When is the last time you experienced a “mountaintop experience” in your professional career? You hear people describe these experiences in their personal lives after they come back from a thrilling adventure or exotic vacation. Something happens that is uplifting and inspiring, maybe even life-changing. I would guess that most of us have experienced something similar in our personal lives. But have you had that mountaintop experience in your career?
Attending Venue Management School (VMS) earlier this summer was exactly that for me. I mean literally, Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, West Virginia, the permanent home of VMS, is on the top of a mountain. The views are incredible, especially compared to the rolling hills of farmland that I am used to in Southern Indiana. But beyond that, VMS is a powerful tool in the development of a young professional’s career. VMS effectively teaches the venue management industry, positions attendees to effortlessly network with other industry colleagues, and inspires you no matter what stage of career you are in. If you are a young professional in the venue management industry, you need to find a way to get to VMS.
Teaching the Venue Management Industry
At its core mission, VMS successfully teaches the venue management industry. The amount of information I was able to absorb in this week-long course (taken in two consecutive years) about the industry was incredible. I’m sure many young professionals out there are similar to me, in that you sort of fell into this career. For me, I was a basketball junkie. I grew up as an athletic director’s son, played sports throughout my entire life, and was a staff member for the IU Basketball team during college. Sports were (are) my passion. So when I saw an opportunity to gain valuable experience managing people and a budget but also to be involved with athletic events, I jumped at the opportunity. What could be a better job just out of college? But my lack of industry knowledge was very evident, and I was not as effective in my role as I could have been. Fortunately, my boss is a true believer in professional development and an even bigger believer in IAVM. VMS has helped fill this void of venue management knowledge over the past two years. Topics like booking and scheduling, tenant/management relations, venue law, crowd management, and dozens of others that directly target issues we all deal with are taught by instructors who are industry veterans.
Even for those young professionals who have always wanted a career in the venue industry and already know the ins and outs of venue management, VMS will further your education. Other classes, such as controlling costs, creativity, and strategic business planning challenge your thinking and look to enhance your career development. VMS truly is for everyone, but especially for all the young professionals in the industry.
I know, I know, the term networking is used far too often these days. Articles, book, research studies, and TV segments are specifically devoted to the importance of networking. We all understand how value it can be. We have grown up with our parents, teachers, and the media shoving it down our throats. We get it: networking is important. But truth be told, networking can still be awkward for all of us from time to time. I remember thinking going into Year 1 of VMS last summer, “I don’t know if I will be able to handle six straight days of networking.” I felt like a kid whose parents were shipping him off to summer camp where I knew no one. I was more than a little bit nervous. But by the end of day one, all of my fears and reservations were gone.
VMS finds a way to put all of its attendees in easy, convenient situations for networking. Peer mentor groups (led by Year 2 students), ideal class sizes, group events in the evening, and late night “study groups” in the library (also known as GlassWorks Bar) make networking easy and simple. And because all other VMS attendees are looking to network as well, it takes the pressure off meeting people. In my two years at VMS, I am confident that I have made friends for life. These are other young professionals that I will be able to go to for advice or questions as things come up, but they are also the people that I will look forward to spending time with at future IAVM conferences or the next time I visit their city. And as a bonus, at VMS you are not only networking with other young professionals but seasoned veterans of the venue industry as well. Attendees range in all ages and stages of careers—I had classmates who were directors and vice presidents of their venues. Additionally, the professors (who are all big wigs in the industry) make themselves available daily to network, interact with, and ask advice. Networking at VMS goes far beyond business card-sharing; it creates meaningful, long term relationships with other industry professionals.
While learning about the venue industry and being able to network were great aspects of VMS, the best part of the experience for anyone, but especially Young Professionals, is how VMS inspires you in your career. Remember that mountaintop experience I was referring to earlier? I have come back from VMS with countless ideas on components to implement into our organization, ways to streamline our processes, and approaches to inspire our employees.
Some of these are very specific things we have already begun to implement. Paul Turner, director of event operations and security at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, taught the “Planning Life Safety” course. At IU, we have already adapted a version of his “Life Safety Briefing” to use for all of our supervisors on game days to more effectively communicate to our staff about emergency preparedness. The “Employee Training Programs” class taught by Kerry Painter, assistant general manager at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa, inspired me to revamp our employee training programs to include elements that directly engage multiple generations of staff. IRG Sports + Entertainment’s President/CEO Jason Rittenbery taught “Enhancing the Experience,” making me appreciate that we can always be doing something more to improve our guest’s experience at our events. I will be issuing a challenge to all of my managers of events to continually find ways to enhance the experience. And the list of practical ideas and tools that I came away with from the classes at VMS goes on and on.
But it’s not just the classes that inspire and teach. Between round-table discussions, dinner conversations, and networking opportunities, you constantly find yourself surrounded by other young professionals that have gone through similar difficulties in their career or workplace. VMS cultivates an atmosphere of question-asking and idea-sharing. And I know this atmosphere will continue far beyond the week at VMS.
If you are a young professional and have not attended Venue Management School, start the conversation with your superiors. The investment will not only help you in your professional career, but it will also benefit your organization. I have been privileged to experience something as powerful as VMS early in my professional career. The tools and skills that I have learned through the program have already proved useful, and I know that I will rely on this education for years to come. If you have any questions, reservations, or concerns about VMS, I would love to chat with you. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will also be in Baltimore at VenueConnect, so feel free to look me up!