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IAEE Spotlight on 2023 Volunteer of the Year Award Winner Ryan Lovell, CEM-AP

Ryan Lovell
Ryan Lovell demonstrates his love for the industry by generously sharing his time, knowledge and expertise on both the local and national levels. In this interview, the IAEE Volunteer of the Year Award winner shares his outlook on why paying it forward can be so beneficial.

By Mary Tucker | Sr. Communications & Content Manager | IAEE

animated image of 2023 IAEE Volunteer of the Year Award Winner Ryan Lovell

With a fervent interest in the CEM Commission, chapter participation and education, Ryan Lovell, CEM-AP has dedicated his time to consistently participating in various IAEE initiatives including the IAEE Education Committee, IAEE Expo! Expo! Advisory Committee and the IAEE CEM Commission.

In his work on the CEM Commission, he has helped to develop and improve the CEM educational curriculum through his consistent and comprehensive efforts. He regularly volunteers his time and expertise in the events industry to help mentor up-and-coming young professionals while advocating for his peers to join IAEE.

Ryan’s dedication to advancing the industry and helping his peers succeed earned him the IAEE Volunteer of the Year Award last year, for which he was recognized this past December during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Dallas, Texas (watch Ryan’s acceptance speech here).

Here, Ryan shares with IAEE how he fulfilled his dream of teaching, how volunteering has exponentially expanded his perspective and why his love for the industry helps him make it look so easy.

fun facts about ryan lovell

What attracted you to the exhibitions and events industry, and what about a career in this industry has been most satisfying?

Ryan: I wouldn’t exactly say I sought out this wild ride, but I started in the industry at the age of 15. What began as a summer job in a graphics shop, turned into more than a just a career… I’d say that for some of us event peeps, it’s a lifestyle. But even with all the travel, the long hours, the stress, the crazy situations, I truly do love what I do.

As a kid, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. It didn’t quite work out that way, but joining the CEM faculty later in my career started to fulfill that dream. And I find that teaching, coaching, mentoring, and otherwise “giving back,” especially to the next generation, is massively rewarding to me. I also find that producing events is immensely rewarding. It’s tons of work (blood, sweat & tears), but once the show opens, there’s no feeling like it. And the moment the show breaks, there’s that feeling of exhausted euphoria. And, making it look easy is actually the hard part. I’ve never had an absolutely perfect show – where SOMETHING didn’t go wrong – but if I ever do, I’ll retire on the spot, lol.

One of the ways in which you contribute is by serving on the CEM Commission. Why do you encourage others to obtain their CEM designation? And, as a CEM-AP, what do you consider the greatest benefits to taking the designation to the advanced professional level for those who already have their CEM?

Ryan: It’s such a huge industry that it’s easy to get lost in a sea of adequacy. Earning a CEM demonstrates to others that you have drive and dedication, that you’ve put in the time and effort to invest in yourself and your career – to put yourself out front. I think that speaks volumes to one’s caliber. There are tons of professional designations out there across all industries, but the CEM is the premier designation in the exhibitions and events space. One can still be exceptional in this business without, but when I see “CEM” after someone’s name, I immediately know that they’re a dedicated industry professional.

With the still-fairly-new CEM-AP program, there is opportunity for continued professional growth and development. Before, you were able to earn a CEM let’s say, in your early 30’s. And then you could recertify every 3 years until you retire. Now, with the CEM-AP program, there’s an opportunity to take your CEM to the NEXT LEVEL! It’s a further demonstration of dedication to learning and growing and excellence in the exhibition and events industry. The CEM-AP program requirements are significantly more elevated, including additional leadership and education credits – it’s challenging, but also that much more rewarding and special.

The program kicked off in 2019, and COVID certainly contributed to a difficult launch. What was originally 5 individuals who earned their CEM-AP that year has grown into 24 CEM-AP grads (across the globe!) by the end of 2023. I’m excited to see those numbers increasing – a whopping 8 people walked the stage to earn theirs at Expo! Expo! in Dallas. I’ll gladly help anyone who has questions about the program or needs help throughout their journey!

You are also very involved in your local chapter by serving on the board of directors. How have you benefitted from diving into chapter leadership and what differences do you experience volunteering on the local level versus the national level?

Ryan: After earning my CEM in 2015, I knew I wanted to join the faculty and teach CEM classes, but I really didn’t know how to go about it. I got some great advice from Julie Smith at GES (thank you, Julie!), who said simply, “Start by getting involved at the local level.” So, I did just that… and I’ve served on the local DFW Chapter Board ever since.

In the moment, it was a pathway to join the CEM faculty – to fulfil a childhood dream of teaching. I didn’t imagine at the time that it would become a place for me to connect and build strong bonds with my fellow event peeps. What I’ve discovered over the past 7 years, is that local engagement and service to the board came with its own reward. These fellow board members are not only amazing colleagues and inspiring collaborators – they’ve become an extended industry family and it’s been amazing to watch their careers flourish as well. My DFW Chapter family keeps me tuned into what’s happening in my immediate environment. I love our DFW Chapter, and I’ll continue to serve as long as they’ll have me 😉.

Serving on national committees provides the opportunity to expand my network across the continent (and globe in some instances!) and I get to learn more about what’s happening outside of my bubble. Service among multiple committees concurrently has offered me an even greater family network of IAEE professionals, and I feel like I’m really helping to make a difference to shape the future. One day in the not-too-distant future, I hope to serve on IAEE’s national Board of Directors.

You have been commended for your dedication to mentoring young professionals. What are the top three recommendations you offer YPs interested in building a successful career in the industry and/or stepping into leadership roles in the near future?

Ryan: First, cross-train as much as possible. If you ultimately want a career in sales for example, spend a week in the warehouse turning a wrench. Spend a week in the graphics shop. Spend another week shadowing operations. Do ALL THE THINGS. Those experiences and perspectives will make you a better salesperson. Cross-training is invaluable regardless of your career aspirations.

Second, find a mentor. “Mentoring” may sound like a Master/Apprentice situation (who doesn’t want to become a Jedi?!) but it doesn’t have to be so formal. Find someone who will always answer your call and your questions – usually those individuals are eager to help you because they too, have had great mentors. Turns out, I had some great ones back in my earlier years, and mentoring is contagious. It’s this time, now in my career, that I’m eager to help bring up the next generation… to help them avoid the same mistakes that my mentors helped me avoid (…and so on, and so on, and so on…).

And third, ENGAGE! If you want to jumpstart your career, get involved in your local chapter and start networking now. Our entire industry is fundamentally based on human, face-to-face connections – networking! My only regret is that I didn’t get involved much sooner.

Oh, and fourth – go out there and earn your CEM! 😊

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 30 August!

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