2021 IAEE Volunteer of the Year Award Winner
By Mary Tucker, IAEE Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Erika Welling, CEM, DES is Chief Experience Officer for Blendz Events. While serving on IAEE’s Membership Engagement Committee, Erika has consistently demonstrated genuine care about each committee member, and excels at encouraging opinions and ideas. She was instrumental in helping create IAEE’s Organizer Contract Job Seeker Program in addition to mentoring other IAEE members as well as recruiting new members. In addition, she serves on the IAEE Southwest Chapter Board of Directors as Vice Chair.
Her service and dedication earned her the IAEE Volunteer of the Year Award last year, for which she was recognized this past December during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Philadelphia, PA (watch Erika’s acceptance speech here).
IAEE President & CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA (left) presents the Volunteer of the Year Award to Erika Welling, CEM, DES (right) during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2021 in Philadelphia, PA.
Here, Erika shares with IAEE how she keeps her learning journey fresh and productive, and why she loves volunteering and staying deeply involved with the various IAEE communities.
IAEE: Your colleagues on the Membership Engagement Committee commended your dedication to reaching out to IAEE communities. What aspect of the industry are you most passionate about and how does IAEE fit into how you view this aspect?
Erika: I love how our industry is so multifarious and all-encompassing, covering countless industry segments. I had the extreme pleasure of serving for a two-year term as chair instead of the standard one-year term due to the unprecedented pandemic situation our industry has been in. During times of great challenge we have the opportunity to learn the most from each other and grow in areas we never knew before. The Engagement Committee had four sub-committees during this time including New Member Engagement, Retention, MemberLink and IT/Tech.
During the last couple of years, the needs of our industry have been dramatic and ever changing. The collaboration and comraderie of the Membership Engagement Committee and IAEE staff helped us spearhead solutions and support tools like no other time I’ve seen before. For example, our IT/Tech specialists are now at the forefront of brainstorming and planning in our industry organizations, as it should have been, although the necessity is ever so much more apparent now.
The winds of change are always constant. “This too shall pass;” the right, the wrong and always a new day for new learning and change. Things boom and bust… but never forever. Things feel boring, things feel incredibly exciting… but never forever. They go up, they go down. They come and they go. They change. And in their changing, they test us. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a janitor or a vice president. It doesn’t matter whether you’re negotiating a multi-million dollar deal or negotiating freight transport traffic through the marshalling yard. What matters is what you do with this time. What matters is how you manage it.
Through the centuries there have been wars, political intrigue, floods, pandemics and loss. We can look on these times as though cursed by fate, or the luckiest of times, as more so in strife could we have extreme growth overall and for each other. Our exhibitions and events industry has always been a resilient industry, and one that wants to see each other succeed. IAEE is the community that brings us all together like extended family.
IAEE: In your acceptance speech, you talk about the value of the connections you have made through your volunteer activities. What is your approach to building upon these connections and what would you tell someone who is interested in volunteering about the networking advantages?
Erika: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants,” as Isaac Newton famously said in 1675. I’m so grateful for those whom have I have learned from and who supported me throughout my career, both tenured and new professionals, and I still continuously add mentors to my list today. IAEE is a community of kindred souls. We learn and do more together even if some tendencies, like mine, are to be independent. Volunteerism is the best way to learn, grow in the industry, build upon your skills and career, and create lasting 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 resumé 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 also in philanthropic organizations builds character.
I find the tools that IAEE has to attract various personality types for further learning, networking and support are genius. We have MemberLink for those who want to hover and dip in from time to time with comments or questions. I’ve gotten invaluable recommendations and sourced projects from MemberLink. The Buzz sessions, which home in on specific communities, can be interactive or passive depending on participation and cover the current issues (which, as we know, are so rapidly changing). And there are so many more tools, listed here!
However you want to be involved, jump in and I promise getting involved will be rewarding for you endlessly throughout your life. Be involved fully, passionately, humbly, surround yourself with like-minded people who have the same passion for the industry, and who will be in the trenches with you during the tough times and in the good times. Volunteering will create bonds forever making a difference in our industry and in others lives.
IAEE: You also serve on your local chapter’s Board of Directors. What appeals to you the most about making a difference at the local level versus the national level?
Erika: The Southwest Chapter covers a wide area including Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. Bringing the three states together is both challenging and rewarding. An awesome experience from the Southwest hospitality industry is that it does not matter who gets the business, as long as we all succeed.
Many people start their involvement at the chapter level. This is where I get to see people “stick their toe in the water” and grow. I’m so appreciative for the local chapter board, committees and members who I get to interact with more often and in a more involved way. The chapter works hard to find ways to encompass all areas and needs across state borders and most times wearing many hats such as marketing, engagement, sponsorship drive, event planning, financial planning, operations, etc. It is so cool to see board members or committee members take on projects that they may not be experienced in but are willing to give it all their effort for the good of the chapter. And it’s rewarding to watch the team come together to assist each other in these efforts. We have such great people in our industry!
IAEE: In addition to your volunteer activities, you are active in IAEE’s CEM Commission. Why do you consider the CEM designation beneficial, and what would you tell someone considering earning his or her CEM?
Erika: More important now than ever is to stay current and learn from each other. I’m so grateful for what I learn from the CEM class participants, faculty and commission. The CEM Learning Program is the only experiential accredited course in our industry. It is a well-known fact that learning from others’ case studies and experiences then stick out in your mind and help you retain information and remember facts. A case in point is a book recommendation from an IAEE friend regarding learning techniques, Make it Stick, by Peter S. Brown. I’ve found the CEM designation has helped me in maintaining valuable information that I could readily apply in my career.
Of significant importance, it means to me and to others that you put in the effort to stay informed at the highest level of our industry. You get to learn from modules which are consistently updated by the CEM Commission, a group of experienced industry professionals. You can take these courses whether or not you want the accreditation. If you want the accreditation, you can easily attain it by taking 9 courses within a year or take your time, as you have up to 3 years to get accredited. There are 14 courses to choose from. IAEE has recently added a couple of new courses to the list based on changing times and demands, one being the Neuroscience of Exhibitions & Events and the other is Digital Event Management.
Why you should never stop studying? Not just in quantity, but quality is important. Sometimes it is not in the multitude of information, but the quality of information, that you study intently and repeatedly. Yes, you’re busy. Yes, it’s hard to find the time. But, are you busier than successful people who believe in ongoing reading or studying such as Warren Buffet? Busier than Elon Musk? Than Oprah Winfrey? Than Mark Cuban? No. You are not. Yes, you’re smart and you’ve already done a considerable amount of learning in your time on this planet.
Learning doesn’t stop. Our journey to wisdom never ends. I believe learning habits must be steady and consistent. Build up your wisdom step by step, action by action. Learn from the experiences of others. You will reap the rewards and so will those around you!
IAEE: You have been commended for your contributions to the future of the industry through your mentorship. Why do you feel it is important to serve as a mentor? And, what are the lasting lessons you hope to impart on those you mentor?
Erika: What is really cool is that the IAEE mentor program is set up for newbies in our industry as well as experienced professionals who may want someone to guide them in a particular area they need further guidance on such as Digital, Marketing or finding a new career path. As you can tell by now, I believe learning from each other is so important. I turn to dependable mentor/friends who can give insight into various experience sectors and even personal leadership. I value them as a sounding board and trust they will caringly let me know when I’m off track, or call me on my crap, and also when I’ve hit my targets. It has to be an exchange, learning each other’s goals. I’ve found significance even when someone does not have the experience on a particular subject to contribute yet will help guide to a source or solution. There is never a downside to being a mentor or mentee, and I experience incredible value in either role.
The Call for Nominations for this year’s IAEE Awards is now open! Check out all of the award categories here and be sure to submit your nominations by 31 August!
You’re such a rock star and soooo great at what you do!