Before Skye Richardson was on her way to earning a Master’s degree in global hospitality management at Georgia State University and winning an internship from the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, she was a high-school senior who discovered her professional passion at Chuck E. Cheese.
Here’s how: At the Douglasville, Ga., outpost for the nationwide chain of family-fun centers, Richardson took an after-school job as a party host. Her abilities got her promoted quickly to birthday coordinator, and that’s when the light bulb went on.
“I started doing more behind-the-scenes work and realized I was good at both planning and working the events,” she says. “When I first entered college, I wanted to be a marketing major. But I really enjoyed what I did at Chuck E. Cheese, so I decided to change my major to hospitality and get a minor in marketing.”
That decision was clearly the right one because Richardson is now a graduate assistant in Georgia State’s special events department, doing marketing communications. Further, she was one of just three hospitality students nationwide to receive a one-year scholarship as well as an internship from IAEE, the latter of which allowed Richardson to be part of the staff that coordinated IAEE’s annual meeting and exhibition last December.
In that role, “I got to sit in on the planning meetings, and then my main job was helping with the execution on site, which I loved,” she recalls. “I helped keep track of attendance for the breakout sessions and I helped attendees make their way around the show. Also, getting to learn about exhibit sales and how exhibits are built was great because those are things you can’t really learn in the classroom.”
As she nears completion of her Master’s degree and prepares to jump into the events industry full time, MeetingsNet caught up with Richardson to ask a few questions about her future aspirations and about how her generational peers can be enticed to attend business events.
MeetingsNet: Besides working on IAEE’s annual meeting, you’ve also assisted with meetings for members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce—and you’ve even interned at the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. So, which part of the events industry do you see yourself in once you’ve graduated?
Skye Richardson: I’ve realized that I want to handle destination services for a convention and visitors bureau because of the variety of events you get to work on and the different groups you work with. My main goal is do that for the Atlanta bureau.
MeetingsNet: At the IAEE annual meeting, was there a particular technology that you thought worked well for building engagement?
Skye Richardson: IAEE used an event app that kept track of session attendance and had gamification—attendees who had the most points got prizes on the last day of the show. That makes it a fun competition because most people like to brag a bit and use their social-media accounts to put it out there. At the meeting, it definitely gets people talking. It’s easy to start a conversation with, “How many points do you have, and what sessions have you attended?” I think it’s something that can help younger audience members get more social during the experience.
MeetingsNet: What social media channels do you think work best for planners to promote their events and get attendees excited?
Skye Richardson: TikTok is a great platform for that. When I get on there to see the conventions that are coming up, like the Atlanta Streetwear Market, I watch a lot of TikTok videos from companies that will exhibit because it all looks so cool. After a couple of minutes I’m thinking, “I do not want to miss that show.” I think TikTok can be really helpful for planners and for their exhibitors—and attendees will post their own TikTok videos while they are at the show, too.
MeetingsNet: On the flip side, what is something you’ve seen or experienced at business events that you think needs to change?
Skye Richardson: The issue I've run into at a few events is that as I walk the exhibit hall and try to strike up conversations with exhibitors, some of them seem uninterested in speaking with me because I'm not there as a buyer.
Exhibitors should make sure to be welcoming and open to anyone, such as students and people new to that industry who don’t make purchasing decisions yet. Be friendly and make young people feel comfortable, and that will make them want to continue in that industry. Even if they can’t help you today, be willing to take a few minutes to connect and educate them a bit.
MeetingsNet: Is there anything else that corporate and association meeting planners should understand about the under-30 audience to get them excited about attending in-person business events?
Skye Richardson: Know that our attention span is a little short. Keynote speakers who talk for almost an hour are going to lose our attention.
Also, one thing I love most about conventions and trade shows is when there’s a good blend of education with fun experiences, like with the opening reception, activations on the show floor and outside the exhibit hall, and the closing ceremony. Maintaining a balance of education and enjoyment will help get young people to business events.