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Tess Vismale, CMP, DES │Chief Event Executioner │ Event Technologist | iSocialExecution, Inc. (isocialx for short)

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How many years have you been a CMP?

I have been a CMP for nine glorious years. I was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA, and I am a Chicago girl. However, I did grow up in Atlanta, Georgia, from about seventh grade through college.

What did you want to (or think you’d) be when you grew up?

I did have the opportunity to think I would be an actuarian when I was a kid because my dad was the very first Black certified CLA in the United States. So, he introduced the actuarian profession to me at a young age, and that's what I thought I was going to do for the longest time.

Then I thought I would be a fashion buyer because I loved fashion. I love the whole idea of the entire industry. So, somewhere in high school, I got a lovely mentor, Jean Brooks Murphy, who was the very first Black buyer at Macy's in New York, as well as Bloomingdale's to be my mentor. She groomed me to be a buyer, so I worked with her in the special events department at Rich's (which became Macy's) here in Atlanta for several years. So, that’s kind of how I had an excellent trajectory into events. Before that, I worked with my sister, a master cosmetologist who ran the testing salon at a famous hair care products company and produced hair shows at trade shows. So, when I was in middle school, give or take, going out on the road with her and helping her allowed me to see the production life.

You have your sales team just like trade shows now. And then, specifically with hair shows comes fashion shows, so her putting that together - working with the sales team and working with the fashion designers and then the platform or hair platform artists - that hustle-bustle. I adored it. It was my favorite thing to see and do and be a part of, which is why I love the on-site execution of events today.

When I worked with Macy's special events, I got the opportunity to do the same types of things and then move through and matriculate through working for nonprofits, foundations, academia, and even on the venue side, corporate and associations.

So that's how I grew up, thinking I was going to be in those industries. My first job after college was as a buyer for T.J. Maxx in their corporate office. I was excited about that.

What was your educational field of study (college major or whatever, as applicable), and, if notably different from what you do, your how/why/story?

My educational field of study was psychology as my major and organizational management as my minor. I'm a third-generation Spelman woman; my mother was in the class of 47, and my sister was in the class of 80.

My first footsteps were going to be toward Spelman, which ended up being the case. After that, I spent six years working in Alumnae Affairs, producing all of the engagement events for over 16,000 alumnae at the time. So, my story is kind of woven into the fabric of who I am and who I was born to be. Looking at the trajectory, my mother and my father laid the foundation as well. I think those kinds of things are interesting because people always say, “Well, you majored in psychology, why are you doing this now?” Because psychology has to do with people. Understanding how the brain helps people think, feel and empathize.

So, that’s all of the skill sets that we have to know, deal with and work with as business event professionals designing experiences. We're thinking about our impact at every step of what we do and how we choose to help people gather and move forward with their initiatives. I think new professionals should look at things not from the short term “what's hot right now?”, but what kind of impact can you make long term on society and your community as a whole, both globally and locally, making sure it speaks from your heart and your origin.

What advice would you give either to your younger self or to newer professionals now?

I would say go for it! The internet exists to bring us all kinds of tools very fast, and I think you should explore all the avenues that bring you joy. Before you settle into an exact role, our industry has expanded tremendously and exponentially since Aunt Rona, as I call her, occurred last year in our sphere. We’ve shifted, and we've expanded, so there is room at the table to continue to grow. I also ask and plead that our younger professionals do not get caught up with everything being so fast. If nothing else, what Aunt Rona has done is ask us to and demand that we pause. I ask you to #respectthepause and think about your next actions. Think of what will not only work for you but will contribute, assist and help others as you're paving your way through our illustrious industry.

What advice would you give to anyone preparing to take the exam?

Oh, my. I had great advice. I was a part of MPI’s Study Group, and the great advice that Connie Bergeron gave me was to make sure you study all that you can to absorb the information and make sure that you're in a quiet, calm place the night before. I chose to check into a hotel and be calm and relaxed, and then I stopped at a certain point in time. I did what I call active play; I just took a nice walk; I got a nice dinner for the evening; I relaxed. I got a good night's sleep, and I cut it off. And then, when I woke up the following day, my mind was so refreshed. I might have glanced at a couple of things. When you sit down for your exam, you first need to write out all of your formulas on a piece of paper.

I was in the first class to do the online electronic version. I would say you must dump all the formulas out first, so you have them. Push them to the side and then go fresh and clean into the exam, answer all the questions you can, and do not stop and second guess. Answer them with your gut first.

Anything that you can't answer, don't spend time on it. Leave it blank. Then go back in and answer the ones that you left blank and let it go at that point. That was the best advice that I could have received to move me through. The funniest thing is that when I took my exam, I actually thought I was running behind, but I was about an hour early, and I finished it on my own because they didn't tell me how the clock went - whether it was a count-up clock or countdown clock. I was so confused! And, truth be told, I did hyperventilate. Finally, I had to get up and take a break for a second to come back and get myself together. That’s when I realized, “oh my gosh, you're moving faster than you thought you were.” So, pace yourself and take your time, but you will be fine as you move through.

When did you first hear about the CMP designation, and what drew you to this certification?

What drew me to the certification was a myriad of things. First, I'm very much a behind-the-scenes person. I never wanted to get certified at all. All of my colleagues used to beg me for years, “You should do it! You need to do it…you need to do it.”

I’m like, I'm not all into getting a doctorate, or I'm not into having all these accolades around my name. I just wanted to do good work and make people happy from behind the scenes. There was a colleague at work who had taken her CMP. She didn't pass the first time, but she kept encouraging me and pushing me. I was like, “Okay. Alright. I’ll do it.” So, I looked into it to do it. And she convinced me that I will never be looked at as the same type of person ever again; doors will open. You can hear that, but I didn't realize it until I had an experience, over and over again.

Unbeknownst to me, you know, not on purpose, I had been at events where I realized that my name tag had the CMP credential. I'd be talking to people in a group and people who didn't have a CMP; you could just see people's body language shift ever so slightly in my direction when I spoke versus other people. It was slight enough for me to recognize it because it was repeating. Most people probably wouldn't have paid attention to that, but it's something that I observed throughout the years. People pay attention when they see that designation differently than they do others without it. The CMP has opened up doors differently, and I know it would not have taken place if I didn’t have my certification.

What inspires you the most when you think about the future of our industry or the impact of our industry?

Oh my gosh, it’s that we're just at the beginning. For years I have been talking about trying to get our industry more tech-enabled. Thanks to Aunt Rona, we are there, right? Because everyone's been forced. I love the fact that we're kind of on the ground floor and moving up; there’s an uptick. A part of this is the opportunity to see that we can model ourselves after other industries. We could have a good foundation from how tech industries, other larger businesses, or consulting firms are run. We can bring a foothold to our industry in a different way so that we won't be shaken and rocked like we were last year. These are some of the exciting things that I think about and inspires me about our industry. We can still be creative, and we can be kind, right? Other industries can't say that, but we can be thoughtful, creative and do good work.

What is your favorite snack?

Oh gosh, my favorite snack?! I like crunchy, and I like gluten-free almond butter pretzels. They’re so good. I just want to write the company and ask them to do it with no salt because I really can't do salt, but I love them because they are crunchy and too much salt for me, but I adore them.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learned during the pandemic?

When the bottom falls out in our industry because we care and are hospitality, we naturally help each other. Either people who I would never have thought would have come to my aid have partnered with me on different projects, or we've learned together to try to get things back on track when we lost everything. It was pretty devastating, and because we were all in the same boat, we were just eager to bond together, and consortiums have formed out of it, and collaborations have been born out of what Aunt Rona has done to us.

I think it's essential for us to think about, too, what I call The Movement right. When you think about people of color, right? And differences in people who have decided that diversity and inclusion are all of a sudden new things. We all realize now – those of you who didn't know to recognize that it's not a new thing. It's been going on for a long time. And that was part of the pandemic, too. That we as an industry actually will, when called to the table, answer.

We’ll shift and move, and we'll be open and receptive to change, and good feedback, and getting into, as our lovely Congressman Lewis said, “good trouble.” So those are the most significant life lessons: that we can be kind and human during these times.

What is the most memorable in-person experience you planned?

I always go back to this, but I didn't plan the whole thing. I was a part of it because, as I said, I fly behind the scenes of things often. Years ago, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition had created the Wall Street project to get more minorities at the table when it comes to being in the boardrooms and being stockholders of certain major companies to help move initiatives forward. People benefit from the pandemic, and this was many, many years ago. I don't want to date months now. But this was the very first time. My sister's company was able to plan a good bit of the events that were taking place around the conference. She planned the very first reception or social gathering on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

 At the time, something significant happened. The press conference was supposed to be a tiny press conference. But suddenly, it became this huge press conference because our seated president, Clinton, decided to show up and speak and talk about the initiative. So, one of the most memorable moments was to be a part of all of the fanfare with the secret service.

I did a lot of work for Spelman, and at Spelman, we had many dignitaries, and I was able to work with the secret service then. So those types of events were interesting. I think those experiences were the most memorable for me.

What is the most memorable virtual event you have done so far?

I'll be honest, I've done so many, but this one is key. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was reached by the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals to help produce a virtual event that would help bring hope. That would help solidify and help people feel better about what we were going through. Jason Dunn, who's with the Cincy CVB, had this brilliant idea of just bringing together five of our top museums and bringing that experience to the membership. And we were able to do that. We wanted to go Live inside the museum to tour the museum and give those experiences, and we were able to do some pre-records, and some Live as well. That was a fabulous event! It was five days, five museums, five different cities, amazing. And we threw that together. I should say, though, we produced that in less than four days which was an exciting gather.

What was the last book you read/listened to?

I wouldn’t say the last one. Which is my favorite because I put things on repeat things, not last, per se, but my favorite? Deepak Chopra. There’s an amazing auditory translation of the Vedas, and it just, I can't, you know? I can't get away from that. I can't mention other things because it is just beautifully done. It's wonderfully done, And that's one of my favorites.

Who will be your dream keynote speaker at your event? Why?

That's a tricky question. I've thought about this and thought about this. I'm torn, I'm, really, really torn. It would be Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole. She's a former president of Spelman College. And I say that because she was a college president and twice over at two female institutions. She is an anthropologist. She also used to work running the Smithsonian and now, leading up the National Council of Negro Women in her retirement. I would love for her to sit and have a fireside chat about the world through her eyes, right? Of just being a woman, leading through those times, what we're facing right now, and inspiring us. I think she would be one that would be very powerful to hear because, as a student, I heard her. And I think to share her with the world now, especially at this point, would be phenomenal.

What are the benefits you like of hosting virtual events? What do you miss the most for in-person events? Or do you miss it at all?

I do. I miss them, but I am looking forward to people creating what hybrid looks like, and I think hybrid should be the language for us moving forward in planning, even if people choose to keep the audiences separate. You still need to think about those people who cannot make it to you. So even if you created a different day, another week, or whatever, you're still giving and delivering some sort of content virtually and giving a different type of experience face-to-face.

I don’t think, from a professional standpoint, it should be called hybrid if you don't allow people to communicate with each other in some form or fashion. Even if it's a touchpoint, right? Even if it's a “window in” as a part of an ongoing event or a week-long event. That's my personal opinion, but I think there are benefits on both sides. I believe the audiences we built over this last year and a half are strong and cannot be left out at all. Some people can’t afford to go, people who are not able to go physically, able to be there for various natural reasons, or just actually can’t go. You cannot forget about them.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Sonia Sanchez says, “I cannot tell the truth about anything unless I confess being a student, growing and learning something new every day. The more I learn, the clearer my view of the world becomes.”


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