The Voice of Gen Z: Mentorship, Boundaries and Imposter Syndrome

Season 5, Episode 6

Photo of Taylor Smith in red sweater, in front of book stacks.Guest: Taylor Smith, Content Developer, Destinations and Features, Meetings Today

What do you know about Gen Z? Taylor Smith, content developer, destinations and features for Meetings Today, shares her perspective on battling social anxiety, finding valuable mentorship and creating awareness around today's young professional experience.

Listen now:


Podcast sponsored by Myrtle Beach Convention Center

Myrtle Beach Convention Center         

Listen to more Dare to Interrupt podcasts:

Meet Our Guest

Photo of Taylor Smith standing on French Quarter street in New Orleans.Taylor Smith joined Meetings Today magazine in May 2022 as a content developer, destinations and features and is the face behind the publication's column "The Z: Planning for the Industry's Next Generation," which explores how to welcome, work with, understand and plan for the industry’s next wave of professionals, Gen Z. 

In addition to writing about the meetings and events industry’s newest and youngest members, Smith also covers top and trending meetings destinations as well as topics including wellness, sustainability, incentives, new and renovated properties and industry trends for Meetings Today. 

Since joining the team and starting her column, Smith has spoken at major industry events that have includedIMEX America in Las Vegas, SITE Classic in Mexico, the 2024 Women in Tourism and Hospitality National Conference in San Diego and MPI's 2024 World Education Congress in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Smith graduated from Ball State University in May 2022 with a bachelor's degree in news and magazine journalism and a minor in creative writing. She currently lives in Melrose Park, Illinois, just outside the city of Chicago, and enjoys spending her free time freelancing for local magazines, perusing the shelves of local bookstores and playing with her puppy, Romeo.

Connect with Taylor: 
Instagram: @tay__writes (two underscores!)
Twitter: @taywrites

More About Our Host
Photo of Courtney Stanley standing, in a blue dress.Courtney believes that transforming past experiences into impactful conversations through raw, authentic storytelling challenges the status quo, connects people from all walks of life and results in great change for the world.

Courtney is the youngest member to have ever been elected to Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) International Board of Directors.

She is the recipient of Smart Meetings’ Entrepreneur Award, MeetingsNet’s Changemaker Award, the Association for Women in Events (AWE) Disruptor Award, the MPI Chairman’s Award and MPI RISE Award.

Named Collaborate and Connect Magazine’s 40 under 40 and a Meetings Today Trendsetter.

Recognized as one of the event industry’s most impactful change-makers, Courtney serves on the Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force, AWE’s Board of Directors, MPI’s Women’s Advisory Board, is a Meetings Mean Business Ambassador and is the co-founder of the award-winning movement, #MeetingsToo.

Courtney was named as a 2020 Meetings Trendsetter by Meetings Today.

Connect with Courtney:
Instagram: @courtneyonstage
Twitter: @courtneyonstage


Editors note: The following transcription was facilitated by AI program and proofed by our editors. Although it is very accurate, there inevitably will be some mistakes, so please consider that when reading. Thank you.

Courtney Stanley  
Hello, everybody, this is Courtney Stanley, and welcome to another episode of Dare to Interrupt, the only podcast made by women for women in the world of events, hospitality, tourism and beyond. We hope you feel empowered as you listen in on honest, unfiltered conversations with leaders who are considered to be the most influential, inspiring and innovative women in business today. 

Throughout their careers, these leaders have dared to interrupt conversations, their own comfort zones and sometimes even societal norms to hustle toward their greatest levels of success. 

Please welcome today's guest. We have with us, Taylor Smith, content developer destinations and features at Meetings Today. Taylor, how are you? I

Taylor Smith
I’m good. I'm so excited to be here. I cannot even begin to express how exciting this is for me. I started listening to Dare to Interrupt when I jumped in the industry two years ago, and you know, this just feels like a full circle moment right now.

Courtney Stanley  
Well, I'm excited to have you. For the past couple of years, you have become someone that not only I have kept my eye on, because I think you've been doing some really cool things, but someone that I just really appreciate, admire and just love. 

So, I'm really excited to get into our conversation today. And I want to start by asking you about being the face behind Meeting Today's column called “The Z: Planning for the Industry's Next Generation,” which explores how understand and plan for the industry's next wave of professionals, which is Gen Z, which we know consists of people who are born between ’97 and 2012. This tis column was your concept, right? This was kind of your baby to begin with?

Read Taylor Smith's The Z column:

Taylor Smith
Yes, yes. And I had a lot of support from my team behind me. It was kind of—I don't want to take all the credit for the idea, because I definitely had some help with both the editorial and the sales team. Honestly, at Meetings Today, it was a bit of a risk for them. Right when I joined the company, I was by far the youngest in the industry. I was fresh out of college, it was my first big-girl job. And, you know, they didn't really know what to expect with me. And after a few months at the company, I thankfully was able to kind of show them what Gen Z is capable of, and the benefits of having Gen Z on staff. And they—actually two of my biggest bosses at the company came and they were like, “Why my interest started Gen Z column?” You know, this is a conversation that we're hearing all the time at industry tradeshows and at our events, in that we're seeing these new young faces, but no one really knows what to expect or how to approach them or how to attract them to their companies; what they're looking for in the workplace. 

Photo of Taylor Smith speaking at meetings industry event.
Taylor Smith at speaking engagement

In my mind, I was like, “This sounds awesome, because I just get to kind of talk about myself a little bit and write, and when you get to pull from personal experience and share your thoughts and ideas in a first-person perspective through my writing, that's always been my favorite way to write. 

I've got a lot to say. I express myself through my words. And so, when I started this column, I had no idea what to expect. But I knew that I wanted my voice to really come through in it. And I knew that I wanted to provide information that was both pulled through research and data and statistics and studies that I looked into, but also tied together with the personal experiences that I had to share. 

And after, I think it was only three columns that I had published, I was asked by the St. Louis chapter of the American Society of Association Executives to come and speak at their chapter event. And it was like, “What, speak about this?!” 
So, I've never been on stage before, anything like that. But it just took off after that. And I've gotten such great feedback from it. It has been the most incredible journey that I've been on these past…actually, not even two years since I've started the column. It's been about a year and a half now. And I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love it.

People give me new ideas every day. It has connected me to some of the most incredible people that I've had the opportunity to add to my network and be friends with, and just knowing that the industry cares about learning about this generation and welcoming them and figuring out how we can work together is so rewarding. It's just been amazing. It's been amazing.

Courtney Stanley  
What has been one of your favorite pieces that you've written as part of this series?

Taylor Smith
Oh, my goodness, that's a good one. 

Actually, I wrote one—I know I mentioned to you a little while ago—that vulnerability is not something I'm afraid of. And when it comes to my writing, I put it all out there, I am not afraid to, you know, share my story and speak about the things that I've experienced. And a couple of columns ago, I think it was only two now, I wrote about the reality of experiencing social anxiety and dealing with social anxiety in a very social industry. 

I mean, this industry is all about connecting people, being face-to-face, building those relationships, introducing yourself, selling yourself to all these people at events. And as someone who does have social anxiety, that was a big hurdle to overcome when I first started in the industry, because not only was I already socially anxious about being in these groups of people, but in a way, I looked like I didn't belong there, right? I mean, I was new, I'm young, I didn't really know how to dress yet. It was all a huge experiment for me. 

But the biggest thing that I that I got from that experience was the more authentic I was, and the more real I was with myself, the easier that felt to be social and speak about myself, introduce myself, meet new people. And that column was one that I really enjoyed writing. 

My last column that I put together, though, was a really fun one. For me, I partnered with Mandi Graziano, who is VP of global accounts at HPN global, and she's just a networking queen. She knows all the tips and tricks for how to get into the circle. You know, she calls it circle crashing when you go into a group of people who are standing shoulder to shoulder and you don't know anyone, but you're kind of like awkwardly weaseling your way into that conversation? Yes, I think we've all been there before. And you're just like, Hi, can I join you? 

But for Mandi, she's like, “No, crash that circle. Go in, say, “Hey, my name is Taylor and this is something I'm super proud of. Can I tell you more about it?” One tip she shared with me was the “did you know approach,” just jumping in to conversations and saying, “Did you know?” 

For example, at MPI WEC last week, my Did you know was, Did you know Louisville produces more disco balls than any other city in the U.S. So, that was just like my fun little tidbit. And it made networking so much easier. So, I wrote all about that for my last column for The Z and had so much fun putting that one together. So, those are probably two of my favorites so far.

Courtney Stanley  
I love the did you know and circle crashing? I haven't heard of that before. But I think that that's a great way to just kind of label elevating your self confidence in a moment where maybe you're not feeling, you know, your most social or your most comfortable. So, I think that's really cool. When you are writing for the The Z, do you find that you're considering your audience to be other Gen Z professionals? Or is it more for people to learn about Gen Z that maybe aren't of that generation?

Taylor Smith
Great question. I get this question a lot, actually. And my answer is always, it depends on the column that I'm writing. So, one column that I recently wrote was all about the things I didn't learn in college about adult life and just the reality of having a full-time job and being in a career. And that specific column was definitely geared more toward Gen Zers. 

The younger generation as they enter their careers are maybe looking for some advice on how to get started and really, you know, navigate a totally different kind of lifestyle as they shift from being a full-time student to being a full-time career professional. But other columns that I've written will be more targeted toward the people who want to learn more about this incoming generation. 

So, planners who are trying to figure out, you know, what the heck does Gen Z want to see at these events? Or how will I keep these individuals with very, very short attention spans engaged and involved in these events? So, I really try to cater to everyone and make sure that I am writing content that serves an audience no matter who they are, how old they are, what generation they fall into. Because, you know, the last thing I want to do is limit anyone or feel like I'm excluding a certain group of people. 

So, I really try to cover all my bases with The Z. But I would say in every column there's something anyone can learn from.

Courtney Stanley  
I want to dig into something that you just said. Now, you know, planners maybe want to know how to attract Gen Z to their events, or how to engage them at their events. What are some of those things that planners can be doing or should be doing?

Taylor Smith
Yes, so we are, us Gen Zers, have had technology at our fingertips since we were born. Right? It's almost like an extension of us. I like to think of my keyboard, actually, when I'm typing away on my computer and writing stories, like an extension of my fingertips. I couldn't write the stories that I do, my brain moves so quickly, if I had to handwrite everything. I just wouldn't get all my thoughts down on paper. 

So, we thrive off technology. And if there's something new for us to try, or an activation that really involves some cool audiovisual tech components, those are always going to get our attention because we're interested in seeing, what's possible when we work with all the technologies and software that we have at our fingertips. 

Another thing is Gen Z are huge visual learners. They don't like reading a giant flyer handout. I mean, think about TikTok; you're scrolling on TikTok, it's 30-second videos and they're on to the next one, if you're lucky. Their average attention span is 8.25 seconds. So, you've got about less than 10 seconds to capture our attention and keep us engaged. And having those bursts of videos and interactive moving visual elements will keep us focused on what's going on in front of us versus, “Oh, I'm staring at the same screen or presentation for 10 minutes. I'm gonna pull out my phone and start scrolling on Instagram because I'm bored.” And it's not even that we're not interested in the material or the content or that we don't find it relevant. It's just, we need something dynamic happening if we're going to remain actively engaged.

Courtney Stanley  
I'm so curious, from your perspective, what you think the negative stereotypes of Gen Z are and whether or not you agree? I'm just curious; what are the things that you hear the most?

Taylor Smith
Yes, I also love this question, because I've made it a goal of mine to figure out all the stereotypes and just keep a running list of the ones that I hear in my head just with people that I meet, right? Because it's almost like they can't help themselves but to label and stereotype Gen Z when we get on that conversation. And it is my goal to break them all down and just prove that they're not all true. 

But the biggest one, obviously, is that we are lazy and we don't want to work or do anything. And, you know, that's a hard one for me, because I have seen both sides of the spectrum. And I think that it's probably true, and that there are hard workers and lazy individuals in every generation, right? We all have different levels of ambition and determination to succeed and what we commit to, or the goals we set for ourselves are always going to look different. 

Photo of Taylor Smith in a multi-colored sweater.
Taylor Smith

I do think that there is some sort of, for lack of a better word, entitlement in my generation, which is another stereotype that I've heard a lot, but I think that we need to rephrase how we label that entitlement because Gen Zers just value their time and they care about where they spend their time. Our time is limited and precious, and call me entitled, but I don't want to work till 10 p.m.; I want my weekends off. You know, I've got family I want to spend time with, I have places I want to see, I have things I want to do. I have a life outside of my nine-to-five. And that is this new kind of work-life balance that we're seeing a priority for. It's a big shift.

I think for a lot of people it's not so much entitlement. People just don't want to live to work. They want to live to live. They want to spend their time, in their free time, how they are able to when when they have those opportunities. And I think we have to, like I mentioned, restructure and retrain our minds to think differently about that. That sense of entitlement. Um, I will also—I mean, not to toot my own horn, right?— but there are hardworking Gen Zers out there that really do want to succeed and will push themselves. We're actually…it's kind of weird, but it's like college colleges are seeing lower application rates and not lower acceptance rates. But just less students applying every year because Gen Zers are so entrepreneurial, they'll have an idea for a company that they want to start—they want to be their own boss—they'll go and make it happen. 

Social media has made that possible for so many people. I mean, I follow Instagram accounts where, you know, this one girl, I love her account, she just makes cute ceramic mugs all the time. That's her business; she has thousands of followers, and she just sells out every time she does a drop. The possibilities out there to be your own boss and start your own company are so abundant right now that I don't think it's that Gen Z is entitled or lazy or doesn't want to work, it's that they have figured out how to live their lives for themselves. And that's something I find inspirational, something that I'm personally working toward, and that I think a lot of us can learn from as we move forward in our careers. 

Courtney Stanley  
I couldn't agree more, especially as an entrepreneur, and I greatly value boundaries. And I'm always trying to make sure that I'm putting my needs first when they need to be put first. And also prioritizing how I want to live my life. 

You know, I'm a firm believer if we do have this one life to live, then we should be doing our best to live it the way that we really want to in a way that feels valuable; where we're of service where we feel fulfilled. There are so many things that I think that Gen Z are doing that people of other generations would really benefit from or really desire. And I think, you know, there is a little bit of that, like, “Well, you got to pay your dues” mentality—which in some cases, absolutely, sure. 

But I do think that for people who, like for me—I'm a Millennial, so I'm like, not too far from Gen Z, and not like so far that I've already worked my whole life. I may not have that many years left to work before I retire or whatever, so there's still an opportunity, I think, for me to apply a lot of what Gen Z is expressing and asking for to my life as well. And I find that there's so much to learn from Gen Z. So, I'm here for it. I'm here for all the things that Gen Z is asking for. 

To an extent, I think what you said around every generation having people who are maybe not as hard working, or maybe a little bit lazy, like 100%, I can speak for my generation as well. I have worked in multiple offices, multiple cultures, multiple companies; there are lazy people of all ages and in every company that I have worked for. So, for me, it's not so much generational as it is just kind of the nature of human beings. And I remember, when I was first stepping into the industry and I was doing sessions on Gen Y and millennials, there were so many stereotypes that are similar to what Gen Z is hearing. So, it's like, constantly repeat them. 

So, absolutely, it's like a trend; it's like fashion….everything goes back at some point. And I think a lot of these stereotypes maybe apply to certain generations a little bit more, depending on what's happening in the world and how they've been raised. But for the most part, you know, none of us are perfect and no generation is perfect, but there's a lot we can learn about each other.

Taylor Smith
Yes. When I started writing this column there was a really interesting article I read and it was, I don't remember the specific headline, but it was something along the lines of the 2,000-year history of older generations blaming younger generations, and it is so true, and that history really does repeat itself. 

Every generation is going to have something to say especially about the one just below them. It's like when you're a senior in high school and the junior class or the freshman class is like…you're always gonna roll your eyes and think that you're a little bit better than them because that's just the reality, like you said, of humanity.

Especially like my session at MPI WEC with [EventGenuity’s] Michael Owen. It was called, “Okay, Zoomer, the Battle Between Gen Z and Baby Boomers.” The takeaway from that conversation was how when we continue down this pattern of stereotyping and blaming the next generation and just, you know, living with our unconscious biases and these assumptions that we make about people that we may not even realize we're making about them, just based on what we might assume their age is and the generation we might assume they fall into It is. 

Photo of MPI session with Michael Owen (right) and Taylor Smith (left) on stage.
"Okay, Zoomer, the Battle Between Gen Z and Baby Boomers" session at MPI WEC 2024. Credit: MPI.

So, it limits us from making so many connections. It limits us from, you know…sometimes it prevents us from even wanting to go up and introduce ourselves and shake someone's hands because our unconscious biases and those judgments that we subconsciously make almost put up a wall and send a signal in our brain saying like, “Oh, they're not someone that you can relate to. They're not someone that you can necessarily be friends with because they're different than you.” And what our session really emphasizes is our differences are what make us so valuable to each other. And our values, the shared values that we have together, are how we can relate to one another. 

And I know it's impossible to get rid of all stereotypes, but my goal in my column in the work that I do at Meetings Today is to hopefully get people to be a little bit more mindful when they call themselves out for those judgments that they make.

Courtney Stanley  
What's interesting is that in some of what you've shared earlier, and what you shared right now, I'm hearing this underlying theme where… so, I'll give you a couple examples. The first you were talking about, you know, a bit of social anxiety. And then in this situation, you were talking about hesitation to, you know, approach other people. And whether that's based on bias or something else, I am curious as to whether some of this stems from being newer in the industry, but also experiencing some of that impostor syndrome that we hear people talk about all the time. Is that something that you feel like you have had to combat as a young professional stepping into the work world

Taylor Smith
100%, undoubtedly, I have. I still deal with impostor syndrome. I remember—it wasn't the first event I went to, but one of the first events I went to in this industry—I was still super new in my role, still really starting to understand what meetings and events were all about. And I was walking into an event with my badge and one of the staff members there who was kind of, you know, keeping track of the attendees, making sure no one came in who wasn't supposed to be there, had assumed that I found the badge on the floor or took it from someone and that it wasn't me, that I was just using it to get into this event that I didn't belong at. And I had to take out my ID to prove that I was old enough to be there, because he wanted to confirm that my name was the same one that was on the badge and that I was supposed to be at this event. 

It was like a slap in the face. And I was already dealing with feelings of like I maybe wasn't supposed to be there, asking myself, “How did I end up here? Are they sure they want me here? What did I do to be able to be at an event this amazing?” And then to have someone actually working the event question whether or not you belong there after you work so hard to find a spot there. Really, you know, it was a blow and my confidence took a blow. The next few events that I went to I was paranoid, like making sure that I had my badge on me, that I had my registration printed out on me so that I could prove to people that my name was on the list—I was supposed to be there. I may look young. I may seem like, you know, not really fitting in with the crowd, but this is my crowd, I belong here. 
And for me, it wasn't so much as you know…I found people like you, Courtney and, and my mentor is Tyler Davidson at Meetings Today. He has since day one lifted me up and told me that I have a spot here and that this is where I belong. But no matter how many people tell you that you belong here, and that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, if you don't have that confidence in yourself and you question your own abilities—that's what matters most, that's what will hold you back. 

That's really, at least for me, where my imposter syndrome is rooted in. I know that I have the support behind me, but do I support myself, and when I have moments like that, it's like, you know, I can get all the compliments from people like you and Tyler and all the connections I've made in the industry saying, “How great it is to connect with me; how happy they are to have me here.” But that one comment telling me that I don't belong is what sticks in my in my head, right? And it's like I'm battling through that all the time. 

Since I've been in the industry now for about two years, I thankfully have connections now where when I go to events like WEC and IMEX, I have friends now. And I see people that I know. And it's a lot easier for me to walk into those tradeshows with my head held high and I am strutting my stuff, and I belong here. And I've got my confidence—I'm wearing my confidence when I walk in. And it's because of those people that I've been able to find that confidence again, but I think it's a reality for a lot of young professionals in that we were already asking ourselves, you know, I mean, this is my dream job. I did not anticipate that I would ever get to something like this, especially at my age. 

And, you know, it's not typical for Gen Z to stay at a company for a very long time, but I just passed my two-year anniversary with Meetings Today and I'm like, “Okay, I'm not going anywhere, anytime soon. This is my home. This job is everything to me.” And I constantly—especially for the first year—was like, how did I get so lucky? What did I do to deserve this? Are they sure they want me? Maybe it's because I work remotely and they don't actually see how I am in the office that they're still tolerating me. But the more I'm at the company, the more I feel like it is my home, and I have found that confidence. 

So, imposter syndrome is so real and things like that—like asking, “is that actually your badge?—will set you back so much. But I have just found that when I have moments like that, and I'm feeling insecure in myself at these events, I just find that one person that knows my name, or that I maybe bumped into at registration, and I make them almost like my buddy until I find that confidence in myself again. And it really does come around to the people that you surround yourself with. And if you don't have that support system, it can be tough out there. 

But really, the biggest thing is supporting yourself, having the confidence in yourself. And the best way to do that is just to keep going. I mean, don't let those little things hold you back. Because had I done that—I mean, I am a very sensitive person. I cry at, like, the drop of a pin. Sometimes it's just who I am. 

And I remember after that event, like I had gotten inside, I was all shaken up. And I went to the bathroom and the second I got in I call my mom, and I was like “Mom, I don't know if I should be here right now. I don't know if they want me here,” and she was like, Do not let them affect you. You earned your spot at this conference. You worked for years and years to be where you are today. Don't let one person set you back that much. Because there's no doubt in my mind that you deserve what you have right now.” That picked me up. It was what I needed to keep going. But, anyways, sorry, I'm rambling now. 

But I could talk about impostor syndrome and how difficult that is to deal with for hours. It is a huge struggle and something that I don't think is any easier the older you get, honestly.

Courtney Stanley  
Well, first of all, I want to say that makes me so mad that happened to you. I've, like, got my like big sister pants on over here. Oh, that makes me so mad. Because here's the thing, it's not even just about that one situation that happened with you, but it makes me really frustrated thinking and knowing that that probably happens to people for all different kinds of reasons—for age, for race, for gender, for whatever. You know that people experience these situations where they are perceived as an outsider, or they don't belong, and that is entirely unacceptable to me. 

But what I love is that you found a way for you that worked to be able to kind of recenter yourself and continue to move forward even after you felt like your confidence got kicked a little bit. And I will agree with you and also share that research backs up what you just said about imposter syndrome, where what people don't realize is that a lot of times the people who struggle with impostor syndrome the most are the most successful women specifically. It's the notion that people who are willing to put themselves in opportunities for growth or in new rooms or scary environments that are outside of their comfort zone are more likely to experience a sense of feeling like an imposter, or feeling like they don't deserve to be there. 

But I think what's also really interesting and what I've learned is I've also dealt with imposter syndrome throughout my life in my career, is that the more you step into those rooms that scare you, the stronger you become, and you just continue to keep leveling up. So, it's like okay, Room A scares me today. I feel like an imposter today, I go into Room A, I decide that I belong in that room. And then I step into Room B the next day, and maybe experienced the same thing, but it's at a higher level of fear. And so, you're continuing to level up those growth opportunities and therefore your own growth as you continue on that path. But imposter syndrome, in general, affects people of all walks of life, but most frequently, women who are extraordinarily successful in sitting in those top echelons of leadership. 

So, really interesting stuff. And I do want to go back to one thing you said, because you talked about our friend Tyler, yes, for Meetings Today. We both love him; he is the absolute best. And I completely agree with that. And you called him a mentor. And I want to ask you what role mentorship has played in the development of your professional career.

Taylor Smith
I cannot stress to you how vital mentorship has been in finding my competence, not even just in my career and in my role at Meetings Today, but as a writer, as a young professional, just as a human being. When I started my job…I interviewed for my role at Meetings Today and was hired before I graduated—it was absolutely mind blowing. When I hung up the phone with Tyler I just started crying because I could not believe that, one, that he had saw potential in me and taking a chance on me. I had the hardest time in my job search, honestly, and I again—not to toot my own horn—but I had a very strong resume, I had a really great portfolio, I was applying to dozens and dozens of jobs and was just getting silence on the other end. And when Tyler set up an interview with me, I was just so thankful for him just giving me a shot. And when I started working, it was right away—I was getting positive feedback from him. 

Danielle LeBreck, Taylor Smith and Tyler Davidson of Meetings Today at IMEX America 2022
Danielle LeBreck, Taylor Smith and Tyler Davidson of Meetings Today at IMEX America 2022

Right away, he was instructing me on even the smallest little things that, you know, from down to the way I tagged someone properly on the service that we use for like communicating with our team back and forth when we're working on the magazine. He would and still to this day answers every single question I have no matter how big or how small; he has constantly reminded me of the role and the significance I have at my magazine and how I add to the team and how I'm not just someone who's around just to be around—I am needed; I am a vital component of what makes Meetings Today possible. 

And when I started, I had no idea what the meetings industry was—genuinely no idea. I was so confused. I had no idea hotels had ballrooms that big. I was like, “What even is IMEX? What's MPI? What's a CMP?” All of these acronyms were flying my way. And the patience he had with me reassured me that it was okay to be patient with myself and learning. 

So, I felt like a baby learning how to walk when I started into my role, honestly. I was like, I know I'm a writer. I've got all the basics down. But writing for this audience in this niche industry, it was a huge learning curve. And had I not had Tyler's guidance and had he not reminded me and reassured me that I was doing good work, I am the kind of person where, like I mentioned, imposter syndrome is so real for me, I don't think I would have been able to continue in the role. I really don't. 

I was so intimidated the first couple of months, just questioning everything that I knew about events in general. And so, so confused, like there was so much information to take in and I really was scared and I really did not feel like I was good enough and I would be able to deliver what they needed me to deliver. And whenever I expressed this to Tyler, he was like, “Are you kidding? You're delivering more than we ever would have thought you would. You are doing great work and I'm here to help you along the way.” He has been my biggest supporter in terms of…I mean, I never would have gotten up on stage at WEC had he not told me, “You should totally go for this!” 

So, he helped me come up with my session concept. He's the one who connected me to Michael Owen, and EventGenuity. He made the whole session possible, and he did that for me. He did that to lift me up to help me build my career—my career and my brand as a speaker—and not one part of that act was out of anything selfish. I mean, obviously, any kind of publicity like that is good for the brand, but that was not what he was thinking of. 

When he shared that opportunity with me and told me to go for it, he was encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone, because he sees more potential in me than I see in myself. And that is absolutely life changing. Like, I'm getting emotional talking about it right now. Because I truly cannot express in words how important and special Tyler as my mentor has been in my career in my life. And I mean, he’s what I call my work dad. He is everything that I want to be; he is the best leader I could ever ask for.

And I will never be able to express how grateful I am for him. But my life completely changed because of his mentorship. And I think every person getting started in their career, especially in their dream career, deserves something like that.

Courtney Stanley  
I would agree not only with just how phenomenal Tyler is. And I know, Tyler went so far as to introduce us when you first started with them. He, I remember, he reached out to me, he was really excited that they had hired you. And he asked if I would have a call with you just to maybe provide some support, some mentorship. And of course, I said yes, anything for Tyler, but also anything I can do to support young people in the industry, I will do. 

So, I love that he did that. And something that really surprised me that you shared in your intake form before this interview was that you had a severe fear of speaking for this phase of your life. So, the fact that he was able to see that you've got something here, let's get you on stage, let's set you up. Let's make this a huge success. I think that that's absolutely phenomenal, too. And I know that, you know, because we're friends, I know that you and [Society for Incentive Travel Excellence CEO] Annette Gregg are very close. And she's also served as, oh, gosh, I had an angel….

Taylor Smith on stage with Annette Gregg at SITE Classic 2023
Taylor Smith on stage with Annette Gregg at SITE Classic 2023

Taylor Smith
Can she be my work mom? I mean, seriously, you and Annette, I mean, I have so many mentors, truly so many.

Courtney Stanley  
I freaking love Annette Greg. She and Tyler both operate at the same level in terms of integrity, and strategy and kindness, and they are leaders at their core. And I just so appreciate the two of them. But I do want to ask you if you have any advice—I don't know how you and Annette connected in the first place. 

So, if you have any advice, because she's someone that you don't work with directly, you were blessed from the heavens to have Tyler as somebody that you work with directly. But Annette is not someone you work with directly. So, how did you get connected with her? And how can other people who want the same experience that you've had that's been so life changing and career changing of having this amazing mentor? How do they do it?

Taylor Smith
Yeah, so, Tyler hasn't stopped introducing me to people in the industry, right? It's been two years and he's still sending those emails introducing me to people like you and making those connections for me. With Annette, though, it was very fun. It was my column, again, that kind of built that bridge for us. 

But last summer, it was probably June, I got an email from the SITE team asking me—they had seen my Gen Z column—and they wanted me to speak on stage and do a fireside chat-type of session with Annette Gregg at SITE Classic, which was in Punta de Mita Mexico last August. And this was aside from the virtual session that I had given for the St. Louis Society of Association Executives. 

The SITE Classic event was my first time being onstage in front of a live audience speaking to a crowd, and I hadn't met Annette in person before. But that kind of situation where they had found my column… they thought it was interesting and they wanted to bring me to the event is what connected us. But I had heard about her before. I knew Tyler was connected with her. We do some work with SITE. So, her name had…she was one of our Meetings Trendsetters as well, so her name was familiar to me. But that connection really formed when I went to SITE Classic. And she was just magnetic. Her energy was…it was contagious. And I saw her on stage. I mean, she made me—when I was onstage in front of 300 people, like shaking, literally shaking—she made it feel like it was just me and her on that stage and we were just having a conversation and that that connection between us formed right away, and we stayed in touch. 

And I went to the SITE Young Leaders Conference before IMEX America last year, and they mentioned there that they were launching a new mentorship program. And I was like, I don't know if I'll qualify, I'm kind of in this weird little sector of the industry where I'm not a planner and I'm not a supplier. I'm just kind of floating in the middle there as media. But I am so passionate about incentives and young leaders and mentorship that I was like, this is something I really want to be a part of. So, I sent in an email and asked her what's possible? Actually, I think I mentioned it to her at the Young Leaders Conference, or at SITE NITE or something at IMEX. 

And I said, “I heard about this mentorship program and I want you to be my mentor.” And she looked at me and she was like, “We're going to make that happen.” So, we sent a few emails back and forth and we started meeting once a month just to be a part of this SITE mentorship program, and it has been so amazing ever since. 

I really encourage young professionals who are looking for mentors to do their research, especially when it comes to industry associations, because that is where you'll find your community of professionals, even their local chapters, right? So, if you want a mentor who—I mean, I'm in Chicago and Annette’s in San Francisco, but that's a certain mentor mentorship dynamic that that works for us. We're busy girls, we travel all the time. And those virtual connections are the best way we can go about it. But there are local chapters for every association, MPI, SITE, PCMA, that you can find someone in your area even and connect with them. But even if they don't have official mentorship programs, go to those events, become a member of those associations, be willing to introduce yourself, bring all the business cards you can. I'm still a fan of paper business cards; my phone is not reliable enough—sorry, Gen Z, to disappoint, but I am a paper over digital girl when it comes to that, and I collect them all; I add everyone I connect with on LinkedIn. And when those genuine connections are formed, they're so willing to just be there for you.

And sometimes you have to take the first step as a potential mentor and say, “Hey, I'm looking for someone who can guide me along the way. And I really connected with you. I really am inspired by your story and your career path and I would love to learn more from you.” I'm not afraid to throw that into conversations now, and that's why I have mentors like you and Annette and Tyler, because everyone I meet that inspires me, I asked them to be my mentor. 

And I'm always surprised by how many people are willing and say yes, but those programs are out there. Shameless plug: I wrote about them for The Z once and I will happily share that again. But there are so many opportunities. And if you really want it as a young professional, and you don't know where to start, do your research, send those emails, swap those business cards, send that LinkedIn message, be your own advocate. And don't be afraid to ask.

Taylor Smith with Courtney Stanley, Devon Montgomery Pasha and Susan Piel at MPI WEC
Taylor Smith with Courtney Stanley, Devon Montgomery Pasha and Susan Piel at MPI WEC

Courtney Stanley  
I think that's great advice. And I think something that you said that I really appreciated or alluded to was this instinct connection that you felt to Annette, and I think that there is something energetic about people's essence and their persona. And I do think that there are people sometimes that you have a conversation with in your youth, you watch them speak or whatever. And right off the bat, you're like, “Oh, I really like them. There's something there that I want to get closer to,” and not in like a creepy way but just in like a human connection way. 

That's what happened with my mentor. And I have my original professional mentor. Literally, I think I had just seen him interacting and I'd kind of heard his name a few times; it was similar to your situation. And I just wound up introducing myself; we hit it off right off the bat. And we've—I mean, we've been mentor/mentee but also best friends for, gosh, I don't even know, like 15 years now. I think it's pretty important to listen to that intuitive nudge that you have when you're in those situations and then also to ask yourself, “Does this person's values align with my own?” Because I think that a lot of times we get caught up in seeing the success that a mentor has and saying, “Okay, this is someone who's achieved a lot. I want to learn from them.” Which is totally fair and valid, and there's value in that. 

But I think it's even more important to take a step further and ask that second question: Is this someone that I feel aligns with my values or values that I want to lean into and grow on my own? 

Yeah, so great advice. Great advice. I know that we're coming to the end of our conversation here and there's been so much that we've talked about. There are questions that I still want to dig into, but we may have to make this a part two…yeah, for sure, for sure. But I do want to give you a chance to just share any final pieces of advice or words of wisdom, if there's one thing that you could leave the audience with today, to take away and remember, in the days and weeks to come, what would you want to leave them with?

Taylor Smith
I just want to say to everyone that they should never be afraid to step out of their comfort zone, and they may be the one person in the room who maybe has the least amount of faith in themselves, right, when it comes to getting up on stage or doing something that that others are encouraging them to do. But no matter how you feel about what you're capable of, when you step outside of your comfort zone, I promise you that you will surprise yourself and your confidence will grow and you will meet the most amazing people who will just keep growing that confidence in and in your support system even more. 

But that is the best way to prove to yourself what you're capable of, to overcome impostor syndrome, to find your confidence and to really just…you'll just take off when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone like that. And you may not believe in yourself now, but when you do accomplish something that you that you didn't think you'd be able to, it's the most rewarding feeling when you know you may not have had that belief in yourself beforehand, but you have pride in yourself. And that is such a good feeling. So, I just encourage anyone to take that leap and try it, and to know that if they need a friend or someone to pat them on the back along the way, they can always reach out to me, too, because I'm always looking to support people however I can. And they've got a friend in me.

Courtney Stanley  
I love that. And the Toy Story song just came into my head…okay, now I have that song stuck in my head. 
This is Taylor Smith, everyone, please check out her column, The Z at, and Taylor, I have to say thank you so much for being here, for sharing so much of yourself with our audience. And I'm just so proud of you. I'm so proud to know you and to have you as a friend and a mentee and anything and everything in between. So, thank you so much for your time today.

Taylor Smith
All the same about you. This was a dream come true to be on your podcast, you have no idea. So anytime I get to spend chatting with you is time well spent.

Courtney Stanley  
Well, likewise, and audience, thank you all for listening. Share what you learned from this episode with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by following at @meetingstoday and @CourtneyonStage. And be sure to never miss an episode by subscribing to Dare to Interrupt on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google podcasts and more. Step outside your comfort zone. Say yes to things that scare you and keep daring to interrupt my friends. 
Until next time.

Profile picture for user Courtney Stanley
About the author
Courtney Stanley

Courtney is a keynote speaker, writer, podcaster and career success coach with a background in experience design, community engagement and leadership development. Courtney is the host of Meetings Today’s “Dare to Interrupt,” a podcast that provides a platform for the event, hospitality and tourism industry’s most influential and successful women to share their stories of adversity and success, unfiltered.