We kicked off this year’s Virtual Lunch in the Exhibit Marketers Café with a special, inspirational guest: Melva LaJoy Jones from LaJoy Plans. Listen in as she shares how to use the lessons from our past to build our future.
Here are links to some of the items mentioned in the interview:
- Doubt Always Loses (from Melva’s blog)
- Event Planning Lessons from My Father (from Melva’s blog)
- Melva’s website, LaJoy Plans
- Here’s where you can watch the entire Virtual Lunch broadcast
About Melva LaJoy Jones:
Melva LaJoy Jones is a former educator turned certified events management professional with over 20 years of experience. She owns LaJoy Plans, a DC-based boutique events management firm which specializes in servicing mission-focused organizations and discerning individuals nationwide.
In 2020, Melva enhanced her skills by obtaining a certification in digital event strategy (DES) from the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). She is a sought-after events industry expert with 2020 speaking engagements at Techsytalk and Age of Conversation Summit, ans she will be featured at Swapcard’s 2021 virtual conference, as well as a women’s retreat in the Dominican Republic this summer.
Melva is known as one of the few meetings professionals who has directly managed over 250 conferences. She is masterful at committee management, works relentlessly, stays abreast of event trends, and exudes joy. She holds degrees with distinction from Howard and Columbia University, has been honored as a Black Woman Who Rocks, and was an inaugural Alice J. Paul award recipient for her community rally work for survivors of domestic violence and assault.
When not planning, Melva enjoys supporting her mentees, sipping a cocktail delight, taking boxing or Orange Theory class, spending time with her parents Melvin & Joyce, and doing life with her beloved, Emmanuel.
[00:00:00.820] - Marlys Arnold
You're listening to the Trade Show Insights podcast, Season 16, Episode one.
[00:00:19.920] - Marlys Arnold
I'm your host and exhibit marketing strategist, Marlys Arnold bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results on today's episode brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe. We've got a rebroadcast of our virtual lunch with a special inspirational guest that's going to share how to use the lessons from our past to build our future.
[00:01:03.230] - Marlys Arnold
I first had the opportunity to hear Melva LaJoy Jones speak at TechsyTalk Global Conference last fall, and I heard her inspiring story and I reached out to her right away and I said, oh, I would love to have you as a guest on virtual lunch. And then as I started thinking about it, I thought, what a perfect topic for our first one of twenty twenty one to kick off the year because she has such an inspirational story. So I want to just give her a quick introduction here. Melva LaJoy Jones is a former educator turned certified events management professional with over 20 years of experience. She owns LaJoy Plans, a DC based boutique events management firm which specializes in servicing mission focused organizations and discerning individuals nationwide. She's known as one of the few meetings professionals who is directly managed over two hundred and fifty conferences. She's masterful at committee management, works relentlessly, stays ahead of event trends and exudes joy, which I mean when your name is LaJoy, I think you kind of. That's a requirement, right? She holds degrees with distinction from Howard and Columbia University has been honored as a black woman who rocks and was an inaugural Alice J. Paul Award recipient for her community rally work for survivors of domestic violence and assault. When she's not planning, she enjoys supporting her mentees, sipping a cocktail delight, taking boxing or orange theory class, spending time with her parents, Melvin and Joyce, and doing life with her beloved Emmanuel. So welcome, Melva. Thank you for being here on virtual lunch today.
[00:02:40.160] - Melva LaJoy Jones
Thank you for having me. And Happy New Year, everybody. I'm excited to be here.
[00:02:45.800] - Marlys Arnold
Yes. Yes. We are so excited to hear from you. So I want to just, first of all, start out. I know what touched me so much when I heard you speak last fall was your story of what you call your personal pandemic. So I think that's a great place if you just want to share some of that history back story with us.
[00:03:04.040] - Melva LaJoy Jones
Sure. So a lot of people ask me, how are you so happy in the midst of everything that's going on, right? And what I tell people is the story of my two thousand and eighteen, which I call my personal pandemic, and I'll talk about why I call that why I name it that more. So in two thousand and eighteen, it was a year like no other for me. So my name, my full name is Melva LaJoy Jones and my first name Melva comes from my father Melvin. Melvin is my he is the first man that I ever loved, ever loved. And so in two thousand and eighteen I watched Melvin, who for me is brilliant, is super man. My dad would have six strokes, five brain bleeds, one brain surgery.
[00:04:16.430] - Marlys Arnold
[00:04:18.020] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And while that was happening and for those of you who are in hospitality events professionals, we always have to be on, right. We have to do the thing. And so I was doing the thing as best as I could, but I was ignoring myself. And so I would compensate I would compensate for my body fatigue, I would compensate by wearing something different, and I was in complete denial that I was growing outward because in addition to what was happening to my dad, I was growing and living with a tumor mass that was the equivalent, at its peak, of a six pound fetus.
[00:05:08.130] - Marlys Arnold
[00:05:10.080] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And so here's the spoiler alert. Super woman, super man, super human does not exist. And so I found myself in 2018 having a surgery in August, a smaller procedure which didn't work. And by the way, the doctors told me it wouldn't worked. I did it anyway because I had to get back to work. I had an event to do. I had this to do. I had all of these things to do.
[00:05:38.700] - Marlys Arnold
[00:05:39.540] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And then I would find myself December 18th with the second more invasive open surgery to fully resolve my tumor situation. And I would find myself during the holidays celebrating alone. And I would find myself recovering, recording myself, telling myself that there were days beyond this, the personal pandemic is this. So your story may not be my story, but everyone, I believe, throughout their life has had a moment or multiple moments. That's me when you're stripped down to nothing. We don't know how you're going to make it, how you're going to get your footing, how you're going to come back, or in my case, how am I going to walk again? What am I going to do without my dad? And that began let's call it my Phoenix moment.
[00:06:44.290] - Marlys Arnold
[00:06:45.290] - Melva LaJoy Jones
Because after that personal pandemic's so fast forward to two thousand and nineteen. Eventually, after everything my dad survived, we would learn he has dementia.
[00:06:56.810] - Marlys Arnold
[00:06:58.340] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And for me, after recovering, after moving, after completely starting over and I do mean completely, I would rebuild the business in two thousand and nineteen to go from zero to forty two events.
[00:07:18.170] - Marlys Arnold
[00:07:19.400] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And then we know what happened. Right. Twenty, twenty, forty two events. That's a great year. That's a great week. And then COVID happened. And so what has kept me so positive outside of the fact that my father is my anchor, he is still very alive. He actually last year he and my mother both had COVID for seven weeks. He's like the little engine that could.
[00:07:46.220] - Marlys Arnold
[00:07:47.810] - Melva LaJoy Jones
What keeps me motivated is I know what rock bottom is. I know what and where I'm from. And my personal pandemic and your personal pandemic is evidence that you can rebuild. It is evidence that you can start over.And any time we get so distracted because we've been furloughed, because we're unemployed, because we have food insecurity. I encourage everyone to write down and document your personal pandemics or pandemics and remind yourself that even this moment, this COVID moment, you can get through this. And I am speaking from an authentic place because last year we lost 98 percent of the business.
[00:08:41.450] - Marlys Arnold
[00:08:42.410] - Melva LaJoy Jones
But I'm still standing. So that gives you a little bit about the story.
[00:08:49.250] - Marlys Arnold
Well, and what a story. I mean, and that time I heard pieces that I didn't hear from you last fall that I didn't. So, wow. It was definitely, twenty eighteen was definitely not your year. Wow. And then to just be recovering and then to have 2020 hit. So but talk about you have some amazing and Alan's going to share your website here in just a minute so people can go check out your blog. But you have some wonderful, wonderful, inspirational posts that you've put up there. I love the one that you wrote about doubt always loses. And I thought that was so powerful because, I mean, we are I mean, we all have doubt, we like you said, when you lose so much business, which I know so many of the people here today have lost a lot of business and a lot of income over the last year. And we start to doubt it's like, will our business ever come back? Will the clients come back? Will the shows come back? There's so many different things. So talk a little bit about what you shared in that post. And some of the some of your belief about doubt always loses.
[00:09:49.640] - Melva LaJoy Jones
Yeah. So and I hope people read it because I think it's a good one. But here's the thing about doubt. Doubt, if you have it, congratulations, you're human. Anyone who says they don't have doubt, I would say probably run in the other direction because it can't be a real person. But what doubt does in its worst articulation is it gives you a gateway to comparison. And we know how that that ends up because comparison can rob you of your joy. Doubt constantly can feed a negative narrative if you allow it. But your doubts are always wrong. They're always wrong. And you may be saying, how do you know that? So I'll give a funny example and I'll give a real example, a more professional one. So the funny example is when I was younger and I might have been might have been that young person with braces, with headgear, that might have been me. I might have been that person whose mom did prom in the basement, might have been me or somebody I know. But the doubt of the time was no one would date me. Right. I'll never be able to go out. All of the things I'm unattractive. I'm this. I'm that. The negative narrative. Well, obviously, later in life, what happened, I dated, I made mistakes. I found my forever partner. I found my Mr. Right vs. my my Mr. Right Now versus my Mr. Right. So that's the funny example. But here's the professional example. So if you're in the industry, what is doubt tell us? Doubt tells us that the industry is never coming back, that I shouldn't work on my marketing, nobody's paying attention. Why should I invest in my business when nothing is coming in? Why shouldn't I just sit at home and drink champagne and watch Netflix? That's what doubt tells you, when in reality, what I encourage people to consider is that 2020 and perhaps part of 2021 is planting season.
[00:12:15.290] - Melva LaJoy Jones
You absolutely should get up every day, get dressed and get ready for what's to come. You absolutely should take advantage of free resources because so many of what continuing ed is available and it's free or it's discounted, you absolutely should try to invest as your resources allow you to. Because what I found is the minute that I stopped grieving and I did grieve, I mean, cried, ate McDonald's fries, had a lot of champagne, but the minute I dug myself out of that, it became clear of what I needed to do. And in August, I started to see for our business the harvest from what I had planted. So, again, and that harvest looks like we launched a new website from that new website, we got two new clients. That harvest looks like. Thank you. I was clapping for you too. That harvest looks like putting myself in virtual conversations and collaborating with another local event company to do a huge virtual event for 10000 people. Because your doubts are not real.
[00:13:35.100] - Melva LaJoy Jones
They are justifiable. You should definitely sit with them for a moment and then you got to get up and do the work because you're doubt. Never wins.
[00:13:46.830] - Marlys Arnold
Well, and I think that's so good what you said, because it's true. I mean, we all everybody was grieving last year and still is. And we've got to work through the same. I forget if it's seven or 10 or 12, whatever the steps are of grieving, we have to move through all of those things and get through it. I know I had some really, really bad days last year and struggled to get, you know, moving on. And but like you said, to work at what what you still have control of and what you can still do and what you can how you can move forward. Julie from the International Spy Museum says, "Your positivity is infectious, Melva"
[00:14:29.050] - Melva LaJoy Jones
[00:14:29.970] - Marlys Arnold
It's true. It's true. And I think that's that's a big key, you know, and that's you know, that's obviously one reason why I launched these virtual lunches was because, you know, that power of community and coming together and and for me, it was having the mission of knowing that I needed to be on and I needed to be supportive and I needed to be helping other people in the community. And, you know, that helped me to heal and that helped me to move forward. And I think that's the same thing that you're talking about, too, and going out and doing presentations like this and helping other people. So I know community and being of service is a big key for you as well. So, yeah, I know we kind of touched on that a little bit, but go ahead and share a little bit more about how that is really a focus for you.
[00:15:17.160] - Melva LaJoy Jones
So I think one of the gifts and COVID is and I use the term gift loosely, but I think we have an unusual opportunity to really ask ourselves who do we want to be? And for me, regardless of owner, I want to be a great daughter. I want to be a great partner. And then my third priority is I want to be a great servant, so that if tomorrow is or if today is my last day, I want to know that I brought others along.
[00:15:54.390] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And so in this season, it became apparent to me that people who have my racial identity, people who have my gender identity, sometimes we don't have, as the phrase goes, a seat at the table. And so that began a body of work within our business. We have this webinar series that we do on occasion it's called Creatively Caffeinated, and we hosted a discussion about racial equity in the local DC events community. And from that discussion, a woman reached out to me, a fellow business owner. Her name is Margot Fisher. Her identity, she is white, female, Jewish, reached out to me. And together we developed a hybrid event titled Beyond the Blackout. We just we just did it. And Beyond the Blackout was to represent. And I think a lot of people know that during the summer there was a blackout Tuesday. Black Lives matters, all of the things. And we said, imagine a world in which we went beyond social media and did something tangible to showcase talent, diverse talent.
[00:17:20.190] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And so we did that on two occasions, thankfully, due to a local partner here at the Anderson house. That is a beyond, no pun intended, gorgeous venue. And we're able to elevate some businesses that we want to see in twenty, twenty one. So that's the big level. But on a day to day level, I think there are other ways that people can be in community with each other and should be in community with each other.
[00:17:52.620] - Melva LaJoy Jones
One, this is the time to cultivate authentic relationships. You know what I'm so grateful for that I am talking to people in COVID in a different way than if we saw each other at a networking event?
[00:18:07.140] - Marlys Arnold
[00:18:08.300] - Melva LaJoy Jones
Two, this is a great opportunity to actually finish the answer to the question, how are you in a way that's real, you know, used to answer it. How are you? I'm fine. Everything's great. Well, now we have an opportunity to build community in our industry because we're not fine. Everything isn't great. And there's space for us to have these conversations and form relationships that are going to carry us beyond and beyond. And then the third way, I would say, is mentorship. So I am grateful for mentors who have been my feet, my foundation, when I could not stand, when I couldn't see beyond the doubt, but our industry, beyond the financial crisis that our industry is in. And that is significant. Our industry will survive and thrive by how we bring up the next generation of leaders.
[00:19:14.270] - Marlys Arnold
Well, and I think what you said is so true about how it's almost like there's a whole new level of authenticity now because we don't have to pretend, you know, I mean, if we've had a really bad week or really bad month or whatever in our business, it's it's now it's totally acceptable to just be upfront and honest about it. Whereas in the past, everybody was trying to always pretend that they were hugely successful all the time. And now it's like it's easier to say, you know, it's like, oh, I had a really rotten month or or this happened or that happened. And people are more empathetic, I think. And they're also more willing to help because I know there's been times when I've just been honest with one of my friends in the industry and they're like, oh, I have an idea. Let me connect you, connect you to this person. And it really I think that, you know, if we can carry that lesson forward and be more open and honest and helpful with each other, I think that's definitely going to be a positive thing for everyone.
[00:20:14.150] - Melva LaJoy Jones
Oh, absolutely. I think this is the time where we normalize being human, we normalize collaboration. We're a very competitive type A industry. But collaboration is going to be the path forward, particularly I'll just point to me for boutique firms. And we normalize or we should strive to normalize vulnerability, vulnerability. This is the path forward. It can no longer be, in my humble opinion, the perfect curated experience because we are not OK, but we will be OK.
[00:20:56.330] - Marlys Arnold
[00:20:57.170] - Melva LaJoy Jones
We will be.
[00:20:59.630] - Marlys Arnold
Right. And one last thing I want you to just share a little bit, and then I know you've got something you want to read to us, but I loved what you had posted about the power of choice and your choice to leave 2020 behind. So share with us just a little bit about that and then I'll let you go ahead and read what you have prepared.
[00:21:18.210] - Melva LaJoy Jones
Thank you so much for reading my stuff. So here's the thing I was talking to. What inspired that was I was talking to my aunt over the holidays and she said, you know, we can choose our stress. And I was like, huh? When she said that, it was like, really? And I sat and thought about it and I've decided she's right. And so here's the thing, here's what I'm leaving in 2020. I am leaving the business that didn't come to fruition. I am leaving the doubt. I am leaving people who aren't positive, clients who don't know my work. I'm actually leaving that behind because that old energy can't exist in a twenty twenty one that I want to be fruitful and for any stress that I have. So I will be honest. I caretake for my two parents that is stressful, but that's a choice. I do life with someone and that can be stressful, but that's a choice. And so my advice to anyone is life is not easy. We know that. We know that. But we can choose our stress and we should choose what we should choose wisely. Excuse me. We should choose in a way that is affirming to us and we should choose in a way that unapologetically, boldly protects our mental and emotional capital. Because when the season is over, I assure you that you can't do quality work when you're under significant mental duress. And so my way of being in twenty twenty one is a function of I'm choosing, I am choosing. And underneath that choice, ninety nine percent of the time, selfishly, I'll say, it is me. Because I deserve and you deserve and we deserve a chance at having our better and our better may mean. We're in business, we're out of business. Our better may mean we're with the same people or we're not without the same people, but it's all rooted in choice. And so with that, I will read something that I love to share. Stick with me. It's from a movie. It's from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And I think it gives everyone something to hold on to in in these times. And the last thing I'll say since the statement that I read will be the last thing is if you're struggling, if you are in the midst of depression, if you have lost someone because of everything that is going on. If you've even lost yourself, I have done all of those things more than once. And I, I just know that there's a possibility beyond this. And I just want to encourage anyone who is hearing this to hold on for your harvest.
[00:24:54.210] - Melva LaJoy Jones
And I'll read this, "For what it's worth, it's never too late. On in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit. Stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things that you've never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again." Happy New Year, everybody. Thank you for having me.
[00:25:54.990] - Marlys Arnold
Wow, Melva, that was so powerful. And now everybody can see why it was that I felt like Melva was our perfect guest to kick off the New Year, because this is the kind of just like a big giant virtual hug that all of us needed in a way. Yeah, exactly. And a way to kick off this new year. So Mel says, "thanks for sharing, Melva very inspiring. Agree with you about collaboration." Yeah, I think this is definitely going to be the way forward. And you know what a what a kick in the teeth. But if this is a lesson that we've at least learned going forward that that we need to cooperate and work together as an industry, then it will definitely will be better off in the long run. So, Melva, thank you so, so much for being here today as our guest on Virtual Lunch. And Matt says, "thanks for sharing." I'm sure that everybody really got so much out of what you had to share today. And I appreciate you being open and vulnerable and sharing your personal experiences.
[00:27:02.660] - Marlys Arnold
You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode's show notes at TradeShowInsights.com. And if you'd like to join us for an upcoming virtual lunch, you'll find info on that at ExhibitMarketersCafe.com/lunch.
[00:27:29.060] - Marlys Arnold
If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device, simply search for Trade Show Insights in Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button. Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons copyright license, you may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embed it on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes. To learn more, please see the link in the sidebar. The show notes at TradeShowInsights.com. Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our shownotes and archives at TradeShowInsights.com. You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.
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