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IAEE Spotlight on 2022 IAEE Chapter Merit Award Winner Sydney Rhea, CEM

Sydney Rhea, CEM gives all of herself in everything she does. Whether it’s tending to her 75 fruit trees that yield a bounty of delicious treats or learning new ways to contribute to the industry, she is always looking for ways to cultivate growth and the Rocky Mountain Chapter is loving every bit of it!

By Mary Tucker, Sr. Communications & Content Manager

Sydney Rhea, CEM has proven herself a great asset to the IAEE Rocky Mountain Chapter by going above and beyond to propel the chapter’s success. She took on the role as Chapter Chairperson halfway through 2022, maintaining enthusiasm about finishing the year strong and continuing into 2023. She continually strives to support the industry by selflessly giving her time to projects, causes, and numerous Board meetings with a deep graciousness and a thoughtful point of view.

Sydney thrives on creating opportunities to connect and grow the chapter while keeping in mind the unique needs of the young professionals in its midst. Her perpetually positive outlook has led the chapter to create a new website, build cross-organizational networking opportunities, and provide integral outreach to its members during the depths of the pandemic.

In addition, Sydney created a training library for all recorded trainings, ensuring a smoother process for onboarding new team members; crafted emails sent to chapter members; planned and executed events, including on-demand interviews with industry thought leaders to provide bite-sized and accessible education; and invested in YP relationships with local hospitality programs, developed YP-focused events for the Rocky Mountain region and recruited YP Board members. She also created an Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition scholarship that focuses on YP delegates in the work force who have a harder time justifying the expenditure to their supervisors, empowering them with the opportunity to attend Expo! Expo!.

Sydney has been commended for leading by example and giving everything she has to seeing the IAEE Rocky Mountain Chapter achieve great success. Her dedication and results-oriented efforts earned her the IAEE Chapter Merit Award last year, for which she was recognized this past December during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Louisville, KY (watch Sydney’s acceptance speech here).

2022 IAEE Awards Chairperson Daniel McKinnon, CEM (left) and IAEE President & CEO David DuBois, CMP-F, CAE, FASAE, CTA (right) present the Chapter Merit Award to Sydney Rhea, CEM (middle) during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2022 in Louisville, KY.

Here, Sydney shares with IAEE how she has transferred her love of theater to exhibitions and events, and what her industry family means to her as she dedicates herself to the advancement and growth of her career, her local chapter, and the industry overall.

What drew you the exhibitions and events industry, and what about it appeals to you the most?

The exhibitions and events industry is a family. I went to college for Theater and then moved to New York City and stage managed Off-Broadway. I needed a change in career after six years of professional Stage Management and changed paths to plan weddings and galas in New York City. I was missing the feeling of family and instant bonding that exists in the Theater community and when I started working in trade shows, I instantly found it! Our industry is full of the most caring, inspirational individuals I’ve ever met and I’m so thankful to have found my industry family!

You have answered an industry-wide call to action by putting considerable effort into recruiting YPs to and investing in their growth. What do you see as the greatest strengths YPs bring to the table and how can the exhibitions and events industry best speak to their needs?

Young professionals are the voice of the future. I’ll say this now at the age of 33 and I’ll continue to say it when I am an older professional. In order to see the trajectory of any industry, you must invest in the youngest generation of the workforce.

Young professionals bring fresh thought. They are not bound by doing things the way they’ve always been done at a company. Our industry needs to continue to lift up the youngest members, give them a voice at the table, and support them if they don’t make the best decisions the first time they contribute an idea. Invest in a young professional’s education and consider mentorship. I promise you will gain as much from the partnership, if not more than your mentee does.

Your chapter colleagues commended your energy and enthusiasm for advancing the chapter’s education and networking initiatives. Where do you find inspiration for the various activities you create and how do you stay on top of the latest industry trends?

My energy and enthusiasm have always come from people. I love being surrounded by good people with great ideas. My strength is in honing other’s ideas and being able to see situations in a “big picture” way.  It is what informed my seven years in trade show operations.

Our chapter’s education and networking initiatives have come from listening and observing. I try my best to listen to what our Board members want, and think, will make for a fun event. If the Board members are excited, it will be easy to get our chapter members excited to attend.

You have also been applauded as an overall champion for chapter involvement. What would you tell someone interested in getting more involved in their IAEE chapter and what have you enjoyed most about being a part of chapter leadership?

I love being involved in IAEE Rocky Mountain Chapter! I get to surround myself with some of my favorite people in the industry!

If you’re interested in getting more involved in your local chapter, don’t hesitate! Send an email to the Board and ask how you can help. You’ll meet the most amazing people and you’ll get to test out skills you wouldn’t get the opportunity to in your current professional role. I’ve learned how to build a website, create a social media campaign, draft emails to hundreds of people, and most importantly, manage a group of like-minded individuals. All of these skills have helped my career advanced and have gotten me the position I have today.

In your acceptance video, you mention that you were the youngest and most inexperienced member of your CEM Learning Program class. What inspired you to pursue earning your CEM designation and what difference do you think it has made in your career?

My boss and mentor, Pamela Skaggs, recommended I get my CEM as an education and networking opportunity just over a year into my role at Penton (now Informa) as an Operations Coordinator. I had never heard of IAEE or the CEM designation as I was new to the exhibitions industry.  She invested in my career and opened the door to my involvement in IAEE. 

The knowledge I’ve gained through the CEM Learning Program propelled my Operations career and gained me insight on how my Sales team members interact with our clients, how my Marketing team members promote our events, and as a meeting organizer, how external vendors and venues partner with us to ensure a wonderful experience for all. Thanks to that education, I have a well-rounded view of the industry and feel confident leading Informa Markets North America’s Sustainability Initiatives.

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!

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