By Michael Humphrey
Different meetings and events provide different kinds of challenges. Meetings for executives have a certain kind of complexity, while incentive trips offer another. Working with strangers has its pluses and minuses, while trying to herd the everyday colleague envelops another set of risks and rewards.
But few meetings can offer quite as many Maalox moments as the optional attendance meeting. Everything from setting budgets to gathering feedback comes with just a little “do they like us” charge to it.
That’s the challenge planner Kenneth Steiner, owner of Steiner and Associates, faces each year when he organizes the Missouri Coordinated School Health Conference (MCSHC). He and his client have to create an event each year that justifies time away from work for a wide variety of education and health professionals, from nurses to administrators, and food service personnel to physical education teachers. Last year the December conference drew approximately 300 participants.
“It’s a whole gamut, because they are looking at the whole issue of health of the students and what goes on in the school system,” Steiner says. “This is our 15th annual meeting, but we’re still learning.”
It’s a challenge he relishes, but not without the right partnership. And like any other meeting, that most important connection is the venue where the meeting will take place. That’s why Steiner says he chooses the Lodge of Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks.
“When I walk into the Lodge, it’s like old home week,” says Steiner. “The Lodge is family-owned and it feels like family when you go there.”
With that partnership in place, Steiner says he can look at the conference, find what worked and what needs improvement and strive for an even better event next December.
People and Purpose
Steiner’s client has two primary purposes in mind.
“Number one in importance is the information exchange and second is networking,” he says. “This year we highlighted the Warsaw School District, for instance, because they’ve really done a lot in policy when it comes to school health and food service. They could really tell what they did, how they did it and how it can be addressed in your community. That starts with information and leads to networking.”
The name for the 2007 event was “Dynamic Teaching, Dynamic Learning.”
According to a press release by MCSHC, “the conference … provided participants with a wealth of information on the value of improving nutrition and physical activity to encourage students to be healthy, fit, and ready to learn.”
Convincing school health professionals that the conference is important is a primary goal for the committee. And Steiner says that is trickier than it used to be, because conferences abound everywhere.
“Every discipline has its own meeting and they have to pick and choose,” Steiner says. “The other challenge in the school system is that most of these professionals need a substitute and in small districts that can be an issue.”
Registration fees can be a factor, too, but Steiner says research can assuage any problems there.
“You have to make your money back,” he says, “but you can’t price yourself out of the market. So you have to know what other conferences are charging and work accordingly.”
The Lake and the Lodge
Drawing attendees is first and foremost a matter of location. And Steiner says there is little doubt where the most advantageous location lies in Missouri.
“I’ve been in the state since 1981 and I’ve always said that a main attraction is the Lake of the Ozarks,” Steiner says. “People consider that a vacation destination. And it’s centrally located, so it’s always going to be a real draw.”
And it’s not all that uncommon for people to speak of the Lake of the Ozarks and the Lodge of Four Seasons synonymously. History and continuity are the main factors. Harold Koplar established the Lodge in 1965 and set the standard for resort luxury in Missouri. Koplar’s daughter, Susan Koplar Brown, served as president of the Lodge for nearly 20 years before handing the reins to her son Mark.
The Lodge of Four Seasons general manager Dave Griffin says the most obvious result of family ownership is service.
“The building itself is wonderful,” Griffin says. “But if I have a wonderful building and lousy service, people are going to remember the service. So we have to continue to promote wonderful guest services and training programs that keep that very consistent throughout the years. And that’s been done here.”
And then there are amenities. First and foremost, the Lodge places you squarely in some of the most beautiful lake scenery the region has to offer. You see the lake everywhere – out your room window, out of many meeting spaces, in the famous Japanese Gardens.
The next amenities that people think of are leisure activities. Golf comes to mind immediately, because the three courses the Lodge owns are considered second-to-none. All you need to know are the designers – Witch’s Cove is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. championship course; Ken Kavanaugh designed Seasons Ridge, named a “four star course” by Golf Digest; and Porto Cima is the only 18-hole, waterfront Jack Nicklaus Signature Course in Missouri.
Another gold standard leisure amenity is Spa Shiki, a 15,000-square-foot facility that offers massages, body treatments, facials and salon treatments, as well as a fitness center, steam, sauna and whirlpool facilities. It’s one the largest spas in the Midwest, making it perfect for planners to add to the list of enticements.
The perks also include three restaurants to choose from: Soleil, a sidewalk café; Breezes, a breakfast and lunch spot; and the highly renowned HK’s, which offers fresh steaks and seafood for dinner.
Lake cruises, free evening movies, fishing, shooting, horseback riding… the list of resort options is endless for groups who want fun to play a big role in their business getaways.
But Colleen Porter, director of sales, says a meeting that stays focused on business need not shy away from the Lodge. That’s because 65,000 square feet of meeting space spread across 29 rooms, including the largest hotel exhibit hall in the area, means many kinds of meetings are possible.
“We have all the amenities that a group could want,” Porter says. “But Ken’s group is a good example of one that came to us primarily for our meeting space and the service that surrounds that. They didn’t necessarily come for the resort aspect of the Lodge, they came for the facilities.”
That’s true, Steiner says. His strategy is to pack the activity into the daytime hours and then let the attendees do whatever they want at night.
“The first day, we have five intensive trainings, generally set up classroom-style,” Steiner says, “and then they are off that Thursday night. Then exhibitors come in and we use tabletop displays and that’s where we have our breakfast and a lunch, right in the exhibit space.”
The Friday general session is followed by six breakout sessions. Lunch is served around the exhibits, with ample time for eating and visiting – usually between 75 and 90 minutes. More breakout sessions are offered in the afternoon and the group is again off by 5 p.m.
Saturday morning starts at HK’s, where breakfast is served.
“That’s the value of having a dinner-only restaurant on the premises,” Porter says. “We can use that space for breakfasts with large groups and it makes a very nice venue.”
Steiner says he returned the favor to the hotel by keeping in place the rounds configuration used for Friday lunch. The tablecloths were changed – and the tables were perfect for the concluding general session on Saturday.
“One of the main costs for a hotel is labor,” Steiner says. “So when we can work with the hotel, we do. It’s a lot less labor-intensive to change out cloths than to rearrange the whole room.”
In all, Steiner uses five breakout rooms: Valencia I and II, Lookout, Terrace and Escollo for his educational sessions, and two sections of the Granada Ballroom for lunch, exhibit space and general sessions.
Breakfast and lunch are served in Granada on Thursday and Friday and all dinners are left open for attendees to explore the Lake’s eatery themselves.
Strengths and Challenges
Overall, the meeting was a success, Steiner says. Pulling off intensive education sessions, multiple meals and two general sessions for 300 people is a positive feat. And perhaps Missouri’s school kids will be a little healthier for it as well.
Steiner says the session rooms worked well, the service was excellent and the new three-year contract MCSHC signed with the Lodge is proof that location and venue are a fit.
But like any good planner, Steiner says there’s room for improvement. He says planning for better traffic flow during meals and broader marketing are two improvements he and his committee will make for next year.
“There are several things I’ll go back to the committee with and look over,” he says. “Evaluating what could work better, which speakers and sessions worked, and how to improve is the best way to continue to bring people back.” MM&E
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, Mo.)
The Lodge of Four Seasons
P.O. Box 215 • Horseshoe Bend Parkway
Lake Ozark, MO 65049
Phone: (573) 365-8531 • Toll-free: (800) 711-8983
Dave Griffin, General Manager