In our next installment of our #HeresWhy industry Q&A sessions, we interviewed Sarah Madonia, Events Coordinator for SmithBucklin and IAEE 20 Under 30 Recipient:
How did you get started in the events industry?
I learned about the exhibitions and events industry while I was in college — an advisor, who had worked at SmithBucklin, had really great things to say about the industry and the company. So, I did some research on exhibitions and events, because I hadn’t really considered it before, and found it really appealed to me. I started at SmithBucklin right after college and have been working here for about three years now.
Why is attending trade shows valuable?
Trade shows are so important because they focus on networking and education within so many different industries. The trade show floor is such a great place for people to collaborate and share ideas. Some of the client organizations’ shows I serve provide an opportunity for people and companies to meet, which can result in important business deals and lifelong relationships. It’s pretty neat to help create an environment that fosters important relationship-building.
There is something to be said about the benefits of virtual meetings and conference calls. Technology allows us to meet with people all over the world from the comfort of our own offices, but you don’t get the organic collaboration that comes with meeting other people face-to-face on a trade show floor. I think it’s important to gather everyone once a year or every other year to just talk and build ideas with each other, no matter what industry. In my opinion, the importance of face-to-face meetings will never go away.
What trend(s) are you seeing across the industry?
Right now, I serve client organizations who operate in vastly different industries. But, while they all have very different focuses and goals, they’re all interested in continuing education. Education appeals to attendees of all demographics. Whether it’s learning more about their industry, their competitors, or best practices, everyone wants to better themselves and their companies through education.
So, to address that need, we’re trying to incorporate as much education as possible on our show floor and in breakout sessions. A lot of our client organizations’ shows have learning lounges or bite-sized learning theaters, which are small pop-up educational forums. Attendees can learn about a variety of topics, such as new products or hiring millennials, and it’s convenient to pop in, take some notes, and go on their way.
Another trend I am seeing across different industries is a focus on appealing to millennials. Whether it’s a mentor program or breakout session tracks targeted at the younger generation, we’re trying to make the next generation feel less intimidated about getting involved in their respective industries because they will someday be leading the industry, and without activities targeted toward attracting new audiences, there is the potential for show attendance to decline.
What’s it been like as a millennial in the industry?
Our industry encompasses people who have been doing this for decades, as well as a lot of people who are newer to the industry too, which is great because it means the industry is filled with both experience
and fresh perspective. Other industries and companies are concerned about how they’re going to pass things down to the next generation, but from my experience I think the events industry is going to be just fine because we have so many young professionals involved who want to make their mark. I see this through my involvement with IAEE. I serve as the Chair of the Social Committee for the Midwestern Chapter’s Young Professionals Committee, and I am so impressed by the conversations we have at our meet-ups. I am surrounded by young professionals who are sharing ideas and initiatives to grow their shows and make a difference in the industry. It’s really exciting to be a part of any industry that’s very well established but also very up-and-coming with much on the horizon.
What’s been your proudest career moment so far?
Every time a tradeshow floor opens is a proud moment for me. I get to see all of our hard work from the last year really play out. It’s so rewarding to see the relationships that are built and the deals that are made. Anytime an attendee or exhibitor tells me they’re happy they came to a show, it’s a very gratifying moment for me.
If you could give your younger-self any career advice, what would it be?
One thing I was told 100 times in college is: network, network, network. I understood it was important to meet new people, but I don’t think I really appreciated that advice until I was a little bit older. I’ve gotten to where I am in my career because I’ve networked, and I’ve built this circle of people I can go to if I have questions or need advice. When you have a network of strong people, you don’t just have your own knowledge – you have this giant library of resources you can pull from.
The more people you meet, the more you learn and the better you become at your job because you have different experiences and insights at your fingertips.
Why would you encourage people to pursue a career in this industry?
The thing I love about this industry is that every day is different. A lot of people, especially the millennial generation, fear the working world because we think we’re going to sit at a desk and do the same boring work every day. The exhibitions industry is absolutely nothing like that. There are so many aspects of events, so each day comes with a variety of different tasks and projects to work on. I work with so many different people, which keeps things interesting. I travel all over the country and learn about different cultures, which not only makes me better at my job but also helps me be a better person by having a better understanding of the world around me.
This industry is fulfilling and invigorating. I’m constantly learning and feel like I’m growing every day.
What’s been your favorite destination and why?
It’s difficult to say, because that’s one of the best things about my job – I get to visit cities all over the country, some of which I’ve never even heard of before. I actually just finished a travel binge, which included Tucson, Arizona. I was really impressed with that city and enjoyed my time there, so I’ve made a mental note that I want to go back someday.
What’s one thing about your job that non-industry people would find surprising?
I think there are many things people would find surprising. One thing that’s interesting is just how much the events industry does for the economy. Think about all of the purchases an attendee will make for a conference: airline ticket, hotel stay, transportation around the city, dining out, tickets to local attractions, etc.
Plus, conference attendees who have a positive experience will return as vacationers. I had never thought of visiting Tucson before I had a conference there. This goes to show that conferences and trade shows can really put cities on the map.
I think people would also be interested to know how much work goes into every decision for a show. Some attendees probably don’t even notice the carpet, but someone had the responsibility of picking out that color and coordinating it with the rest of the show. Or consider the layout of the show floor, which required a lot of thought, energy and analysis. Signs are another good example. Most people don’t realize it probably took five people to decide on what information needed to be on it, how it should be phrased, where it should be located, etc. It’s fascinating to work in the industry and see all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into each decision.