In our next installment of our #HeresWhy industry Q&A sessions, we interviewed Sydney Rhea, Operations Coordinator for Penton Exhibitions Services and IAEE 20 Under 30 recipient:
Tell us a little bit about your career in the industry. How did you get started?
I have been working in the events world for longer than I can remember. I started off working in the theatre industry for about seven years as a stage manager, which is a very similar position as an event manager in the events world. I realized I was making my way up the food chain and was doing well stage managing Off-Broadway, and I could see the future of stage managing on Broadway but that wasn’t the path I wanted for my life. I wanted to be able to be more diverse than just being in the arts community.
I reached out to some friends, and they recommended looking into events as it’s a very similar industry. So, I started working on weddings and galas in New York City – I spent a lot of time doing weddings in Central Park, which was really fun and allowed me to meet people from all over the world. While weddings were wonderful and I loved fulfilling people’s hopes and dreams of their special wedding day, I wanted to work on events where I could better a community and make a difference in more people’s lives. I started to look into more events that weren’t just personal, but that differed in industry, and I fell into trade shows and conferences working at a company called Penton (now Informa). I’ve learned a lot more in my current position than I’ve ever learned in any position before, and I think that’s what makes me love my job so much. While I enjoy the planning and organizational aspect of my job, I’m always learning.
What’s been your favorite show to work on?
That’s a good question! I love all my shows for different reasons. I think I love them so much because they’re in industries I never thought I’d be involved with. For example, I work on the International Wireless Communications Expo, which features government personnel, firefighters, EMTs and policemen talking about things like walkie talkie communication and safety protocols in dire circumstances. I also love my World Tea Expo Trade Show because it’s like working in a kitchen – we have to prepare teas at a certain temperature for all of the classes because the attendees are tasting and comparing the flavors and smells. And then I also love one-day events as well. I don’t think I have a favorite – I like them all and work with amazing people and teams that make each one fun.
What is something most people don’t know about your job or this industry?
A lot of people who aren’t in the industry think what we do is extremely glamorous. They think we plan events, travel all over the world and dress up for different occasions. I have friends in the theatre industry who think “Oh, Sydney gets to travel to New York every once and while and come visit us,” but my events are so much more in-depth and fun than that. They don’t really understand all the elements of what we do and how much preparation and days of work it requires.
I also have family members who always seem fascinated by the amount of travel I do, which is actually less than 25 percent a year, but they don’t understand why I would want to travel that much and be on-site for all of these different events. But now that I’ve had a child, planning and putting on a show is almost like having a kid in the sense that you’re growing it and seeing it thrive. It is really fun and every moment is worth it. It can be glamourous, but it’s not always a walk in the park – it’s a lot of opening boxes and crawling around under booths or walking back and forth on a half-mile trade show floor all day.
How does advocacy impact the success of the industry?
I think it plays a huge role, because there are so many different types of people that work in this industry with different backgrounds and different thought processes. It’s important for different groups to be represented in this industry. For example, I’m 27 and just had a baby, and I find that my company is very supportive of work-life balance; however, not all companies are. It’s really important that this is supported in our industry, given the amount of time the majority of us travel, and it shouldn’t just come from our companies – it should come from legislature.
Advocacy also plays a large role in our industry. People’s agendas are different, and I think that’s good thing. The more diverse we are as a community, the more we represent our different tradeshow industries and the different cities we’re going into. We have the potential to encourage the communities around us. I think we could create an overall better working environment if every trade show or conference had a cause linked with it. Trade shows and conferences bring a lot of money to a lot of different cities, and if we can link up with different organizations that need help, we’re leading those industries and giving back to these communities. I think that’s how you pay it forward and start a mindset of taking care of others and doing what you can for others. It’s something we need to work harder on as an industry, but we’re getting there slowly but surely.
What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
I think overall the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I can have a family and work hard at the same time. I always had the mentality that I had to work hard first, then I could have a family. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to have kids until I was in my late 30’s because I needed to work really hard to solidify my place. I’m learning that because I work hard and am constantly trying to better myself and the company I work for, there is a supportive atmosphere. If I can create a positive atmosphere, it’s a snowball effect.
I think this can be challenging for women particularly, because there’s a lot of pressure to have children, and in our industry, it’s challenging to travel with children and be involved with our events. It doesn’t have to be family or work, and I didn’t know that. I’m really glad I know it now, and it’s exciting.
Why would you encourage someone to consider a career in the events industry?
Because it’s so much fun! I try to convince my theatre friends to join the events industry all the time. There are so many elements to my job; not only do I get to work with amazing people who have really different life experiences, but you also get to be creative and innovative. You’re always learning about new products and new technology.
If you are a people person, the events industry is the place for you to be. Being in the events industry is like an adventure every day. You don’t know really know where it’s going to take you, but every step is worth it and so much fun. Every day is different, and you can never be bored because there’s always something going on.