My summer at EAA: What I learned after planning AirVenture 2011

When I was offered a public relations summer internship at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in Oshkosh, Wis., I never thought that two months later I would be shaking hands with the governor, welcoming over 80 veterans home from an Old Glory Honor Flight, helping Sully Sullenberger (think Miracle on the Hudson) with a book signing, watching a one-off car be auctioned off for $400,000, listening to the stories of Apollo astronauts, speaking Spanish to foreign reporters or, well, flying through the hot summer air in a door-less helicopter. To put it lightly, my summer at EAA has been incredible.

For the past 59 years, the EAA has hosted the world’s largest aviation event, AirVenture, which draws on average about 500,000 people to my small college town. It gets pretty crazy here, especially since the size of the city during July is 66,000—only 13% the size of EAA’s event. Below are some of the things that I took away from what was the busiest, craziest, and most valuable summer of my life.

Attend every meeting you are invited to. As an intern, it can be a little bit scary to walk into a meeting without knowing anyone and without knowing what everyone is talking about. However, I can tell you that if I didn’t sit in on all of the meetings I had the opportunity to, I would have been even more lost. Even if you don’t think the meeting has anything to do with your role or position, I can guarantee that you will meet someone who can help you at a later date.

Ask a lot of questions. This is especially important when you are thrown into an industry that you know nothing about (like aviation!). I spent countless hours with my boss, who is also a private pilot, learning about aviation. Do I need to know how a plane flies to do my job? Probably not, but it does make things easier when you have some idea what is going on.

Know where things are. If you ever have the opportunity to plan an event that takes place outside, make sure that you know how to get around. At AirVenture, employees have to ride in golf carts to get around because the grounds are spread out over 1,500 acres. That’s intimidating if you are a newbie. Not to mention, anyone wearing a staff T-shirt was fair game to receive questions from attendees. If you are asked, “Where’s the ‘Sikorsky Innovations’ tent?”, first– know what Sikorsky Innovations is, second– know where it is located.

Make peace with the fact that things will go wrong. Yes, even after your two solid months of planning and stressing that everything is all set before the event, things will still completely fall apart. It’s not your fault. The reality is that, at any large event, things come up that you don’t expect. Usually, they are things that need to be dealt with or solved in a small amount of time. Practice ‘thinking on your toes’, and never let that skill fade.

Network with people. This one is on here mostly because I think interns should always be doing this. And really—you are at a huge event! There’s a ton of opportunity to meet interesting people who may help your career in the future.

Have fun! Of course, this is the most important thing to remember and the easiest thing to forget. Try not to let the day-to-day stress of the event take you away from enjoying all of your hard work. You deserve to take an hour to walk around and look at everything that you accomplished. It will go by so fast, so don’t forget to have fun during it!

I sincerely hope that all of you have the chance to take part in any type of event planning or coordination. I promise that it will be more rewarding than stressful, and you will walk away from it with an awesome portfolio.

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