Event professionals can start their career paths in almost any job or industry. This is something the Brew Crew knows well, as today’s hosts share a combined 82 years of industry experience with a wide range of event jobs that led them to where they are today.
In this episode of the Event Brew podcast, Deanna Nwosu, Will Curran, Nick Borelli, and Arianna Black share their career journeys, the event jobs they’ve held, and advice they wish they’d known when first starting their careers. A big shout out to our listener, Kelsi D. Today’s episode directly responds to her question, “How did you get started in the events industry?”
How Arianna Got Started in Events
Arianna is a recent addition to the Brew Crew, also guest-hosting an episode with Will about gamification for events. She begins the story of her career path in California. “I would say my illustrious career in hospitality began when I was a bus girl at the Lakewood Italian restaurant where I would invite you to rip, dip, and enjoy your bread,” she says.
She continues: “It’s like I fell into events. I taught spin classes at University. They were super boring, but everybody kept coming back. So, I started to bake muffins for them. I would bring in disco balls, trying to make it a fun experience. I’ve just always thrown the party, and at some point, I started getting paid for it. I think a lot of us started in catering; feeding people is huge for events.”
After some time in catering, Arianna moved into event logistics. “I transitioned into the trade show world for technology events,” she says. “Most recently, I’ve been working for a nonprofit, diving into event strategy. I think it’s a really interesting time in events because there’s a whole industry based on being in-person. Many people were making money but haven’t fully transitioned to digital and need some reskilling. It’s a wild time to be having conversations about how we gather, how to make it not suck, and how not to revert to in-person events with elitism that happened in most onsite conferences.”
How Nick Got Started in Events
Similar to Arianna, Nick also started in hospitality. “The first job I ever had was in catering at a theme park in Erie, Pennsylvania called Waldemar,” says Nick. “My dad got me a job washing dishes there, and I eventually started working in food prep. Come 1993, and I was getting into web design. I was building websites and was able to find a way to make money doing that for a guy who had a marketing company and was also the dean at our local college of communications.”
In addition to his early exposure to college, he also took an unpaid “position” at the local college. “In seventh grade, I started answering the phones at the college radio station because some college kid tricked me into doing it. He told me, ‘You could actually answer the phones here.’ He wasn’t being paid. Then I had my own show by eighth grade up to what would have been my first year in college, had I gone to college.”
Nick opted against attending college because he’d already learned so much and had access to the college campus at the time. “That guy was such an influence in not going to college. He said, ‘You could go to college, and we would teach you how to do what you’ve been doing for four years.’ I just got an apartment adjacent to the college and worked for his business,” explains Nick. “I also worked in catering the entire time. In high school, I had no fewer than two jobs and as many as four. I worked in an arcade, Blockbuster, and a coffee shop.”
“Eventually, I went into event logistics.” And because of a clash between the then-current salesperson and owner, Nick also moved into sales. “I started selling very expensive weddings. That’s when I found out about the International Caters Association. The guy I worked for was on the board and the culinary council board. I met all the ICA people and got really into message boards. I talked to Mike Roman once a week and just absorbed so much information from him.”
That relationship with Mike leads to Nick’s involvement with Catersource, beginning in the early 2000s. “I spoke there for the first time in 2005 or 2006 and had a good 12-year run on the show. But I wanted to get out at a certain point because I thought I figured the whole industry out. And then, I met people who were 10 times better than me because they came from other markets. That exposure showed me the potential. I realized there were so many ways this could go, and I decided this was what I wanted. And since then, I’ve been trying to marry digital stuff with in-person stuff and finding where they complement each other.”
How Will Got Started in Events
Will’s career path began in high school, where he discovered web design before becoming a DJ. Will, “Many people know me as a very social, high-energy person, but most people don’t realize I used to be extremely introverted, quiet, and nerdy. I was very nerdy growing up. I didn’t have many real jobs in my early career because I basically started this company in high school. Before that, the only experience I had was the internet radio station and building a lot of websites.”
“Before WordPress was everywhere, I worked for a company called Mod Blog from 2002 through 2005,” explains Will. “I found them through a website called Desk Mod. They said, “Hey, we’re going to launch a new website called Mod Blog.” I decided to start a blog on this site. In the beginning, it was very personal. But then I realized I’m passionate about sharing tech news. So early on, I had a passion for competing against the early days of Gizmodo and Engadget.”
This passion eventually became a source of income for the then-seventh-grade Will. “I did so much and changed my web designs so much that Mod Blog asked to buy some of my designs and make them into templates for new users. They offered me $400 per design. It was an incredible experience for me. And they said, ‘Hey, we want you to be a moderator for the community forums.’ I had to learn to be professional, so I learned a lot in those four years in IRC chat rooms, Mod Blog, and Desk Mod. Shortly after, I became a DJ, and that’s all I’ve known. My life has been events since that point.”
How Deanna Got Started in Events
Like her co-hosts Arianna and Nick, Deanna got her start in food and beverage. “My first job in high school was at Taco Bell. I would work there during my college breaks. When I went to college, I was one of those undecided students. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I decided to pursue a business degree. I went to Bowling Green State University, and they had a few different business program specializations.” Recognizing her hospitality experience and customer service strengths, Deanna chose to pursue a specialization in hospitality.
“In my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years, I started doing events with the organizations I was part of,” she continues. “I was the social chair for my sorority, and we did a male pageant. That was when my eyes opened, and I knew I liked this. I started tapping into what events are and asking, can I make a career out of this?”
“When I graduated, I couldn’t find a job right away, so I went to grad school. I went to Michigan State, which has an excellent Hospitality program and worked in banquets at a hotel. That gave me even more inspiration to pursue events.”
While in graduate school, Deanna got her first event job as a meeting coordinator. “It was the best first job because the events I worked on were little seminars. I managed the contracts, food and beverage, marketing, and speaker acquisition from start to finish. I’m thankful for that first experience because I got a lot of experience in a place where I could grow without being afraid to make mistakes. Fast forward, and I’ve worked in several sectors of the industry. On the corporate side, I’ve worked in association as a third-party planner, and I did independent contracting for about a year.”
Final Thoughts and Advice for Our Younger Selves
This episode has been full of background, tips, and fun facts, and we just couldn’t squeeze it all into one post. So if you’ve enjoyed hearing about how the Brew Crew got their event jobs, make sure to give this episode a listen too. But before Deanna wraps things up, she has one last question for the Crew. “We’ve been chatty Cathy’s today, but we have time for one last quick question. If you could give your baby event-professional self one note of advice, what would it be?” asks Deanna.
Don’t Wait for the Perfect Time
“If I were to tell myself anything, it would be, try things before you ‘have it figured out,’ says Nick. “Don’t be shy, thinking you’re not ready for something. You’ll put the work in. And you’re actually more likely to put the work in with a deadline than if you were to methodically build yourself up to a position where you feel ready to do it.”
Put Yourself Out There in Content
“The best thing I ever did was put myself out there in content,” says Will. “For example, Melanie from Event Planning Blueprint said to me, ‘I saw some of your blog posts about AV, and I want you to come talk about AV on my Event Planning Blueprint video.’ I was so nervous. I had no talking points, she just asked me questions, and I had answers. It allowed me to put myself out there and start building that self-brand.” For Will, the notoriety you gain through content will go with you anywhere, whereas networking in a specific market or niche will only travel with you so far.
“Be more intentional about networking sooner. I’m so new to it, and the leaps and bounds it has made for my career in the past two to three years; if I had started at 23 or 25, the connections and mentors I would have would just be mind blowing,” says Deanna.
Events are About Humans
“Events are about people at the end of the day. They’re about humans, and human behavior is not predictable. It’s not rational,” explains Arianna. “So if you think you’re interested in an event job, that this is something you might want to try, know that the high of bringing humans together makes all of the painful parts totally worth it. All you really have to do is care about people and the human experience. You’ll figure the rest out.”
Thanks to Kelsi D. for sending her question leading to today’s discussion. If you have a question for the Brew Crew, email us! You might hear your question on a future episode of the Event Brew podcast.