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How I Became a CEM Gamechanger: Khristopher Harris, CEM

The Certified in Exhibition Management™ (CEM) designation is a globally recognized designation that demonstrates the highest professional standard throughout the exhibition and event management arena. Earning the CEM designation takes dedication and proves you are a gamechanger in the industry.

2018 CEM Commission Chairperson, Cookie Walner, CMP, CMM, CAE, CEM interviewed recent CEM graduate, Khristopher Harris, CEM on his journey on becoming a CEM gamechanger.

What made you decide to get your CEM at this time in your career path?

I’ve been around the exhibitions and events industry in some capacity for several years, either an exhibitor or as an attendee while working for other companies after graduating from college in 2004. It was not until I began working for Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) that I began to realize the vast spectrum of the exhibitions industry and learned roughly how many shows there are around the world, and the number of companies involved. After working for PPAI as a Marketing Manager for five years and playing a small role in the production of our show, I knew I was interested in trade shows and events and I wanted a career in the exhibitions and events industry.

After being hired as the Operations Manager for PPAI’s Expositions department, I learned about the CEM designation and the requirements to apply. Although I had known about exhibitions for years in different capacities, I still needed to show three years of having actively worked in a show production or management role prior applying for the CEM designation. I set a calendar reminder for exactly three years from the date I began working as the Operations Manager to apply for the CEM program. Again, I knew wanted a career in the industry and I knew I wanted to have my CEM designation behind my name, to show others how serious and dedicated I was about my job in producing our PPAI Expo, but also how committed I was to a career in the exhibitions and events industry.

As you know, CEM courses are offered online and on-site. You decided to take mostly on-site CEM classes. What did you like about taking on-site classes?

I’m an extrovert, so I was intrigued by taking classes with others and interacting with them in a class setting – much like what I was accustomed to years ago in college. Besides, as busy as we are in the industry and in our daily lives, it would be very difficult for me to stay in the office taking the courses online without being interrupted by co-workers, or by being drawn to calls or projects.

Last year, you took courses at CEM Week Los Angeles and CEM Week Cleveland. How did attending both CEM Weeks benefit your CEM journey?

I enjoyed being able to take multiple classes in one week and sit for the tests on the same day the classes were completed. Of course, this does not mean I crammed everything in over the course of one week. That is a good way to fail, or at least make life very difficult for yourself.

I took time several weeks in advance to study every night after work. I read all the required chapters in The Art of the Show, fourth edition textbook assigned to each course. Additionally, I read every module IAEE created for each course prior to attending the two separate CEM weeks. All the studying and preparation made for an enjoyable and engaging week of study with other industry colleagues from around the country and all areas of the exhibitions industry.

At both CEM Weeks, students were able to collaborate, share real show experiences, learn from one another and learn from instructors who are some of the best minds with years of experience in the exhibitions industry. Outside of the classroom, we also had opportunities to network with peers and instructors. We participated in tours, mini site visits to local convention centers, the CEM Week host hotels and the local venues, which showed off the host city very well. I highly recommend anyone considering their CEM, to invest the time and resources to attend a CEM week. You will not regret it.

The next CEM Week is taking place in Chicago on 6-10 August!

As an Operations Manager in with PPAI, how has the CEM helped you in your career?

My CEM has only just begun to show its benefits, and I believe more will unfold as my career progresses. My company, PPAI, understands the value I bring to the organization as an employee with years of experience in other departments outside the expositions team. As the Operations Manager, PPAI knows I am very dedicated to producing a best-in-class product (The PPAI Expo) and performing at the highest level to deliver a Top 50 trade show.

Earning my CEM designation demonstrates my dedication to our exhibitions, our members and the industry we serve. The fact that PPAI paid for my CEM course fees, application fee and travel expenses shows me that my company believes in me personally and professionally, believes in the value of the CEM and is dedicated to what I do as an employee on behalf of the organization. I believe my CEM shows industry colleagues what my company already sees in me: a hardworking, intelligent and dedicated trade show professional. The CEM is the icing on the cake and proof that I know what I am doing when it comes to producing a quality show.

What would you like to accomplish with your CEM?

I want my CEM designation to show those with whom I conduct business that I am a true professional in the exhibitions and events industry. Yes, my years of experience and my past trade shows and performance speak volumes, but the CEM designation shows that I also understand the many facets of the industry and am cross-trained and educated in all areas of the business. In the future, I hope it does give me a leg up on the competition.

How do you plan to recertify your CEM?

Because I enjoy the face-to-face classes, I plan to take the additional recertification courses at live events, such as Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition or other sessions held around the country. Of course, it always helps when the on-site courses are held in your own city.

What is one thing you learned about the CEM program that you wished you learned sooner?

I would say more than just one thing I wish I could have learned sooner. The CEM Learning Program to me is more than just an education and certification course. The networking opportunities I experienced while at two separate CEM weeks were a huge highlight for me. I learned a great deal from my peers and realized I, too, had a great deal of knowledge I was able to share in return.

I was surprised a few times to learn more about what my peers in the exhibitions and events industry have dealt with throughout their careers, ranging from housing or registration nightmares to catering and exhibit hall issues, and even acts of terrorism that affected their events both domestically and internationally. I was able to file away in my memory bank their positive and negative experiences, and how they were able to capitalize on those experiences, or face and overcome challenges that would overwhelm most individuals.

To start your journey in becoming a CEM gamechanger, visit the CEM Learning Program.

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