Beth Surmont is the VP of Event Strategy & Design at 360 Live Media. She has a strong passion for uniting people to foster positive change and has committed her career to amplifying the impact of associations globally. After 14 years at IEEE, the world’s largest professional association, Beth moved to strategic consulting with 360 Live Media, assisting associations from various sectors in furthering their missions and achieving their objectives. In 2023, she co-founded SocialOffset, a non-profit organization that enables event attendees to support vetted charities, thus allowing association events to contribute to local communities meaningfully. Over the past decade, Beth has also shared her expertise through over 150 sessions, interviews, and articles to benefit the association community. Outside of her professional endeavors, she enjoys reading, indulging in bourbon, and walking her dog.

Beth Surmont
VP Event Strategy & Design, 360 Live Media (owned by Smithbucklin, we work with associations)

Beth’s Story: Discovering My Passion for Associations

When I started at IEEE, I was in charge of planning volunteer committee meetings. I was good at it, enjoyed it, but it was really just a job to me. One day, I got an emergency call and had to travel back home to Ohio because my mom was in a coma (she did recover). Sitting in her hospital room, watching the ventilator go up and down, I suddenly realized that the company name on the ventilator was where one of my volunteers worked. I looked at another machine and recognized another company name. I looked around the room and found that I was surrounded by the work of the members of my association. In an instant, I realized the power of associations. I knew that I wanted to be part of bringing people together from around the world to drive the future and improve lives. At the core, that is what associations do.

Beth’s Approach: How to #InspireInclusion through Our Work and Actions

  1. Early on in my career, I had the realization that one of the most powerful things I could do for my LGBTA+ community was to be open and out in my day-to-day life. This was 20 years ago, and still a time that, for some people, I was the first openly gay person they knew. But even today, I was recently reminded of the importance of this while participating in our LGBTA+ affinity group at work. Most of the group is younger, in their 20s and 30s, and they stated how meaningful it would be to have someone on the leadership team who is openly gay. There are not a lot of openly lesbian leaders; and not many who present outside of traditional gender roles. I know that by acting as a role model I am creating space for others to feel included.
  2. Amplification has long been an important tactic of mine, and it is a focus for me this year. From stepping back in meetings to allow others to speak first; to coaching team members to help them show up in stronger ways; to sharing or creating opportunities to highlight the skills of new voices.
  3. Mentoring is very important to me – I’ve had many people help me in my journey and this is how I repay that kindness. I currently focus my formal mentoring in underserved communities and have 4 people that I regular engage with. In addition, I have ad hoc conversations on a regular basis with young professionals who contact me on LinkedIn for advice. In this way I am specifically helping to advance people in their careers.

Beth’s Perspective: On the Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Associations

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical for the future success of associations. Ideas are richer when more voices contribute to them and by embracing these principles, associations can tap into a broader range of perspectives, leading to stronger and more innovative ideas that serve both their members, and the greater society. In a rapidly changing world, understanding and valuing the diverse ways people learn, belong, and perceive the world is crucial for growth and opportunity. Additionally, creating an inclusive environment that reflects the future generations and their career journey helps to build a strong community and ensures the association remains a professional home for the sector.

Beth’s Initiatives: Actions and Inspirations for Fellow Association Leaders

For me, DEIA is both a big and small approach. On the small side, I try to weave it into my day-to-day as much as possible. This can be working with a client to include DEIA in their event RFP; writing an article like I recently did for ASAE, “10 Things Event Planners Can Start Doing Now for DEI&A;” or wearing a tie when I speak onstage and ensuring my wife is always mentioned in my speaker introduction.

On the larger side, one story that always stays with me is when I worked to create and launch a women in technology event that is now going into its 10th year. At the very first year of that event, during a closing session, a young woman stood up and tearfully shared her story. She was an engineering student who was ready to quit college, but after attending our event she was inspired and planned to continue on. I was struck by the realization that my work had changed the trajectory of this individual’s life. In turn, she may engineer a solution that may save millions of lives. That is the power of creating space for underserved communities.

Finally, my biggest current example of this is SocialOffset. Recognizing that many associations were faced with concerns over holding their events in destinations with controversial politics and policies, my wife and I leaned into the challenge and developed an option that keeps people coming together, instead of boycotting destinations. When you travel, every purchase you make generates tax revenue for a state government. That revenue may contribute to governmental policies that do not align with your values. Through SocialOffset, attendees can offset this and donate to local vetted charities working towards the social justice issues they care about.