ILEA Seattle President’s Ode to the Event Industry

If you attended the Emerald City Applause Awards on March 22, you were treated to a wonderful tribute to the meetings industry by the outrageously talented Melissa Jurcan, president of ILEA Seattle. If you didn’t, don’t worries—here are Melissa’s inspiring, entertaining and spot-on words of wisdom:
 
I am excited to have the opportunity for our chapter to bring our industry together tonight.
 
I was trying to think of the proper way to kick this off. And I recalled how a few weeks ago my nephew, who is 9-years-old asked me "What exactly do you do all day?" That led me down a rabbit hole that I believe many of you will find familiar, so I thought I’d share it with you tonight. Forgive me, but we all know I am not known to be short-winded. Someone in this audience was recently telling me a story about how she has a group of friends that she’s known for over four decades now. And still to this day they think she is a “party planner.” That dreaded statement we have all come to despise.
 
So, what DO we do? Well,I like to think we’re the creators, and the creatives. We are innovators. Inventors. See, we don’t invent things, we invent experiences. We’re people who like to dream big. We like to imagine. We like to go beyond. Like that saying, “She’s a little extra," we ARE that extra, but in a good way. You see, we can’t really go small—it’s not in our DNA—especially when we get together. When we’re together we feed off each other and we want to, we must, make this event, every event, the best it can possibly be.
 
Ever been in a room full of us—and them—when you are brainstorming? It’s totally and completely bat crazy! And yet, we’re this beautiful and yet insane combination of left brain/right brain as after we come up with the creative, we dive in the nitty gritty logistics.
 
And so even if it’s midnight before an 8 a.m. move-in, if we have thought of an idea that can make an event even cooler, even more impactful—something just came to us, it struck us—we’re running around like mad people and, by golly, we’re making it happen. The client doesn’t expect it, but it has hit our brain and so we just have to bring it to fruition, otherwise, we have failed miserably!
 
If you work in our industry, you can likely check some of these boxes off:
  • You have considered Cheeze-its their own food group during “busy” season and survived off of them for around three months. (I may or may not have lived this one personally.)
  • You have enlisted your family and friends to serve as whatever the heck you need: "Hey, friend, we don’t have a volunteer to work as a street guard. Can you be downtown at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning?"
  • Your own events with your family and friends have gone next level— like, you cannot even imagine having a gettogether without a theme, branding, color scheme, a vision board (the thought is preposterous).
  • In your purse you can find measuring tapes, Exacto knives, snips and zip-ties.
  • Your house (and let’s be honest, your car too) regularly turns into what I call “the warehouse.”
  • You have picked up some very random skills, like how to hold a 13 ft. Burmese python when you are putting it in adog crate or how to speak pirate.
  • You haven’t really lived until you’ve had to jump into a giant dumpster to sort the recycling.
  • Sleeping: Sleeping under your desk, sitting on the stairwell. We’re “sleep when we’re dead” type of people, but our bodies have learned to do 15-minute catnaps almost anywhere when it’s busy season.
  • And perhaps the biggest telltale sign that you work in the industry: You have perfected the art of the “changing out of your production move-in grubby gear into formal attire 30 minutes prior to doors.”
We are sometimes the counselor or therapist. We have been known to be the electrician. The crafter. The medic. The plumber. The seamstress. The bouncer. We need to wear many hats. We’re people that are thrilled by and thrive in chaos, or “organized chaos” as I always like to call it. We love the pressure. And we love the idea, as someone in this room said earlier this week, that each event is sort of “an experiment.” Because no matter how many months and even years of planning we may have done, there is always going to be this one unpredictable element: Humans (and possibly the occasional iguana that gets loose?).
 
So we don’t really know how it’s all going to unfold. We’ve conducted all the run-throughs and production meetings, but the bottom line is this: We don’t control every little thing in this world, but you better believe we are highly skilled at managing whatever comes at us. And I mean whatever. Like when you go on stage in front of 20,000 people to do a pie eating contest and you asked the intern earlier that day to buy the pies. And the intern bought frozen pies (something you did not think you needed to specify or double check considering people were going to be biting into them in a few hours). And you have to vamp. And we all know there are much, much crazier things that could and have gone awry. We love the challenges, or as we like to say “the opportunities.” It’s that one moment, after we’ve crammed forever, that we open the doors and say welcome to what we think is this masterpiece, and no one sees the wizards behind the curtain.
 
Over the past few years, it has been interesting to see that being an event planner has been rated the #1 most stressful job in America. I am always amazed at that, because if you work in this business, we not only thrive under pressure, we need a certain degree of it. And I know we’d all agree that there are far more stressful jobs in this world right now: like being a teacher for one.
 
But let’s not focus on stress, because I know none of us would choose that word when asked about how we spend our days. I think many of us believe that we did not choose this job, it chose us. And we don’t look at it like it’s a job anyhow, it's our art. In fact, I see us all light up when we talk about what we do. And I think one of the main reasons is this: We get to be architects of moments that get etched in people’s lives. We get to design opportunities for people to actually feel something—what an honor and a privilege that is. So I know we are not out there like NASA (although it feels like we use that brain power sometimes)—what we do is to help people tell and create stories. We get to be there when people are making MEMORIES.
 
In a time where we are all behind multiple screens, where there is turmoil in the world, we get to actually, physically bring people face to face. To have and share in emotion. An event—it can bring uncontrollable laughter. I have been at events that have brought me to tears (and I mean the real powerful tears, not just tears because you have no idea what is happening at that moment, although I have to admit I’ve had that kind, too). It can empower you. An event can enlighten you. It can bring pure and utter joy. Events bring people together. Events can and do make a difference in this world. A father holding his daughter’s hand walking in the gates. A nonprofit being able to raise funds for an important cause and hearing from someone who is directly affected by it. A company who wants to have a real, authentic relationship with their fanbase, or even more so, their own at an all-hands meeting, who cares about their culture. A protest. The Super Bowl. The inauguration (or most of them anyway). The Olympics.
 
So what did I say to my nephew? "We get to collaborate with brilliant, imaginative and creative people and we get to be magicians together (all while using copious amounts of math, science and all that stuff that you are learning in school right now of course)." I am so proud to be a part of this industry. And I am honored to work with this room full of people—partners and friends. The most generous and caring, giving industry I know, who at the drop of a hat help one another no matter the circumstances, the competition, etc. This is the event industry. It is our community. It’s our family.
 
So tonight is the one night we take a break from creating memories for others and we create some of our own. Let’s celebrate some of the best moment-makers from the last year.

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