By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Erika Welling, CEM has more than 25 years of experience in the exhibitions and events industry. She has been an IAEE member for over a decade and has served on various committees at IAEE’s national level, in addition to her significant contributions to the IAEE Southwest Chapter.
Recently, Erika focused significant efforts on developing the chapter’s meet-up offerings. Her initiative has more than doubled attendance at chapter meet-ups, which now take place simultaneously in three locations. Due to the vast area that the chapter covers, these results have created a much more inclusive and cohesive environment for exhibitions and events professionals in the Southwest.
To name one example, events in Phoenix have grown from 2-3 people to more than 20. Erika has been credited by the chapter as having spearheaded this expansion and leading a team of members that have become so active in the chapter, they look promising as future leaders of IAEE. In addition, Erika currently serves on the CEM Commission, CEM Faculty and IAEE Membership Engagement Committee.
Erika’s contributions to the IAEE Southwest Chapter earned her the IAEE Chapter Merit Award last year. She was recognized this past December during the Annual Networking Luncheon and Awards Presentation at Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada (pictured below with IAEE Awards Committee Member Charlotte Pearson, CEM and IAEE President and CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA).
Here, Erika shares with IAEE why she feels passionate about being involved in the industry, as well as the lessons that have made the most impact on her – both personally and professionally – along the way.
IAEE: You have been very involved in IAEE on both national and chapter levels for over a decade. What appeals to you the most about serving on the chapter vs. national level? And, what do you consider to be the differences vs. similarities in the two?
Erika: Involvement in the local chapter is a more in-person, face-to-face contribution involving knowledge of the local area and its unique nuances. Although nowadays, during our national stay at home mandate, virtual national meetings have effectively brought everyone closer together. Nationally, it is interesting to learn from chapters what their differences and similarities are, and to hear successes and failures from each chapter. For instance, our region is very spread out which is an issue other chapters share. Learning and sharing how to overcome this issue through ideas such as simultaneous meet ups, including Facetime live, and cultivating ambassadors to assist with planning and attendee marketing has been very encouraging. Some chapters have a large concentration of organizer members, such as the Washington, D.C. Chapter, and they garner large attendance at monthly meetings with a focus on the organizer. There are other locations, such as Las Vegas, which has a heavier supplier member base. Couple that with Southern California, which includes a larger organizer member base and Phoenix with a mix of both, thus the focus of meeting content for the Southwest Chapter is more diverse.
IAEE: In working to develop the Southwest Chapter’s meet-ups program, what were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome those?
Erika: Our chapter covers a wide area including Southern California, Phoenix and Nevada. For meet-ups, we wanted to include and connect with all regions rather than choosing one over the other. Phoenix was our largest challenge as it had fewer active members and members located over a large city area, which did not facilitate traveling to a meet up. We found that it was important to engage leaders, who we named “ambassadors,” willing to pick up the charge and help organize the meet ups. In Phoenix we also found it is not enough to simply send out an invite, so the ambassadors were called in to personally encourage participation. It is still a work in progress to achieve constant participation in not only Phoenix, but also the widespread Southern California area. So far it seems as though the ambassadors are the key in each area, to not only to plan but act as our cheerleaders as well. As we move forward in our current COVID situation with adding virtual meetings and cocktail hours, it may have a whole different effect. There are many ideas brewing (no-pun intended) in this area, which could benefit our regional members in adding value to their membership. We could also see an increase in attendance for ongoing virtual meetings, as well as subsequent live meetings once we are able to host them… so, stay tuned!
IAEE: You have also been very involved in the IAEE CEM Learning Program. What inspired you to earn your CEM designation, and how did your involvement transition into serving as CEM Faculty and the CEM Commission?
Erika: The CEM interactive learning module is very effective and I’m super thrilled my employer encouraged us to attend years ago. It was my favorite industry educational experience in an atmosphere where I’m learning from peers and industry experts. I enjoyed this educational experience so much that I knew I wanted to continue to be a part in giving back to the industry, and prompting constructive conversation from our fellow industry colleagues who are so excited to share and learn from each other. Each class has such great energy from our fellow colleagues and is a learning experience for me as well. It is so very rewarding to see a CEM graduate excited, proud and grateful in the graduation ceremony, some of whom have even invited family members to the graduation to witness their achievement and be part of the occasion.
IAEE: You have been commended for being generous with your knowledge and for serving as a mentor to future industry leaders. What qualities do you think distinguish a future leader, and what do you consider the best ways to develop this potential?
Erika: To see a future leader grow is, by far, the most rewarding endeavor. What I’ve seen is that the most involved future leaders are usually the most successful in their own careers. I think it is important for a future leader to be active in industry associations and to seek out mentors. Anyone, at any age and time in life, benefits from mentors for both personal and professional goals. At an early age, I sought out attributes I admired in fellow colleagues/friends/family and tried to emulate them, and still do. In various situations in life I try to ask myself, “What would my mentor do to cope with similar challenges?” I wanted to know how they established their life philosophy and would ask related questions such as how they feel about issues or struggles at hand, what their favorite books are on a certain topic, or how they achieved their goals. My advice is to choose values and goals, create a life philosophy and connect with a mentor whose attributes you admire or seek to possess. In my opinion, some of the best qualities for a leader in the industry are to be genuine, reliable, patient, willing to pitch in and assist in a committee or board, be open for feedback, and always be compassionate.
I believe that our true destiny resides in our own character and actions, and I think it is a great reminder to distinguish between what is up to us and what isn’t. What happens to us may not be directly under our control, but our own thoughts and actions are. A good example is the pandemic, which isn’t under our control but the way we behave in response to it is. Much, if not all of our thinking, is up to us. Renowned philosophers would say, “It’s not events that upset us, but rather our opinions about them.” Looking for opportunity that aligns with our values and life philosophy during this time will make us more resilient in the face of adversity and create strong, successful innovations we may not have thought of previously.
Know what is in your control, what is somewhat in your control and what you cannot affect at all. Those ítems you have no control over, let go and concentrate on what you can have an effect on. Listen and ask open-ended, probing questions. Attack the day with passion. Your actions do not have to be perfect, just start… that is better than perfect.
IAEE: As a member of IAEE’s Membership Engagement Committee, what do you consider the greatest strengths of IAEE membership to be? And, if you had to choose just one benefit that IAEE members should be absolutely sure to take advantage of, what would that be?
Erika: IAEE’s greatest strengths are its members and the opportunities to interact through MemberLink, chapter and national events. In choosing just one benefit, especially in light of the current culture, I’d say being able to stay connected and learn from other members through MemberLink is the most beneficial. You will find the most current conversations, information and solutions, as well as free webinars on MemberLink. I encourage member participation in these conversations… don’t be shy… if you feel you have a credible question or solution, you may be igniting a conversation that was needed and appreciated by other members.
IAEE: You have been a dedicated volunteer to the industry throughout your career, whether it’s been through your activities with IAEE or your contributions through other industry organizations. What do you find most satisfying about giving back to the industry? And, what would your advice be to someone who is considering stepping into a leadership role within their IAEE chapter?
Erika: Being a volunteer is extremely rewarding, knowing you are making a difference while learning and building enduring relationships along the way. When choosing to be involved make sure you take initiative, be active, speak up/have a voice, listen and learn from others letting them have their voice, and do what you say you are going to do. Adversely speaking, if you are involved just to put another title on your resume and do not truly participate, that is duly noted by your peers and will not reflect nicely on your reputation. Volunteering in the industry and philanthropic organizations builds character. Genuinely giving back has been part of my life philosophy. Be involved fully, passionately, humbly, surrounding yourself with like-minded people who have the same passion for the industry and you will feel a huge difference in your life immediately, and will experience many rewards in the future.
Believe you can… attack it… and that is better than being perfect!!
The deadline to submit nominations for the 2020 IAEE Chapter Merit Award is 31 August! You can also check out the other IAEE award categories and nominate deserving IAEE members for these awards as well!