Enjoy this Vlog post by VP Membership, Jeff Durocher


VP Membership Jeff V. Durocher shared the following message today.

Jeff's May Membership Video

For information on ILEA membership types and pricing, go to ILEA - International Live Events Association.


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Member Spotlight: Claire Bracco

Claire Bracco's career in hospitality began the summer of 2012 when she joined the team at The Plaza Park Grill restaurant. It was such a fun job and she loved interacting with all of the guests and being able to answer questions about Chicago. She was lucky enough to return the following summer. It was then that she realized her love for the city, and that working in the hospitality and events world was something she needed to pursue. So she transferred from a school in Ohio to DePaul University and started to take business and hospitality classes. She choose to major in Hospitality leadership with a concentration in event management at first because of how everyone kept talking about the super fun and exciting classes. But, it also helped that the program is a very unique one and provided her with the incredible opportunity to visit different venues around the city almost every week and to meet so many people in the Chicago event and hospitality world, but she never imaged wanting to make a career out of it. That is until she got my first internship as a part of an event team.

DePaul requires all business students to have at least one internship before graduating and she was fortunate enough to be connected to the development team at After School Matters and get the position of Events Intern. From day one she was hooked and hasn't looked back since. It has been two and half years and she is still with After School Matters but now as the Events and Special Projects Coordinator. Their team is quite small, in fact there are only two of them. That being said, Claire very fortunate and thankful to have this opportunity as it has allowed her to flourish as a young events professional and the opportunities that she has been given in her time here has done nothing but help validate that working in events and all of the long hours and hard work that comes with this career path is truly her passion.

Getting to Know You Q & A ...

Who/ what inspired you to go into event planning?

My mom played a huge role in my decision to go into event planning. I originally went to school with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher but changed paths after about a year and came back to the city to explore other career paths. I grew up going to events with my mom and always had a blast and loved watching her plan and execute such incredible experiences and when I discovered that DePaul has a Hospitality Program it just seemed like a natural fit and path for me to take!

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

I am a city girl through and through, but I would absolutely love to own a small farm one day. When I am much older and ready to retire, I would love to be able to move to the country and have a small little farm with all kinds of animals, especially goats and chickens. 

What do you love the most about what you do?

As an event planner in general, I love to create experiences and memories for people. In my current position as a part of the events team for After School Matters, a Chicago based non-profit that provides out of school time programming for Chicago Teens, I love being able to work collaboratively with many different groups of people. From our staff, to our board of directors, and the teens that we provide opportunities for, planning and executing events for After School Matters allows me the chance to advocate for the future of Chicago, our teens. The teens that we work with everyday are a huge inspiration to me as well. They are all so incredibly talented and I love being able to create opportunities for our guests and supporters to see what they are working on and to learn more about After School Matters.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Oak Park, one of the western suburbs.

What made you interested in participating in ILEA? 

My supervisor at After School Matters encouraged me to join a professional organization because it is a great way to network with other people in the industry and develop my skills as a young event professional. She used to be a member of ILEA and after hearing her stories of the connections that she made and still keeps to this day, it really encouraged me to get more involved in the Chicago Event world. As a young professional, especially in Events and Hospitality I think it is so important to do things that push you to get outside of your comfort zone and build a network of people with similar interests and goals, and ILEA is one of the ways that I can do that.

Welcome Claire!

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Straight from a CSEP: Gwendolyn McNutt, CSEP


Originally posted on Experience ILEA on Thursday, May 10, 2018

A CSEP (Certified Special Events Professional) designation reflects the caliber and skills of industry experts worldwide. The program was developed to not only elevate industry standards, but also to advance the careers of practitioners in a competitive events landscape. As part of our Straight from a CSEP series, we started asking current CSEPs about the long-term career benefits of their designations. Keep reading to find out how ILEA member Gwendolyn McNutt has taken advantage of her CSEP as an events professional.

ILEA: What are your specific roles and responsibilities as regional external affairs manager at Comcast?

Gwendolyn McNutt (GM): As regional external affairs manager, I help to lead community impact programs and events for the greater Chicago region, which includes Illinois, Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan. I manage a number of events each year; however, two key events include our annual volunteer day of service (Comcast Cares Day) featuring more than 6,500 volunteers and 75 project locations, and our annual Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Luncheon, honoring graduating high school seniors for their academic, community service and leadership achievements with a one-time $1,000 scholarship. The 2018 luncheon will be held in June and honor 175 scholarship recipients. In addition, I also participate in sponsorship planning and negotiation, program marketing, partnership and relationship management, and budget management.

ILEA: How do you use your CSEP designation in your current role at Comcast?

GM: I’m very confident that I use my CSEP designation in some way each day in my current role. Because the designation requires me to stay abreast of industry trends and maintain my professional development through continuous education, I am constantly learning new skills and knowledge to take back to my job and demonstrate what I’ve learned to my employer. In addition, I am able to create new protocol or processes and implement them into my events. It is also demonstrated by the professional network I have developed through my CSEP contacts and vendors that support my current event schedule.

ILEA: Can you give a specific example of how your CSEP designation has advanced your career?

GM: I absolutely believe that the CSEP designation makes you more marketable as an event professional. It helps to increase and validate your skills and competency, as well as brings you into a broader network of like-minded professionals.

Earning my CSEP has helped me demonstrate to others that I have a commitment to the events industry. The CSEP helped me to significantly boost my industry knowledge, and I was able to put those skills to use immediately. After taking the CSEP exam, I was able to continually demonstrate to my employer and colleagues that I have a broad understanding of the events industry. In addition, it has also provided me with access to new professional colleagues and more tools, resources and educational opportunities.

ILEA: What factors motivated you to apply for your CSEP?

GM: When I decided to join a professional association, I looked for one that could not only offer networking, but also provide professional development opportunities. Since I knew at some point I wanted to obtain a certification, I also researched which exam would be the most appropriate one for me to pursue. My motivation to sit for the exam was a combination of professional development, advancing my industry knowledge and continuing education. I have continued to maintain my certification because it not only adds legitimacy to our field, but it also encourages me to stay abreast of industry trends.

ILEA: For those professionals who are considering applying, please talk about the doors that this designation can open/opportunities it can create.

GM: By taking the CSEP exam, you are joining a select group of individuals who have demonstrated that they are competent and skilled event professionals, with a broad understanding of the industry as a whole. It has provided me with an additional professional edge, connected me with industry resources and opened doors to better employment opportunities. Earning my CSEP has also helped me to stay on top of industry trends and maintain my professional development through constant review and education.

ILEA: What is the one piece of advice you would suggest to someone who is pursuing this designation?

GM: The best piece of advice that I could offer to someone pursuing the CSEP is to stop stalling and take the exam! And don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from getting your CSEP designation. Sitting for the CSEP exam was one of the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding and gratifying things I’ve ever done. It also gave me the opportunity to expand my professional network and meet some wonderful event industry professionals, with whom I have been able to build and maintain lasting relationships. Certification not only advances the industry, but it also encourages and recognizes your professional achievement.

Gwendolyn McNutt, is a Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) with over 25 years of experience. She holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication, and her experience includes successful meeting and event planning of events for up to 7,000 attendees in both corporate and nonprofit sectors. In addition, she has served in several capacities for the ILEA, including the Greater Chicago Board of Directors, international board committees and as ILEA International Conference Education Committee Chair in 2007. She is currently serving as a director on the ILEA International Board of Governors.

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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

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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. 

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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.”

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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!

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

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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


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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?

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