ILEA Chicago Memberships - Here's What You Get...

ILEA Memberships educate you and help you build your career, promote you as an event professional, bring you together in networking events with other professionals and so much more.   If your not a member yet, or if you know event professionals that would benefit from joining our group, here are some great highlights of membership.  
Here’s just a few of the benefits of joining ILEA:
  • Get access to the wisdom of a broad member collective who plan and execute over 1 million special events each year –the brightest, most accomplished creative event professionals in the industry who execute some of the world’s most recognized live events.

  • Experience stimulating ideas and knowledge sharing with other creative event professionals from around the world at the annual ILEA Live conference.

  • Receive up-to-date deadline information for the Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) designation—keep updated on all of the information needed to gain your CSEP designation and show potential employers or clients that you are committed to the craft.

  • Use the ILEA Member Directory to find and connect with fellow creative events professionals around the world for advice and support.

  • Find resources, toolkits and tip sheets to grow your new client pipeline, increase revenue and manage the day-to-day tasks of running a business - available only to ILEA members in the Member Community

  • Take your job or candidate search in the right direction by exploring the ILEA Career Center.

Not yet a member, watch for our Membership Drive in May and be sure to take advantage of our $50 discount May 7 - 17! #MyILEA

Read More

What makes ILEA such an important part of your business / career development?

Highlights in last 12 months …What did you miss this year?

  • 4 members only events
    • SPiN Ping Pong networking (July 31) Free to members, 
    • Jennifer Perna from Fulton Market Consulting shared sales tips at Row24 (Sept 28 lunch
    • 11am-2pm); 
    • Ricky Hirsh from Think Jerky at Bridge 410 in conjunction with Chicago Food Planet (Jan 
    • 17-lunch 11am-2pm), 
    • Michelle Loretta from Sage Wedding Pros (Feb 20 breakfast 8am-11am) at The Lakewood 
    • Chicago, 
    • Howard Wallich from A-Z Entertainment discussing -Proactive Habits at Pinstripes on Navy Pier (March 20)
  • 19 new members!
  • New CSEP website to explain and promote benefits of getting your CSEP Certification!
  • December program Caroling at Maggie Daley Park in Millennium Park
  • November program Erin Diehl from ImproveIt (nov 14 at The Godfrey I/O)
  • October ILEA/NACE Wisconsin joint meeting at The Shore Club (Oct 11-evening); Speaker 
  • Brad Finkeldei “The Rubber Chicken Guy”
  • August event at Hard Rock Café- speakers Dave Calzaretta from Magnificent Events and 
  • Hayden Moldenhauer from Arena Americas

Still to come!
  • IX Exchange April 12 at Wintrust Arena in combination with Choose Chicago’s Annual meeting 
  • and Global Meetings Industry Day
  • NICE Awards – April 17 at Theater on the Lake 
  • Leaders Summit at House of Blues Foundation room - May 7
  • Esprit Awards – August 16-18 in Denver, CO at ILEA Live

Join Us! The best opportunity to join ILEA is May - get 14 months for the price of 12. During our special week - May 7 - 17, new members can save an additional $50 off their membership. 

Read More

Summer Wedding Season: Are You Prepared?

With the royal wedding and summer wedding season fast approaching (19 May is right around the corner!), wedding planning is top of mind. As one of the most anticipated live events of 2018, the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is sure to generate some new wedding trends and inspiration. To prepare for the upcoming season, we talked with ILEA board member Morgan Doan, CSEP, PWC, San Francisco-based wedding planner and owner of Morgan Events. Morgan has over 17 years of experience planning weddings, and today shares with us her insights for planning beautiful, personalized weddings.

wedding photography-arrowwood

Picture Credit (cover image and above): Arrowwood Photography

ILEA: What are you most looking forward to about the royal wedding from a live events standpoint?

Morgan Doan (MD): What I’m looking forward to most is seeing how Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will make their wedding their own. They have already made a statement with the couple’s decision to wed on a Saturday, which goes against tradition, as royal weddings usually take place on a weekday. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wed on a Friday, and the Queen on a Thursday. It will also be exciting to see how the other elements of their wedding come together to reflect their personality, but most importantly is the experience and the atmosphere of this special day that not only friends and family will share, but also members of the public.

ILEA: What are some wedding trends you foresee coming to light in the next year?

MD: Some wedding trends to look out for in next year are:

  • Unique texture: Texture will continue to be a big element of future celebrations (e.g., laser-cut linens, mixture of metals, wood, etc.).
  • Unexpected uses (and types!) of florals: Expect to see lush dogwood arrangements, living botanical bars and potted plants on ceremony aisles and everywhere at receptions.
  • Bright hues: Color is back in a big way. Moody and richly pigmented flowers and colorful candle centerpieces will be the table décor of choice. And if you were on the fence about having an outdoor wedding, go with your instinct. Every couple is different, whether you decide to select an indoor venue (e.g. industrial lofts, museums and rooftops) and or an outdoor venue (e.g. vineyards, gardens, beaches, etc.), at the end of the day it’s about where you feel most excited, meaningful and that it reflects who you are as a couple.

ILEA: Can you describe a few successful elements that you have incorporated into weddings in the past?

MD: We believe in seamless events, collaborating with incredible industry partners and creating unforgettable and unique moments. Although we love fabulous design, personal touches and seamless execution, at the end of the day, what truly makes a wedding are a couple’s energy, love and joy that they share with their friends and family. If we can capture this and reflect it into our clients’ celebration, then we have exceeded their expectations.

wedding photography-larissa-cleveland-ilea

Picture Credit: Larissa Cleveland Photography

ILEA: How does your CSEP designation help you plan weddings and advance your career?

MD: The CSEP designation is designed to elevate industry practices and professional event standards. It adds credibility with other professionals in the industry. Additionally, it denotes membership to an elite international group, which shows clients and colleagues that you can be trusted and practice the highest event industry standards. Personally, I was surprised when a bride hearing about the CSEP approached me. She was thrilled to know that I had this designation. We had a wonderful conversation and laughs in discussing her wedding and, to say the least, at the end of the meeting, she ended up hiring me. I would like to think it’s my personality, but my CSEP has definitely given me a competitive advantage.

ILEA: What attracted you to the wedding industry?

MD: I wanted to bring happiness in every event and celebration that my team and I produced. Although we produce other events (social, corporate, nonprofit, and more), we always have a soft spot in our hearts for weddings because it’s personal, and we love love. It may sound cliché, but you have to love what you do. We absolutely love the connections that we make with our couples and continuing to exceed our clients’ expectations.

ILEA: What advice would you give to other live events professionals planning weddings?

MD: First and foremost, listen to what your clients are looking for, and then know how to guide them if an idea isn't realistic.

ILEA: How can you make each and every wedding special?

MD: How we make each and every wedding special is getting to know our clients so well that their personality, style and taste are reflected in their wedding. It’s the personal detail and touches that makes our client’s wedding unforgettable, unique and special. Creating weddings by approaching the design and production process with a unique perspective, distinct ideas and a discerning eye, we are the core that connects all of the elements together.

Thanks to EXPERIENCE ILEA for this great article.  

With over 17 years of experience in the industry, producing special events from luxury weddings to successful nonprofit fundraisers, Morgan Doan is one of today’s most sought-after designers and event planners in the San Francisco Bay Area. With a degree in business and Marketing, Morgan draws on her corporate experience to ensure that each event is produced with the highest standards. Morgan is a Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP), a Professional Wedding Consultant (PWC) and a past president of the International Live Events Association of Northern California (ILEA-NCC). She is currently serving on the ILEA International Board of Governors. In 2017, Morgan received an ILEA Esprit Award in the category of Best Wedding Over $150K for “Magic by the Bay.”

Read More

Member Spotlight: Emily Wuerdeman

Emily discovered her passion for the special events industry while studying Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management at Columbia College Chicago. Upon graduating in 2016, she started her career with Event Creative, where she was previously brought on as an intern while still in school. As the Executive Events Assistant, she helped out in all areas across the board. She assisted with everything from event design, planning, and production. She supported the event leads and oversaw load-ins and strikes for large-scale events such as Chicago Gourmet and the PCMA Awards in Washington, D.C. She was also the event lead in their adjacent venue for smaller events such as company meetings and retreats. Currently, she works for Stitely Entertainment, where she’s excited to have the opportunity to combine her two passions- events and music. As the Planning and Operations Coordinator, she works directly with clients, musicians, and planners alike to coordinate the entertainment portions of events. She’s also lucky to be able to partake in networking within the community, like with ILEA!

Getting to Know You Q&A...

Who/What inspired you to go into event planning?
I went to an arts high school in Cincinnati and studied Stage Management. Originally, I attended for Theater Arts and Acting but realized I wanted to be behind the scenes. That’s where the fun is! I practiced stage management for all four years of high school, but always had a passion for the music industry as well. You’d always catch me at a local venue on the weekends catching a show. All of my friend’s parents called me “Concert Girl.” Now, I’m with Stitely Entertainment and I plan music entertainment for private events. How fitting!
Tell us one thing we might not learn about you right away?
I’m a big animal welfare advocate. In college, I interned with PAWS Chicago, helping to coordinate their special adoption events with the foster team. I’ve continuously fostered and volunteered for them since then. I have one cat that I got from PAWS and a dog that I adopted from a small rescue called Fortunate Pooches and Labs. Start a conversation with me about it and I could go on for hours, though I’ll be crying by the second sentence…
What do you love the most about what you do?
There’s two big things that stand out for me. One, as I’ve mentioned before, is that I get to combine my two passions of music and events. Second, is the opportunity to grow and network. Stitely Entertainment has given me the opportunity to be a part of the community and other groups such as ILEA. It’s been so rewarding- both personally and professionally.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio in the house that my father grew up in. So, I’m a small-town girl at heart. But, I started going to school in downtown Cincinnati in the sixth grade. So, it makes sense that I found my way to Chicago.
What is your event gone wrong horror story?
No event will ever be a horror story for me. Sometimes, you have to keep that mindset. Of course there’s been mistakes and mishaps. These are not horror stories. They are learning opportunities! I’ve still got a lot to learn so I don’t take things too hard when they go wrong. And I’ll still be saying the same thing at the end of my career. Just learn from it and progress.

What made you interested in participating in ILEA? 
As I mentioned above, I’m young and fairly new to the industry. I have a lot to learn and a lot to experience. I’m loving my journey in the industry and am excited to grow and continue with my success. Having the opportunity to meet and connect with other people on the same journey has been such an amazing opportunity and I’m really looking forward to what my future with ILEA, and the events industry in general, holds!

Thanks Emily and welcome to ILEA!

Read More

President’s Letter: ILEA Members Drive Real Results, Real Impact

Read More

CSEP and the Future of the Event Industry


I’m a geek – I love learning new things. I love learning by reading and I love learning by hands-on experience. When I went to college, most universities did not even offer a degree in hospitality, so everything I have learned as an event and wedding planner has been on the job training. And you know what? I can’t learn enough! If I could afford it, I would go to conferences once a month. If it would allow me a work-life balance, I would assist at every type of event once a week. The event industry is just in my blood. I’m passionate about this industry. I see the potential we have to be an even stronger force to the U.S. economy. I see how we can be more of an asset to our clients if we had standardization of practices and evaluation in place. For me, I do believe that the CSEP designation will be the future of the event industry.

An event professional with the CSEP designation is a Certified Special Event Professional. Passing the exam demonstrates the knowledge, skills, and abilities essential to perform all components of a special event. The exam is offered four times a year and is a 4.5-hour exam consisting of 100 multiple choice questions and a written exam. Sounds easy enough, right? But I can’t tell you how many ILEA Leadership meetings I sat in and heard about this elusive exam. I was intimidated by this exam. Yes, I had the experience necessary to sit for the exam, but there is no specific study guide and that made me nervous. But that is exactly what elevates this designation from other industry exams. This is not an exam testing you on memorization, it is an exam that tests your experience in every type of event.

Finally, after a very honest and truly informative CSEP session at ILEA Live in New Orleans, I garnered the courage to apply for the exam. I was bolstered by the fact that my friend and colleague, Barb Harris (DMCP and now CSEP), also wanted to sit for the exam. Our next hurdle, after being accepted to take the exam, was to form a Discussion Group. We honestly had no real direction, which again was intimidating, but we forged ahead with the plan to have a 1-hour call with subject matter experts (SME’s) based on the content included in the CSEP content outline. We scheduled these calls the two months prior to sitting for the exam in January of 2016.

I have to admit that I was not confident that I had passed the exam when I walked out of the testing center that cold day in January. Because of my experience, I did not feel that the questions were difficult. Rather, the difficulty I experienced was in trying to coherently and quickly write my answers in the three hours allotted for the written exam. Fast forward to April 2016, and I receive an email from ILEA HQ informing me that I had passed the CSEP exam. I can’t even begin to tell you the emotions I felt in earning this designation. In all honesty, I think I was more excited and proud about this accomplishment than earning my bachelor’s degree from college.

I felt validated in my career. I proved that you can work another "benefits" job to make ends meet and still be a distinguished event professional. I felt empowered to elevate the event industry. I am the only wedding planner in Chicago that holds the CSEP designation and I can honestly count on one hand how many other wedding planners here have a certified designation from some other event industry association. Why is this? Why are we not demanding that all event professionals have a certification or specific licensing for their profession? Similar to how an accountant earns their CPA, or how a realtor is licensed, a standard designation like the CSEP showcases the expertise of the event professional and sets an industry standard of practice and evaluation.

I’ll say it again, I have passion for this industry. When I think about my retirement in 25 years, I want to make sure I’ve left this industry in a better place for the event professionals that follow me. This is why I’m leading Midwest CSEP Discussion Groups for those wanting to sit for the CSEP exam. Yes, this is for anyone in our Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indiana, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and St. Louis chapters. We call in once a week and share experiences from the different events we have been a part of and how that pertains to the CSEP content outline. Our next Midwest CSEP Discussion Group will start in May 2018 – feel free to email me to get involved.

I’m also thrilled to make this announcement for the very first time: I am instituting a scholarship fund, from my company, to pay for one person per year to sit for the CSEP Exam. I was inspired by a session at ILEA Live in Calgary last summer to figure out how my company can give back to the events industry. Education and industry standards are core values of mine and what better way to help move our industry forward, then to help those event professionals that may need some financial assistance to take the CSEP Exam. If you are interested in completing the Zen Events CSEP Scholarship application, please email me.

My final thought today is a challenge for you. Whether you are a CSEP or are not…whether you are an ILEA Member or you are not…What are you doing to move the event industry forward and continue to keep it a viable and vibrant part of our world?


Nicole Zenner, CSEP
Earned CSEP in April 2016
ILEA Member since July 2010, Immediate Past President of Chicago Chapter
Owner of Zen Events

Check out ILEA Chicago's New CSEP Page and see testimonials of our own members and their stories.

Learn more and apply at


Read More

Save with ILEA!

Being an ILEA member not only provides a community of education, networking, global partnerships, local connections, but did you realize the savings offered only to ILEA members?

Manage Your Business with Member Discounts.

ILEA has partnered with leading providers to offer discounts on services you need to stay competitive, increase your bottom line, and operate more efficiently. 

ILEA Members – To access your savings login and go to “My Profile” and select My ILEA Discounts

Not a member? Join ILEA today to access these savings. The savings alone will cover your $299* membership dues - what are you waiting for?

Read More

Member Spotlight: Meet Thom Skibbie

Thom started his career in the sales and catering office at Indian Lakes Resort and shifted a bit into the restaurant, night club, bar, and banquet side of things there and a few other places for a decade or so.  After some time away from the industry he lucked into a great job at an event rental company that supplied tents, tables, chairs, and fun.  And by fun we are talking about the United States longest mobile zip line, over 400 inflatables for all ages, photo booths, graffiti walls, etc.  Thom created new revenue streams for them in the college market and expanded their presence in several other areas, churches, country clubs, villages and park districts, even casual weddings and other celebrations - he loved working and building relationships with all of the great contacts and friends.  When he reached a point where there were no more opportunities to grow with the family owned company, Thom joined Sodexo and the Museum of Science & Industry and so far the experience couldn’t be better.  The team is great to work with and he looks forward to going into work to learn from them and to help people plan their events.  Thom oversees all of the social business (weddings, Mitzvahs, graduations, retirements, any reason to celebrate) and daytime corporate meetings.

The team at the Museum of Science & Industry is top notch and in fact were just awarded the ACE Award for the 2nd year in a row for the best venue (over $2 million in annual revenue) for the Eastern United States (27 states and Washington D.C.).  The lead sales person on the team, Tara Kattan, has been there 17 years and was just awarded the Sodexo Award for Star Sales Professional at a company conference last week.  Thom's excited to have an award winning team to continue to learn from. 

Getting to Know You Q&A...

Who/What inspired you to go into event planning?

Part of my success at my last job was going above and beyond renting equipment to help clients build complete events.  When I felt that I was ready for new challenges I felt that this type of position would be that next step up.  It was rough going to find someone willing to look past my lack of a degree in event planning who would see the experience in operations and sales I had.  I am grateful to Sodexo for providing me that opportunity and am loving everything I am learning and all of the new people I am meeting. 

Tell us one thing we might not learn about you right away?

I have a friend with a dairy goat farm near me and I help out there when I can.  Last year I was “gifted” some chicks through a client and I started raising chickens at the farm.  I teamed up with a friend from grade school that home schools her kids to start our own chicken empire.  We have 8 hens and are happy to average 5 eggs a day during the winter when they normally slow down their egg laying.  We have 15 new birds coming in March and that same client will hopefully “gift” me more chickens again this year.  By the end of summer I hope to have about 3 dozen laying hens in a new “chicken castle” we are planning to build this Spring.

What do you love the most about what you do?

I am not fond of the 9-5 schedule where you sit at a desk all day doing repetitive tasks.  Event planning is different every day.  The tasks are very similar as far as creating proposals, answering emails and phones, etc. but I am able to talk to new people every day, build a relationship with them while we work to plan and execute a celebration of something special in their life.  I work with happy people, planning a fun event, and then I get the challenge of working with my team to execute the event.  There have not really been any limitations I have found yet and the whole team is willing to pitch in to make sure we are innovating and pushing the limits beyond the status quo.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Western Suburbs, Glendale Heights to be exact.  It was a great diverse community that left me with no stereotypes and an open mind.  I met many great people in the neighborhood I grew up in and through school.  I still talk to many of the people I went to school with, even more so in recent years thanks to social media.

What is your event gone wrong horror story?

I had a client I worked with all the time and they have a particular event in November that they flip theater style seating for over a thousand into an indoor amusement park in less than an hour.  It is usually planned to the minute for them to release the middle school aged kids in attendance, then they cleared the chairs as we set up a ton of inflatables for them.  It was always on a tight budget so we couldn’t have as many people as we would have liked to get the flip done as easily as we would have liked.  But this was a great client and a great group of people to work with so I would even waive my fees and just go to make sure things were going smoothly.  I was at a family event 2 years ago and trying to stay there as long as I could.  I was in contact with my delivery team.  They were there and waiting over an hour ahead of time waiting for word that they could start to set up.  Since they were there so early I was able to relax for a few extra minutes with family.  I showed up about 10 minutes before it was time to set up and we open the trailer to start organizing things.  The trailer was empty.  We were in St. Charles and the office was in Melrose Park.  They had hooked up the wrong trailer.  I call the operations manager who leaves his family dinner to hook up and bring the right trailer.  Meanwhile this is my first time working with the new director who turned another company that was also there to deliver and told them to have their team bring more equipment.  Operations gets on site 30 seconds ahead of the other company’s truck and we had everything set up in less than 20 minutes so it was ready to go on time.  We ended up comping the whole event from our end because they didn’t think we would get our stuff there in time and had to pay the other company.  It was the head of the delivery teams last day.  He was at the company longer than I was and had saved my butt too many times to count by going above and beyond.  The poor guy was devastated and in tears.  Nothing like this had ever happened with him before.  I tried to comfort him and point out all the good he had done over the years and how thankful I was to work with someone like him.  I knew it was an accident.  He even came in the next day on his way to move out of state to apologize.  I reiterated how I wasn’t upset with him and thanked him for everything he did for me and the company over the years. 

It was a horrible experience but the team pulled through, everyone went above and beyond to make things work out.  It is often the attitude and work ethic of the team that makes a difference.  You can plan everything down to the last minute detail, something unexpected can happen to potentially negate all the hard work preparing for an event.  Ultimately it is your attitude and the attitude of your entire team that determines if you can overcome those challenges or crash and burn.  In this case a good recommendation from the former director combined with the new director recognizing our hard work to rectify things earned us a second chance.  They remained one of my favorite clients and one of my largest clients until I left the company.

What made you interested in participating in ILEA?

It was a fortunate accident.  The Sodexo team at the museum had been looking for someone to represent them in ILEA so the opportunity was waiting for me when I started here.  I had been very active in several other networking groups with past positions and was happy to meet a new group of people.  As it turned out I saw a lot of familiar faces when I attended my first event in January and am looking forward to many more meetings in the future. 

Connect with Thom on Social Media!


Instagram         thomskibbie

Thanks Thom and welcome to ILEA!

Read More

ILEA International President’s Letter: Building an International Community

Read More

Event Recap: Are You Working with the Right People?

Members, non-members, even out-of-towners gathered at The Lakewood Tuesday morning for our monthly event.  The airy and clean loft space in the trendy West Loop was furnished with new pieces from AFR Furniture Rental including some very fashion forward green velvet chairs and marble coffee tables.  Beautiful floral in yellows and greens were scattered throughout courtesy of Kehoe Designs. On a very grey and rainy morning it was a breath of fresh air.


Paramount Events greeted everyone with a healthy make your own yogurt parfait and quinoa bowl as well as a variety of colorful vegetable centric juices.  Halls Rental provided all china and catering equipment and BBJ Linen provided new linen!  Everyone mingled and woke up with a cup (or two) of coffee before the presentation began.  Our speaker, Michelle Loretta of Sage Wedding Pros, gave us all a lesson on The People Plan – a toolkit with tips for hiring the right people, with a focus on retaining and growing your team.  She was so engaging and even for those that do not own their own businesses, it is always great to think about these things when working with colleagues.  There was also a heavy focus on company culture which is so important for any business and associate.  Pictures of the event were snapped by Elizabeth Nord Photography.  It is always a great kick off to the day to begin with positive networking and education!


Couple housekeeping announcements:

Next event is March 20th – MEMBERS ONLY (so if you’re not a member, sign up!).  Howard Wallach is presenting: Proactive Habits for Personal & Professional Success

April 12th – Industry Xchange at Wintrust Arena

April 17th – 2018 NICE Awards at Theater on the Lake

May and June events rolling out soon!

Read More