The Event Experience: An Epiphany


Katelyn is a writer, copyeditor, and association professional who currently serves MSAE as its Communications Liaison. Her experience and background working in association management offer a unique perspective to MSAE membership.

One of the biggest rookie mistakes I made early on in my association career was the wild misinterpretation of events. I romanticized the travel, oversimplified the logistics, failed to realize the details, and imagined “quality member experience” as mostly pertaining to whether there was a vegetarian option on the menu. Slightly more seasoned and with some experience to call upon, I now understand that much of an association’s wellbeing – including critical revenue and educational opportunities – relies on the success of its event[s]. And while there are components of creativity and fun – event execution is not for the faint of heart.

I remember saying once to a room of my superiors that I wanted to work on the “events” side of things because of the “opportunity to travel” and practically being laughed out of the room. Not in a malicious way, just because “if you know you know” and they couldn’t help it. Reiterating that story now usually just incites a doubling down; “you won’t see the light of day.” Taken out of context, this sounds like an ominous foreshadowing but in the realm of event management, it is a basic truth. This is not to say that the experience is a foreboding one, only that it is much different (and significantly more complex) than a regular day’s work (or ten).

Now that I am past the allurement, I am free to focus on the actual purpose of events – which stands to drive just as much meaning as jet-setting. Traveling for events may not mean logging off at 5 o’clock to explore a new city, or scouring Yelp reviews for the best brunch spot, but it is not lacking in fun nor learning opportunities, and unique experiences. Managing events sometimes means bearing witness to obscure rituals, ensuring the seamless execution of decades-old ceremonies, and/or ensuring the air conditioning doesn’t malfunction again lest the cats become too lethargic to perform…

As I emerge further into my career, the illusions of association events fall away but a verity prevails: Just as travel can enhance the human experience, events are intended to enhance member experience. So, it turns out I might be able to have my cake and eat it too. The goal of any event should be to gather people for the purpose of advancing an industry, idea, and/or initiative through community and networking. People get to be together. They get to experience something – and so do I. That experience for me may not be particularly glamorous in practice but is extremely rewarding. It has been an epiphany that though it is not what I originally idealized, creating an event experience is exemplary of what it means to associate.