. This comes from Judy, hello Judy [Brilheart 00:45:57].
Kelly:Hi, Judy.
Kathy:Hi, Judy.
Laura:Clearly this is the Judy Brilheart fan club. We’ve touched on this a little bit, but maybe we can all dive in. Judy asks, “What’s the most valuable type of education for students?” I know we talked about hands-on experience with events, classroom, networking, and how can we better offer education outside of the classroom for these emerging professionals. That’s a great question. Anybody have any thoughts to that?
Aubri:Can I jump in real quick?
Laura:Yes, of course.
Aubri:1 of the programs that I failed to mention that we do offer is our scholarship program. It’s my personal opinion, because there’s not a standardization of education for the events industry across the board, across universities, etc, there’s no 1 set curriculum, I personally believe that the best place for our membership and the future event professionals to get educated is at conferences. We’ve partnered with BizBash and the special event we worked with them to send our student members and leaders to these conferences so that not only do they get the networking, which is super important, they get the education, they get to attend the sessions, and they work behind the scenes at the show, so they get the hands-on experience all at the same time. Those 3 in 1, you can’t beat that. That’s really what we’re an advocate of and pushing to get that education, especially with, as everybody’s mentioned, the industry is ever-evolving. The only way to stay on top of slash ahead of it is to be at those conferences.
Kelly:1 of the things that’s worked for us is shadowing, is to have those interns shadow with us on meetings with our clients on the behind the scenes with our clients, and also shadowing … The biggest area where I see growth is having them shadow with us at industry events. They get to see how someone established in the industry, how they network, how you work a room, how you meet new people. You get to introduce them to new people, old people. That’s where I’ve seen the biggest growth in our interns.
Kathy:I agree. I was going to say networking, joining, if they’re able to, the different associations that do have student-level memberships, whether it’s ILEA or WIPA, or [inaudible 00:48:19] or any of the other ones. Getting in there and meeting people, this industry’s all about relationships, and the more you have contacts, the better you are all around. I know 1 time, since Judy asked the question, I had a question about a hotel contract. I know that I can always reach out from San Francisco to Judy in Boston, and always get an answer on hotel contracts and attrition, and all those things that are not my core competency. It’s definitely having those relationships and people in all of the disciplines that can be there to support you when you need the help.
Kate:Part of being in the organizations I think is partnering with some of the professionals ones at the same time, so when you’re in 1 of the student ones, is going to them and saying, “Hey, this is the type of class we’d like to have.” I recently did 1 that was kind of the hands-on 1-on-1 workshop, I would say. Having some of the professional members come in, teach maybe just 5 to 7 minutes of what they do, and then having it so that afterwards you could sit and talk with them and pick their brain if it tricks something that you’re like, “Oh, I need to know more about that,” or, “That may not be my strength.”
I always encourage people when they’re looking to learn, pick what doesn’t always sound fun. I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s the truth. If you’re not great with accounting, or there’s something that you don’t feel strong on, that’s what you should gravitate towards to better round yourself as a person. I don’t love to do accounting, but it’s part of my job, that’s why I step down to [inaudible 00:49:54] this treasure first, to step out of my comfort zone to somewhere that would better me professionally in the long run, so that I am more prepared to continue to grow my career as well. That’s the advice I would give as far as what type of education to look at.
Laura:How can employers leverage SEPA … This goes back to the internship question … Leverage SEPA to find their next great employee.
Aubri:There are several different ways that they can do that. The first is we have an opportunities database, so if you need volunteers through our opportunities program, you need interns, or you’re looking to hire, you can post your jobs for free with SEPA, and just for those people who are watching this, it actually creates a complimentary account for you on our website. That’s our way of thanking you for investing back into us. Another way is through our e-mentor program. Same thing, you get a complementary … Our professional membership right now is invite-only. It’s you servicing and feeding back into us, we’re going to pay you back in having you included in our family. Serving as a mentor through our e-mentor program, and that’s a 3-month program, you can participate fall, summer, or spring. You basically just fill out this little form, you let us know what your expertise is in the industry, and we have students who fill out similar forms saying what they want to learn, and we’ll parachute with professional based on those similar interests, send an email introduction, and then they have those 3 months to basically have a pen pal relationship through email communication.
The third thing is guest speaking. All of our chapters have guest speakers come in every single semester, and even at a national level, we have webinars 3 times a year, and we also have things called hangouts, which everyone’s participated on. It’s a professional speaker who is kick-ass in the industry that our members never have the opportunity to speak to otherwise. It’s a private 30-minute session with 10 people, the speaker, a moderator, and 8 of our student members. There’s no formal presentation, the students just get to ask exactly what they want to ask, and they get to learn exactly what they want to learn. If you’re interested in any of those things, feel free to contact me, [email protected], and we will hook you up. We would love for you guys to be a part of our organization in that respect.
Laura:I think a lot of the folks in the room could definitely [lead 00:52:10] 1 of those sessions for sure. I can just tell. Judy, for example, she’d be great for that. Judy, if you’re still on, you should do that, you’re awesome.
Kelly:Judy, who’s the current president for ILEA.
Laura:She is indeed. Surprisingly, we’ve made it. It’s almost the entire hour here. I have 1 final question, and we ask this on every single show. Do you gals have any new, cool resources that you’d like to share, websites, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, anything at all? Also, with you Kate, what resources do you have to share?
Kate:I have loved this one recently, since it was introduced to me. Everyone watching, good job on that. I like following onto with Event Manager Blog. They do a great job with it. Smart Meetings is another one that I think they’re doing really well with bringing content that’s relevant to our industry and in a unique way.
Laura:Kathy, what are you’re … Oh, Kelly, go ahead.
Kelly:I was just saying how great all 3 of those choices are, those [crosstalk 00:53:21]. Go ahead, Kathy.
Laura:Do you have any resources? [crosstalk 00:53:26].
Kathy:I agree. I’m the older one in this group, and I’m not as technically savvy as a lot of the millennials and people within SEPA, but I do follow … I do a lot of [Instagraming 00:53:41], following people, getting new ideas that way, and again, always with Facebook, didn’t’ get into Snapchat, but I’m very big onto the social media of Instagram and Facebook. I love learning from other people that way and getting ideas. That’s basically where I go.
Laura:Kathy, do you have any Instagram accounts that you follow that you check every single day, and they always have great ideas? Any specifics?
Kathy:I’m very much a [flower 00:54:15] fiend, so I do follow Out of LA, I follow Mark’s Garden, Petals LA. I follow Mindy [Weiss 00:54:25], Marcy Blum out of New York, a lot of the top people, and then just people in my own industry, following other rental companies on the east coast to know what they’re doing and what’s trending out there. Sometimes they’re always a little behind us here on the west coast or vice versa, but definitely it’s a way to keep up with ideas and trends. Pinterest too, but I have my feelings about Pinterest and I don’t always … It’s to me not the right place, it gives people a false sense of what can be done in the industry for what price, so that’s something that … I do do Pinterest and follow that. I follow a rental company in South Africa to see what they’re doing, and the amazing products and things that they’re doing over there, which I don’t see always happening here in our industry here in the United States. There’s some amazing rental professionals over there in Dubai. That’s how I find out what’s going on, besides trade shows and conferences and that.
Kelly:Everyone should follow Kathy because Kathy posts these amazing inspiration posts, they’re awesome.
Kathy:All the time.
Laura:I know your Twitter handle is AskForKathy. What’s your Instagram handle?
Kathy:Same, Ask For Kathy.
Laura:If you need inspiration, folks, Kathy’s got it. Aubri, you’ve basically just listed a million resources, but obviously SEPA. Where can people find SEPA online?, and typically our handles are OfficialSEPA, and then of course our chapters have some of their own handles if they’re on Instagram and Twitter. Personally, resources that I love to leverage are … My 2 favorite podcasts are GatherGeeks by BizBash, and Social Tables have a bomb dot com podcast as well, so shout out to Laura. I wrote down some others. Non-industry related, Marie TV, I know Kelly and I both love Marie [inaudible 00:56:51], she’s a resource. TEDTalk, love them, and then my recent rediscovery [of 00:56:58] obsession is Audible. I love audio books. If you aren’t on Audible, we have the ability to send you your first book for free. If you want to hit me up, I’m happy to share some books. 1 I’m listening to right now is Big Magic. Freaking awesome, for anybody who is creative-minded or wants to be. It’ll change the world. I highly recommend [inaudible 00:57:19].
Laura:Is it Big Magic or Dig Magic?
Aubri:Big, B-I-G, by the author of Eat Pray Love.
Laura:Oh okay, very good. This is the real last question. Where can everyone follow, connect with you ladies on social media? Can they send you an email? What’s the best way to connect with each of you, or the preferred way?
Kate:On social media, you need to know in advance, all my stuff is @KatePatay, but know that you’re going to get the real deal truth, and sometimes some curse words if I had a glass of wine, it just happens. [crosstalk 00:58:01] if I haven’t, but I’m really quick to answer emails to, if that’s preferred. It’s just [inaudible 00:58:07] of I’m attached to this thing all day long, so you’re going to find me 1 way or another.
Kathy:Same with me. We just said my Instagram and Facebook and Twitter are Ask For Kathy, and my email is [email protected]
Kelly:My email is [email protected], and all company accounts on social are Event Curious, so you can follow there. For personal for me, I separate so that I can use curse words and all that good stuff. It’s [inaudible 00:58:44] IRL on Instagram, and then my passion project is the Professionals Run the World. It’s a fitness project, and that’s Event Profs Run on Instagram.
Aubri:I’m the only Aubri Nowowiejski in the entire world, so just get that name and Google it. Feel free to add me on anything, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. I’m a very open book in that respect. My email address is [email protected]
Laura:Thank you all so much. Just be sure to stay on after we say good bye here because we want to formally thank you. Thank you to everyone who logged on. I think everybody stayed from start to finish. That’s great, and lot’s of awesome questions. For anybody who is watching and loved today’s show, please join us next week. This is a weekly show. If you ever have ideas on who you want to meet on the next episode of Event Icons, be sure to Tweet me. I’m @LauraLopez, but the Ls are 1s. I, unfortunately, am not the only Laura Lopez in the world. Feel free to Tweet me or Will Curran. His is just It’s Will Curran on Twitter. Let us know who you want to hear. You can also catch the recording of today’s show. It’s We will see you next week for another round of Event Icons. Thanks again for everybody for tuning in.
Kathy:Thanks for having us.

Related Posts

Will Curran

Author Will Curran

Information junkie, energetic, and work-a-holic are just some of the words we can use to describe Will Curran. Aside from spending 20 out of 24 hours a day working as the Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, you can catch Will ordering a chai latte or watching The Flash with his cats. He is also well known for his love of all things pretzels.

More posts by Will Curran
Share via
Send this to a friend