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Readers' Forum: When Did You First Know You Wanted to Work in Events?

Event professionals of all types share what first drew them to the industry—and what keeps them there.

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Photo: Anthony Mooney/Shutterstock

One thing's for sure: Event professionals are a passionate bunch. You'd have to be in a role that's consistently listed as one of the world's most stressful jobs, pushing through tight budgets, demanding deadlines, and picky clients. But to those who've stuck it out in the industry, there's nothing quite like the magic of seeing your hard work come to life. We asked a group of top event professionals to share what first ignited that passion for the event industry—and what keeps them here. Scroll down to read some of our favorite anecdotes. 

Marcie Booth, employee events manager, Goodway Group, Los Angeles
"Funny story: I knew after my first NSYNC concert at 14 that I would want to be an event planner. I didn't realize it was event planning at the time, but I thought it would be cool to plan a concert and see the joy that attendees get from being a part of the events. I've stayed because I truly love what I do as a corporate planner when it comes to strategy, creativity, and connecting with industry peers and clients!"

Phoenix Porcelli, vice president of meeting and event sales, Convene, New York
"I knew I was passionate about the events industry when I was a child. I used to run a 'busy' restaurant in my mom's basement. Some kids were playing Barbie—I was playing catering director! Although I studied business management, I found my way into the events industry while working in third-party event sourcing in Paris during my study abroad. I loved the industry so much that I convinced my employer at the time to promote me from intern to full-time employee, and extended my time in Paris. Once I moved back to the U.S. in 2011, I started at the Waldorf Astoria in event operations and haven't looked back since. Over the past 14 years, I have worked almost every role in the industry, from food runner and event planner to sales manager and agent."

Danielle Zeiter, creative director, 3CS Productions, San Francisco
"I first knew I wanted to work in events when I was walking down the street in NYC and saw everyone turning their heads to see what was going on—and it was an event load-in. The experiential industry was—and is—intriguing to me because with each client brief and event production, there lies a completely different experience and execution. Ever since I started in the experiential world, I’ve loved creating experiences that people could physically be a part of, and have fallen more in love ever since. When I’m on site I feel alive—I love the feeling I get during load-in when my creative vision comes together right before my eyes. The beauty and satisfaction in all elements simultaneously coming together to create an impactful brand activation is what keeps me in this industry. Along with the challenges and problem-solving while on site, it’s an industry that will forever keep me on my toes."

Abby Borden, event producer, Table Set Go LLC, Los Angeles
"When I was a senior in college, I wanted to be the person on the Oprah show [who said], 'and you get a gift bag, and you and you!' That was the year of her final season, so I had to find the next best thing."

Christian Henderson, director, G7 Entertainment Marketing, Nashville
"I was a self-described music nerd going to college in Boston, one of the best independent music scenes in America. By the time I graduated, I was addicted to the smell and the stickiness of stale beer on the floor of a recently emptied music venue, when the only sound left was the ringing in my ears. I could still feel the show's palpable energy and relish in the unifying, communal nature only found in a concert. Flash forward, I’ve spent the last decade incorporating entertainment like The Killers, Walk the Moon, or Jerry Seinfeld into large-scale corporate events for companies like Salesforce, IBM, and Toyota. While the smell of stale beer has been replaced by whatever scent gets pumped through those Vegas convention centers, the high of creating indelible moments with some cool people has kept me going—and recently being named IEBA's special events/corporate buyer of the year is a nice nod to that kind of dedication. As the worn-out phrase goes, ‘Our work is someone else’s entertainment’—[which] continues to push me forward as well as make me grateful."

Ny Whitaker, president, Events by Ny, New York
"I attended Convent of the Sacred Heart, an Upper East Side all-girls school, which is located within two historic mansions frequently used for movie and photo shoots like The Perfect Murder with Michael Douglas and Working Girl with Melanie Griffith. The facilities director, whose team took care of the spaces and produced all internal and external events, was a nun who let me work for her over the summers and after school. I was in awe of the magic she made happen in that space, and her words of wisdom remain with me today. Her famous joke was, 'What do a nun and an event planner have in common? They pray a lot.' (For it not to rain, for the bride to not to be late, for the rentals to arrive on time, for the in-laws to get along for the duration of the event, etc.) Working for her in that beautiful setting, I knew that producing events was exactly what I wanted to do because transforming spaces and creating lasting memories brings people joy—and that is a gift that keeps on giving."

Chris Tardiff, executive director, Hit Play, Orange County, Calif. 
"There's something about being in a crowd that I discovered while attending concerts at a young age. In the embrace of live events, my heart found its rhythm—and in the midst of the crowd, I discovered a harmony that I love."

Alicia Jenelle, director of experiential event production, The Jenelle Group, Toronto
"I first discovered my passion for working in events right after college, when I took my first paid gig as an audiovisual tech. It was a real eye-opener for me and set the stage for my career in events. What drew me in was the perfect mix of technical skills and the chance to create memorable experiences. Back then, the events industry didn't exactly mirror the diversity I'd seen elsewhere. But I felt safe and incredibly supported by my team. They didn't care about appearances; they valued what I brought to the table. That sense of belonging and the constant creative buzz have kept me in this field ever since. It's the right blend of innovation and teamwork, with the added joy of making events truly special. Whether it's a huge conference or an intimate gathering, there's something magical about being part of those moments."

Jaclyn Shuford, corporate event marketing manager, GuidePoint Security, Richmond, Va.
"When I was 9 years old watching The Wedding Planner for the first time! While I didn't wind up in weddings, I love creating incredible experiences for attendees in the corporate world. I just recently rewatched it on a flight and I still got a kick out of seeing J.Lo running around with her headset calling the shots."

Jessica Campos, president and chief experience officer, Wicked Experience Design LLC, Houston
"My stepdad worked for Esri, and they would host these big holiday parties and citywide conferences in San Diego. My family would always tag along to the conferences when I was in elementary/middle school, mostly hanging out at the hotel or shopping. Every store/restaurant had signage mentioning this conference, and I just found the whole experience fascinating. Someone put that whole thing together and brought in all of these people for a common purpose (at least I thought it was one person at the time—I’ve learned it takes a village since then!). Everybody who was there wanted to be there, and it was a big deal. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be an event planner, and by the time I graduated high school, I had narrowed it down to the fact that I wanted to be a corporate event planner who specialized in conferences and trade shows. Now, I stick around for the same reason that brought me here: I enjoy creating experiences that bring people together and help them learn, network, and grow."

Karen Hartline, executive producer of live content, Zillow, Las Vegas
"After being laid off from a job in sports and recreation (what I studied in school), I fell into an admin job where I served as the registration and hotel room manager for a conference for college students. I broke out in hives after my first event with 1,000 students! However, I loved it and took a three-semester program for meeting and event planning at a local tech college, and the rest is history. That was almost 20 years ago. I’ve since earned my CMP, ran my agency for almost seven years with 10 full-time employees doing events in the U.S. and globally, and am now in a role that still pushes me to learn new things. I’m so glad I found the #eventprofs life!"

Samira Bashout, event architect and owner, A Bashout Creation, Los Angeles
"I discovered my passion for events while meeting with the San Diego Military on the pier. As an electrical engineer, I felt my creative talents were underutilized. Being a social and outgoing person, I wondered if I could turn my love for socializing into a career. That's when I found the world of live events. Starting as a wedding planner, I learned to bring visions to life, witnessing the magic of creating unforgettable experiences. Evolving into an event architect, I mastered the technical side. What drew me initially was the desire to channel my creativity and sociability into a fulfilling career. What keeps me here is the thrill of seeing my vision come to life, connecting with people, and embracing ever-evolving challenges. It's not just a job; it's a way to create lasting memories for others, and that's incredibly rewarding."

Katie Rappaport, executive vice president of client services, BMF, New York
"I grew up watching my mother run an events management agency. She always took me with her on weekends because, as a single mom, she had no other choice. So, very quickly, I learned how to help set up and prepare for large-scale events, and I suppose I always knew that would inform what I would go on to do. It was always important for me to find my own path, but I'm incredibly grateful for the values this instilled in me—watching my mother build an events business while raising two children. That's how I got here; however, I've stayed because the business is constantly evolving and I've yet to find myself bored. You get to foster long-term relationships with people, both internally and externally, with the added energy and excitement of new briefs, projects, and activations. It makes the job incredibly rewarding because you can deliver high-impact programs on multiple businesses in any given year—and no two projects are ever the same."

Mickey Wilson, chief marketing officer, Freeman, San Francisco
"From the first event I created to the most recent one, there’s one constant: Events create moments, moments create memories, and memories build brands. There is something magical about events that can’t be replicated in other marketing channels. It’s the one format where you can bring a brand to life in 3D. Done well, events can be the center of a great marketing strategy, amplifying a message and creating long-term brand impact/influence."

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