This year, PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties program honors its 10th class of exceptional young leaders in the business events industry. Class member Nikki Gonzales, chief of staff at Soundings, explains why adaptability, agility, and empathy are important skills for event professionals to have in their toolbox.
What creative initiative, innovation, or meeting format that came out of the pandemic do you believe should remain? And why?
New community building efforts should remain. Even though we were stuck inside for quite a while during the pandemic, technology allowed us to connect with people all around the globe in ways that we haven’t been able to in the past. With the technology that has emerged in the last few years, event organizers are now able to interact with attendees pre- and post-event through forums and other digital interaction tools.
As event professionals, many interest groups and forums also have been key in staying up to date on the latest developments. This was especially key as regulations and restrictions continued to fluctuate as we navigated the pandemic.
What do you like most about your job?
I am constantly learning and growing with my company and team — and this is hands-down my favorite part of my job. At Soundings, our company mission is to make professional freedom accessible to all by revolutionizing the way companies work with talent. I get to build out a platform for community members to gain access to this professional freedom in their own careers.
What have you learned about yourself — and the industry — during the past few years of uncertainty?
The last few years have been full of reflection for me. My motto for a lot of the things I pursue is usually, “Say yes now, figure it out later.” When you’re moving full speed ahead on experiences, projects, and life in general — you tend to forget to slow down and be in the moment. Having the chance to pause and reflect on how far I had come was actually key for me in coming to an understanding of why I loved the hospitality and events industry.
The industry is exciting, and the work we do is complex and challenging. There is so much value we bring to the table in the work we do, and I hope that more people outside the industry also recognize this. I am thankful for having been championed and supported as a professional with valued perspective and ideas, looking past my age and level of experience.
What skills have been key to your success during these uncertain times?
Adaptability, agility, and empathy. If there’s one thing that has been consistent through these last few years, it’s change. Whether it has been navigating the changing event safety regulations and formats or constantly shifting marketing strategies, being able to move quickly to answer these shifts has been key in being successful in my current role.
Empathy has been a big piece of this as well. Not only have we been navigating unprecedented events (on repeat!), many of us also have been working through some of the busiest seasons to date. Internally, we talk a lot about giving each other grace for things that may be out of our control and making sure we celebrate our wins more often.
Working in a start-up environment as someone who strives for the highest quality output can be very draining. There’s no playbook or benchmark for the new initiatives and innovations we create because in many cases, no one’s done it before. This also applies to all the partners we work with. Navigating projects with empathy and transparency has built stronger relationships for us and more successful activations as well.
What advice would you give students who are interested in pursuing careers in the events industry?
Stay curious! There are so many directions and pathways to take within the events industry, so there is something for everyone. Use your “student card” to your advantage and meet as many people as you possibly can, even just to hear about their journey and find inspiration. I work with so many incredible professionals both on my own internal team and through the members of our community on a daily basis, and everyone is so open to sharing their experiences and expertise. Your time as a student should be a time spent to freely experiment, gain experience, and pinpoint what you like and do not like. If something catches your interest, go down that rabbit hole and find everything you can discover about it. You got this. And you have so many people rooting for you.
Members of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2023, supported by PCMA Foundation and Experience Columbus, were recognized at PCMA Convening Leaders 2023, Jan. 8-11 in Columbus, Ohio.