Navigating the association and event industries can be challenging – especially for young professionals in the early stages of their careers. As previously shared in Our Perspectives, young professionals today are focused on engaging in programming that can help elevate their careers, finding opportunities to build their portfolios, and expanding their connections with others in their professions, fields, and industries. This begs the question – where do you start?
The following is a brief Q & A that provides advice from three established and celebrated young professionals for anyone seeking to elevate their career within the association industry. Marlee Honcoop, CNP and Gui Lopes are both 2023 recipients of Association Forum’s “Forty Under 40” award, which recognizes the achievements, leadership, and impact of the nation’s top 40 professionals in the association and nonprofit sectors. Lauren Miller, CMP, CEM, is the 2023 recipient of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) Young Professional of the Year Award.
As a young professional, what advice would you give to fellow young professionals who are looking to advance their careers in the association industry?
Marlee Honcoop (MH): A successful, growing career is not created in a vacuum! Find mentors that have standout careers, lock arms with your peers, and connect with those you admire who are also looking to be successful in their careers.
Gui Lopes (GL): A profound comprehension of the mission that drives the associations they engage with is pivotal for young professionals. It is equally essential to cultivate a comprehensive understanding of the association industry, recognizing that volunteers overseeing associations may not necessarily be seasoned professionals in the field. Ultimately, success in this dynamic industry is intricately tied to building meaningful relationships with volunteers.
Lauren Miller (LM): My biggest piece of advice is to get involved – whether that is through an industry association such as IAEE or the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) networking events, certification courses, or industry partner outings. Start small with informal young professional meet ups and continue to network from there. Soon, you will recognize friendly faces in the association industry.
Can you identify a specific change you’ve made in your career that brought you success?
MH: Taking on projects or work that is new, intimidating, or exciting. The ones that, in your gut, give you a feeling of slight uncertainty. That is where I have grown and continue to see others consistently grow.
GL: I firmly believe that cultivating a comprehensive understanding of the business is pivotal for a leader's well-rounded perspective. You don’t have to be the expert, but you should have good understanding of all parts.
LM: I have found open communication to be key to success. This includes both soliciting feedback from and providing feedback to your team members. This is a great way to strengthen working relationships and address challenges. I also give feedback (both positive and constructive) to vendors I work with directly, which they appreciate.
What skills can young professionals develop to become stronger leaders?
MH: I am not sure it is a specific skill, but rather a mindset and how you show up for your colleagues. Leaders who seek to serve the greater good with their influence, skills, and experience tend to be a cut above the rest. It is how I specifically seek to show up for my colleagues and key stakeholders.
GL: Relationship skills are vital. In the world of associations where diverse stakeholders come together, forging meaningful connections is crucial. Effective relationships create a positive work environment, facilitate collaboration, and build consensus. These skills are especially important in volunteer-driven organizations. Ultimately, strong relationships empower association professionals to navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and contribute significantly to the association's success.
Any tips for avoiding/handling burnout at work?
MH: I believe everyone needs to find their own recipe to stay fueled and fresh. My recipe to stay fresh is going for a run regularly, and if I don’t do this, I tend to not show up as my best self personally or professionally. I also stay more energized when I prioritize sleep, eat healthy, and spend time with loved ones.
GL: First, it's crucial to master workload organization. Prioritize tasks based on urgency and impact to handle them more efficiently. Second, self-care is essential. I allocate two hours in my schedule to spend quality time with my family or engage in exercise. Maintaining a healthy mind and body significantly contributes to my overall productivity.
LM: Work-life balance is very important. One way I maintain that balance is by truly unplugging when I take time off. I find if I plan my days off, block my calendar, and make my teams aware of my absence well in advance, I am much more likely to use the time to fully unplug and be present.
Networking is a priority in the association world. When it comes to building relationships and fostering connections, how do you approach that?
MH: Two words – lunch and coffee (or tea if you prefer). Rarely will someone tell you they do not want either of those two things. It is a time investment, but the ROI on those activities is high. Show up in person and get that face time.
GL: We must consistently hone our skills in active listening so that we can pose meaningful follow-up questions and demonstrate genuine interest in others’ perspectives. In the context of volunteers, it is also crucial to understand each person's interests—whether it's the association they are part of, their family, or their personal interests. Refrain from gossiping with volunteers, as it helps maintain trust and eliminates the perception of leaking confidential information or engaging in favoritism.
LM: Although networking as a young professional can be intimidating, I simply found starting to be the most difficult part. Once I became more involved in the event industry, I soon found myself making face-to-face connections and virtual connections on LinkedIn. I made connections while earning my CEM at in-person and virtual courses while attending the IAEE Expo! Expo! event and working with the IAEE Program Committee to plan events.
What values play into your ability to lead as a young professional?
MH: Servant leadership has always been my core leadership philosophy. It tends to be a reliable compass for decision making and aligning my actions with my core values. I am very ambitious, so it balances me out.
GL: I aim to lead my team with transparency and empathy. I don't subscribe to the idea of leadership through fear. Instead, I believe in fostering teamwork, and this is only achievable through transparent and empathetic leadership.
LM: Adaptability and taking initiative both play into my ability to be a leader. Adaptability is important because it allows me to navigate change and be resilient, while taking initiative is key to problem-solving and continuous improvement.
Marlee Honcoop is a Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) equipped with a dynamic background in operations, membership life-cycle management, management of cross-functional teams, fiscal oversight and budgeting, strategic planning, organizational change, and strategic initiatives – all of which she uses to serve Smithbucklin client organizations.
Gui Lopes serves as executive director of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT)–a Smithbucklin client–and is responsible for overseeing the strategic, operational, financial, and event responsibilities for the organization. Gui joined ISTAT in 2020 and navigated the organization through its most tumultuous period due to the pandemic. With ISTAT’s diligent efforts and Gui’s executive leadership, ISTAT is now poised to achieve historically high revenue this year.
Lauren Miller is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) serving as manager, Event Services at Smithbucklin. In this role, Lauren works with portfolio directors to help manage a team of event professionals responsible for the strategy, development, delivery, and mission impact of Smithbucklin client organizations’ events, meetings, and tradeshows. Lauren received her Sustainable Event Professional Certificate (SEPC) in 2022 and became Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM) in 2023.
Gina Brennan is in Corporate Marketing at Smithbucklin.
Marlee Honcoop and Gui Lopes are in Association Management at Smithbucklin.
Lauren Miller is in Event Services at Smithbucklin.