"Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction." - John Crosby
I’m not sure who John Crosby is, but based on conversations with four women with various levels of experience in the meetings and events industry and the desire and ambition to continue their personal and career growth, his brief synapses of mentoring is right on the money. We hope you find this dialogue insightful and may it serve as inspiration to seek out a mentor or to walk alongside someone who can benefit from the connection.
Never too experienced for a mentor
As director of conventions for the Health Care Forum (now part of the American Hospital Association), prior to establishing Kinsley Meetings in the Denver area, Allison Kinsley, CMM, CMP was fortunate to have the executive director as an unofficial mentor. “She saw the potential in what I brought to the organization and pulled me into the organization in marvelous ways,” Kinsley recalls.
Kinsley’s boss, who also served as chairman of the board for the American Society of Association Executives, encouraged her to get a CMP credential and to get involved as a volunteer. “If she hadn’t said, ‘This is how you are going to move ahead rapidly,’ it wouldn’t have happened,” Kinsley confirms. “What I took away was the power of having someone on your side and to chart a course.”
Kinsley also has reached high levels of service to the industry. She was recently elected to serve a three-year term on the international board of directors of Meeting Professionals International and has served on the MPI Foundation’s board of trustees.
When Amy Drotar approached Kinsley about being a mentor, the two didn’t know each other very well. “I knew of Allison through MPI, and I wanted her as my mentor. I saw the respect she had in the industry,” says Drotar, who had worked at CH2M HILL for nearly 15 years at the time.
Drotar, now project manager/meeting planner for Polycom, Inc. in Westminster, was “thrilled” Kinsley accepted, and the two started meeting on a quarterly basis nearly 2 ½ years ago. They set up times to meet at Starbucks or Kinsley’s home, establishing specific goals and talking about progress in achieving the goals. It became Drotar’s “safe area” to share information; in turn, Kinsley provided honest feedback and instilled confidence. The colleagues still casually check in with each other and hope to start meeting again soon.
One of the most important areas Kinsley assisted Drotar with was creating a specific brand for herself. “It was a huge thing for me to get permission to not be an expert in every area of meeting planning; instead, I can be a resource,” she says.
“The first ‘aha’ moment was that Amy could bring what she really likes doing into her job. She has done some very interesting things to make advancements in identifying her goals, going after them and stepping into leaderships roles to advance the goals,” Kinsley reflects. “You get out of the experience what you bring to it. Her enthusiasm as we moved through the process was terrific.”
For Kinsley, working with Drotar reinforced the power of not feeling alone, articulating objectives and having accountability. “The planning community is so good about timelines and objectives but doesn’t necessarily know how to apply them to our own personal development,” Kinsley says. “Mentoring gives us a forum to say, ‘What do I want to do?’”
Some may think only people new to the industry benefit from mentoring, but Drotar quickly dispels that myth. “For senior planners in particular, it’s so important, especially for women, as we try to do all of it ourselves. We don’t want people to see us sweat or struggle, but you can’t change without it,” she emphasizes. “The benefits so outweigh the risks to grow in ways you can’t imagine. Others see traits that you can’t see yourself.”
Kinsley agrees, “I’ve been in this industry so long and have offered to talk to people on a regular basis, but I think people are afraid of what they might find out.” She adds, “A lot of us planners are out there on our own, but it’s amazing the network that is available.”
Drotar will begin serving on the MPI Rocky Mountain Chapter board in June as director of leadership development and believes the organization can play a role in helping members find mentor relationships. “I would encourage anyone considering it to go ask someone. If it doesn’t work, find someone else.” She cautions, “Don’t go looking for a ‘yes man,’ find someone who will challenge you.”
Launching a new career
After mentoring several planners and consulting with many small business owners over the past decade, Debbie Orwat, owner and creative director for Save the Date Events, recently decided to make it an official segment of her enterprise.
In 2005, after obtaining a degree in business and working as a consultant and event planner for a company that provided consulting services for large companies, Orwat established her own firm. Since then, she also has opened StudioWed Denver, working with more than 40 vendors, and introduced Planners Lounge, a resource site, blog and community for planners and event designers.
Through the process, the energetic Orwat realized that she has a great passion for and knowledge of business and for helping others succeed. “It inspires me immensely to see other women and men build, grow and be successful in the events industry,” she reflects. Last November, she taught her first class about how to start an event planning business with 25 attending. “I received great feedback and was so energized by it,” says Orwat, who has continued offering classes. “It has been a whirlwind four or five months, but I love it. I’m now doing less planning and more teaching and coaching.”
Orwat believes there are two key things to consider when selecting a mentor: choosing someone who has achieved what you want and is a living example of the success you are looking for and finding a personality match. “Some people just need someone to listen, while others need a cheerleader and a task list to stay on track. It’s interesting to see the different roles I play with each person.”
Mentoring can play a “huge” role in the development of the meetings and events industry, Orwat says. “There are so many who have built successful planning businesses and venues. On the flip side, there are so many who want to get into the industry.”
One of those individuals is Marisa Heidt, who started Mosaic Events in January after working in the environmental field as an assistant to a county arborist. Based in the Boulder area, she was planning events for three years on the side and decided to take the leap and establish a company that focuses primarily on weddings and special occasions. A friend sent her a link to information about Orwat’s workshop.
“It was like a switch was flipped that I can do this and will do this,” Heidt says. “Debbie made it seem really attainable.”
After finding out that Orwat offered business assistance, Heidt set up consultations. “Debbie helps people solidify their ideas. She doesn’t come up with ideas but builds confidence around your goals and ideas,” she says. “I am very inquisitive so always have a ton of questions, but Debbie is good about sorting out what should be addressed first. She is good at empowering people.”
The two meet over coffee at the studio, and they plan on continuing the relationship until her business gets a solid footing.
“Marisa is determined in a quiet way. She has a quiet enthusiasm about her and such solid experience in business and in a work environment. Her personality and energy are very close to mine, so we work well together,” Orwat observes. “We are a very good fit and she values the experience I can share, which for me is very rewarding.”
Not only has Orwat shared expertise, she has discovered a lot about herself. “One of the biggest things is learning how far I’ve come,” she says. “I appreciate my success more when stepping back and realizing what I’ve been able to do.”
Heidt strongly advises finding a mentor or to pay for a consultant or coach. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” she advises. “Be patient with the process, and you will end up getting something you are really happy with.”