After another year of disruption, members of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2022 are proof positive that adaptability is a requisite skill for business events industry professionals. Josh Henry, meetings manager at SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, in Bellingham, Washington, shares his thoughts about the future of the business events industry.
What do you like most about your job?
The events industry is the perfect blend of creativity and logistics. Being able to put everything into creating an engaging and effective event and then watch it pay off in real time is endlessly gratifying.
I work as a planner in the association sector and I often recall the first time the impact of my job really sunk in. I was at a poster presentation reception and I watched one of our student presenters light up when given the opportunity to present their research to an expert in their field. The space we created for them allowed them to share their passion with the world and it could not have been more inspiring to see. That moment changed the way I look at events. I knew that I had chosen the right career.
What do you see as key to the industry’s recovery after this time of disruption?
The best thing we can do as an industry and as event professionals is listen, learn, and adapt. This pandemic has made beginners of us all and the more we can build each other up and share our lessons learned, both good and bad, the better we’ll be able to redefine success in the “new normal.” This is especially relevant for early-career professionals like myself and my 20 in Their Twenties classmates. We have a unique opportunity to make a huge impact on the status quo of the events industry. As we reinvent how we do business, voices like ours will be a crucial part of the conversation.
What has this time of disruption taught you about the industry — and yourself?
Over the last two years, I’ve seen the industry rocked to its core only to bounce back with renewed passion. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of interpersonal connections and collaboration. We’ve heard louder than ever that the world relies on us as event professionals to help build a better future for all of us.
I joined the events industry in 2016. At that time, I viewed my LGBTQ identity as something separate from my career and while this is still the case for many others, I realized that for me this separation was depriving me of one of my greatest assets — the ability to use my experiences as a marginalized individual to inform my decisions as a professional. When I was in the process of coming out, attending an event that clearly and openly welcomed and embraced who I was would have meant the world to me. Now I have an opportunity to create this experience for others. As queer people, we often have the option of making our queerness invisible when being open feels unsafe. This choice isn’t available to most other marginalized communities so creating a space that feels safe, inviting, and inclusive is crucial to the success of an event. I’m reminded every day how impactful the work that we all do can be on the world around us. It is our job as event professionals to champion and foster positive social change.
In May of 2020 when the whole world was shaken by the murder of George Floyd and the resulting reckoning with systemic racism we were reminded of this once again. My organization along with many others took a deeper look into how we can address issues of inequality both within our organization and the community that we serve. Being a community support and events organization we were reminded once again of the role we serve in modeling the world we wish to see.
What new skills has the pandemic led you to pursue?
As I’m sure is the case with many, my organization made the pivot to digital events in March 2020. My job quickly changed from a behind-the-curtain role to a much more visible role and I was prompted to focus more on my presentation and public speaking skills. This has led to all kinds of new opportunities, including speaking engagements where I’ve been able to participate in discussions about the future of our industry and how we can work together to make events more equitable.