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HAVE you heard about it? The topic is all over the business press. From The Wall Street Journal to Fast Company Magazine and everywhere in between, corporations are concerned with the fast-approaching turnover of the workforce. In the next 10 years or so, an estimated 76 million employees will be eligible to exit stage right from the corner offices and cubicles of corporate America. Simultaneously, organizations are faced with bright-eyed big dreamers in the form of some 70 million new employees arriving on the work scene who make up a new and distinctive demographic. How will organizations manage this massive turnover? How will they facilitate the passing of knowledge and experience from those in the boardroom to those in the break room? And why on earth is an article in Special Events Magazine asking this question?

That last one is easy: This challenge of bridging the gap between the generations — or, more broadly, the experience gap — is of critical importance to the event community.

The first challenge is the coming leadership vacuum. I salute the barons of our business. It is to them I owe thanks for the work/life — the line is often blurred — that I love. Yet after some 30 or 40 years of leadership, it can only be assumed that these leaders will reach some sort of “retirement,” either by choice or nature. Who will follow in their footsteps and fill their shoes?

More challenging is the conundrum of “experience.” The pop-culture profile of event professionals has soared. Thanks to MTV, the Food Network and any channel that assumes its demographic desires to see wild weddings — not to mention reality TV — we have broken into the mainstream. The number of certificates, programs and college degrees in the event field has boomed. Students and apprentices of all ages are banging down the doors with the desire to become (ugh!) “party planners.” More likely than not, the fate for many will be similar to that of Heidi, a 20-something character on MTV's reality show “The Hills,” who upon landing her dream job with an event firm in L.A. was devastated to learn that she was not now flying high on the party scene but was instead stuffing invitations into envelopes. But for those few, the creative and the talented who share the passion for what we do every day, how will we foster them into the fold? Where do they begin to earn that all-important real-world experience in events?


It is not an easy path as I, as a young event producer representing this new generation and what's next in the event industry, can attest. Not that anyone has had it easy, but, as a recent article in this magazine articulated {“Aging Gracefully” by Rachel Hollis, August 2006}, the challenges of being young in this business are formidable. It's tough to be seen as serious when you are 22, 23 or 24. While I recognize the importance of earning your stripes, we as a community of professionals do ourselves a tremendous disservice the minute we assume the mentality of business — the belief that everyone else is competition and collaboration is a pipe dream.

Far from it. Events do not stand alone, and neither do event professionals. No event is the result of only one professional but is the byproduct of a communal effort aimed at achieving the objectives of that event, whatever they may be. We must look at our work less as about being individually “the best” but instead as being tasked to build the best teams for our clients. And those teams are composed of both experienced professionals who know how to solve the problem and do the job as well as young and new professionals able to offer creative solutions and fresh eyes.

What's more, organizations already exist that are fostering these connections across the gap of age and experience. Associations such as ISES, MPI, NACE and a host of others offer local as well as international grounding points for professionals in this industry. They provide the place for connections to happen in order that we all may build successful teams for our task.


I joined ISES nearly two years ago. Fresh out of college and in my first event job, ISES offered me a place to meet the people who do what I do, both where I do it and around the world. I cannot even begin to express how fantastic it feels to have found a treasure such as this for my professional as well as personal career — a family of mentors, peers and friends who believe in and are passionate about the work that we all do. Being an ISES member is about being committed to continuing education and the establishment of this career as ethical and professional. By its very nature, this mission extends a hand to the next generation because in some way, we are all always “the new kid” in terms of a new project or event, a new technology or trend. As soon as we are able to recognize this, the fuse of collaboration can be ignited, sparking the creative greatness within each of us as event professionals.

I do not intend to serve as a billboard promoting membership in any one organization but simply to stress that the forum for collaboration that is vital for our industry's future already exists. It exists in local, regional and national communities and at events such as Eventworld and The Special Event. The challenge is that we make the most of these opportunities, that we look beyond the familiar faces (and the few celebrities) and recognize the bright-eyed new kid full of potential. Indeed, that is how I came to events. I feel immensely fortunate to have found an industry I love. But like many, I fell into this business. I came to events not by plan but due to the luck of fantastic opportunities given (and this is the key) by the grace of two or three specific individuals who were willing to offer a chance to a passionate new kid. These individuals dared to capitalize on the opportunity by taking the time to take me up on my offer to meet for a cup of coffee and explore my interest in events. In doing this (if I may be so bold to say so) they gave back to the industry by giving to its future.

My hope is that this article stands not on a soapbox but instead as a contribution to the dialogue, a challenge to us as a creative community of event professionals to consider our role in determining what, or more specifically, who, comes next. Our purpose, our legacy and our ultimate success is in seeking and nurturing the young who desire to work with us and who will be the leaders of our industry in a generation or two. The growth potential for the next generation is exponential, but their education must not be confined to textbooks and lucky breaks. Instead, it resides in the voices of experience and the characters of excellence who have dreamt big to pioneer our profession.

If we do not rise to these challenges, as a profession and as individual persons, it is only to our own detriment. What is brilliant about what we get to do every day is that we have been afforded the opportunity to create experiences for people, to make moments and memories. Our contribution to the world is in the stories we tell in the texts of the events we create. That is our luxury. And that is our gift to share with the talent of tomorrow.

Ryan Hanson is an award-wining event producer based in Minneapolis. He can be reached at 612/436-4522, [email protected].

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