Opening Windows to Better Meetings & Events: Spring Expo Boasts New Venue, Generates New Energy

June 1, 2007

Spring Expo Boasts New Venue, Generates New Energy

By Bill Beggs Jr.

If one word were all you could use to describe the St. Louis Regional Expo for Missouri Meetings & Events on March 13, “magical” would be it, hands down.

Indeed, that word was essential to the theme, “Magical Meetings ~ Enchanted Events.” This year’s enchanted venue was Windows On Washington located in downtown St. Louis’ revitalized Loft District. Magicians strolled the exhibit floors doing tricks for exhibitors and meeting planners. Then there were the balloon wizards: one was made entirely of multicolored balloons complete with a color-changing crystal ball. The others were the wizards of Up, Up and Away! who pulled together the airy creations that greeted attendees as they arrived on each floor. The afternoon concluded with mesmerizing desserts and a captivating hypnotist, Ricky Kalmon.

“Magical” served well as the theme, because exhibitors and planners got much more than met the eye. Other words that aptly describe the event: Useful, fun, inspirational, exciting and valuable. These and more sum up the responses of planners and exhibitors who enjoyed the day.

Planners Got More Than They Planned For

Being able to visit exhibitors on several floors made for pleasant surprises, cut down the crowds gathered around each booth and made the number of vendors to visit seem less overwhelming, planners said.

“Not everybody’s in one place, which makes for good traffic flow,” said Robin Jones of the Missouri Lottery. “This gives you a great idea of what’s available.”
Meeting vendors face-to-face also was key.

“This is so much better than making reservations over the telephone. A picture is worth a thousand words,” Jones added.

Her colleague Kami Delameter was pleased she didn’t have to work too hard to find her way around.

“This is a very well-organized event,” Delameter said.

Jennifer Baldwin of the American Pool Players Association also felt she had plenty of take-away. Baldwin was particularly impressed with Rob Schaefer, who in “Making Your Events Magical” came very close to demonstrating for planners how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

“How to make great presentations out of simple things, that was very helpful,” Baldwin said. “I really appreciated it. His humor was very pointed.”

Brenda Spychalski, who had just made a career transition from human resources to a job that would require meeting and event planning, said she felt a bit like a kid in a candy store. She also loved Schaefer’s creativity, having thought time and time again: “Now, why can’t I come up with that?” Well, now she can.

“You can’t get bored. There are so many different things to do,” said Spychalski. “It’s a great mixture.”

Then, she admitted with a smile, “This happens to be more fun than HR, really.”

Exhibitors Had Lots to Show Off… and Plenty of Folks to Impress
Gary Harpole II runs Heartland Lodge in Nebo, Illinois, about an hour northeast of Alton. It started out as a hunting lodge, but Harpole and his mother, Wanda, have been targeting corporate business. Harpole decided late in the game to exhibit at the Expo.

“We’re interested in expanding our market,” he said, between greeting and chatting up planners and getting to know other exhibitors. He was pleased with the traffic, but said he’ll make sure to produce a banner and other eye-catching visuals to promote his property next time.

Other exhibitors were more lavish with their visuals, not only to pull in more passersby but to put themselves in the running for awards that had titles related to the theme. The ever-personable Craig Hawksley, emcee and comedian, announced the winners:

Destination St. Louis was honored with the Gold Wand Award for its booth complete with a castle and knight in shining armor.

Northwoods Candy Emporium received the Silver Wand Award for its tasty treats created on the spot, which included mouthwatering business cards.
Up, Up and Away! took Best in Show. The balloon artistry displayed by its magical and enchanting installations was just part of the criteria—the judges were also wowed by balloon creations artists made on the spot for attendees, by request. Nearly every imaginable species of animal was represented, but also wrist “corsages” that dozens of attendees wore, and at least one bicycle.
Favazza’s/Rose of the Hill, a first-time exhibitor, was given the Apprentice Wand Award for its exquisite spread that featured the fruit of the vine as well as other cuisine highlights.
Many exhibitors, regardless of whether they left with an award, fancied themselves winners anyhow.

Pat Schaumann, owner of MAC Meetings and Events, was buoyant about her experience. “I’ve been a speaker for [the Missouri Meetings & Events Expo] since it started, and I can never imagine where all these planners come from! It’s amazing to me that they can draw 186 planners that our niche doesn’t even know. They really are here for the education.”

Schaumann had another reason to feel good about the Expo. One of her salespeople working the MAC Meetings and Events exhibit picked up a piece of business on the show floor. The client wanted a proposal the next day!

Break-Out Sessions Offered Plenty to Take Home

Before their seminar titled “Win-Win Strategy for Buyers and Suppliers,” presenters Sean Lynch and his brother Bill shared the ups and downs of the industry.

“A lot of what we do is common sense,” Sean said. “You have to think on your feet.”

“Always be prepared,” interjected Bill. “You should always have a contingency plan in case of the weather, labor unions, etc.”

Of course, key to preparation is making the buyer and seller relationship work.

“It doesn’t have to be adversarial,” Sean emphasized. Buyers and sellers need to understand that each has something to offer. “And seek help. You may know how to run a meeting, but have no idea how to run an LCD projector.”

Or how to manage travel in your company. Some think all you need to do is point and click at Expedia or Orbitz. Not so, said Joy Bray, whose presentation was titled, “Travel Consultant vs. Travel Gnome.”

Bray emphasized that a travel consultant is essential in a corporate environment, where there may be lots of juggling regarding trips not taken, tickets about to expire, working with brokers, etc.

A travel consultant is not the travel agent who marked up your tickets to Tahiti for offering you all that “special, personalized service.” A consultant can help your company learn whether it’s keeping the correct paperwork, or holding on to too much, she said. Her goal is also to assist with reporting systems for the accounting and finance departments.

Any accountant would be pleased to see an invoice for table decorations from Dollar Tree. That’s one of the corners you’ll never see Rob Schaefer cut.

Schaefer, a catering and event specialist with Steven Becker Fine Dining, demonstrated some of his artful – and price-chopping – techniques for a standing-room-only group that frequently oohed and aahed. His presentation, anything but ordinary, emphasized how to make your presentations extraordinary.

All meetings should have a theme, regardless of how humdrum you think they are.
“Having a morning meeting?” he asked. “Then the theme is ‘Morning Meeting’.” Think of how to incorporate the company logo. Use company colors throughout.

“What about afternoon break? We’re all tired of candy bars and pretzel bags.” Especially if lunch happened to be the all-too-typical rubber chicken recipe. This doesn’t have to be, he said. Think like a chef from California, the Caribbean, the South — why not a buttermilk and pecan-encrusted chicken dish?

And floral displays don’t have to be a huge line item. Put blooms on the moistened, colorful sponges you bought at Dollar Tree.

Schaefer trimmed and placed four stems into a special holder – a $1 toothbrush holder painted the appropriate color.

And bring a roll of green floral tape. It may save your hide at the last minute. “You can use it to stick things to the wall, or fix a guy’s trouser cuff.”

Keynoters Were Humorous, Thought-Provoking, Mesmerizing

The bar would be raised for any meeting with either Bruce Christopher or Ricky Kalmon in the house. The nationally renowned performers provided double the excitement at the Expo. Christopher presented before lunch and Kalmon after.

Their inspirational messages were food for thought for anyone, from a CEO to an intern. Both personality types may have been represented in the group that Kalmon hypnotized onstage.
Kalmon convinced them there was a terrible odor in the room, that paper napkins were $100 bills, that they were sumo wrestlers who could speak and translate Japanese, that they could play instruments and conduct an orchestra. If you hadn’t seen it, you never would have believed it.

Christopher and Kalmon both emphasized the power of belief in yourself – that no one else can hold you down.

“The most important thing about me,” Christopher insisted, “is how I talk to myself.”
In his presentation, “The Secrets Only Optimists Know,” he emphasized that from the start, “success in life is how you look at other things.”

A Bright Outlook

Optimism certainly ruled the day at the Expo. Exhibitors and planners were flush with new business, both prospective and contracts written right on the show floor. MM&E staff and volunteers were tired, but obviously satisfied with the outcome. Even the servers at Windows weren’t too exhausted to round up an extra dessert late in the day, with a smile.

(Bill Beggs Jr. is a contributor from St. Louis, MO.)

The Results are in! MM&E Impresses – No Illusions Needed!

Of the meeting planners who attended the St. Louis Regional Expo in March, 95 percent said that it was worth the investment. Of the exhibitors on hand, more than 96 percent said they learned/heard something new at the Missouri Meetings & Events trade show.
Based on surveys returned, more than one in four exhibitors booked business on the show floor. Among planners, that figure was just over 17 percent.

Regardless of which side of the table they happened to be on, selling or buying, attendees found the show worthwhile. Planners reported they had enough time to visit with exhibitors (94 percent). Among exhibitors, on a scale of 1 to 5, networking opportunities were rated 4.33. The quality of meeting planners received a 4.29.

Nearly all exhibitors, 98 percent, reported that they saw or met new planners. And 98 percent of planners surveyed expect to attend future MM&E trade shows.
All presenters received high marks from both audiences. Bruce Christopher and Ricky Kalmon, featured presenters, both received ratings of over 4.5 out of 5. So did Rob Schaefer, whose presentation focused on how to get more bang for your buck on décor, and choosing themes and recipes for a meeting or event. Taken together, all eight presenters averaged 4.1 on a scale of 5.
Of exhibitors, 65 percent returned evaluation forms. Of planners, more than 60 returned an evaluation.

As always, if you have a compliment or criticism, please let us know so that we may continue to raise the bar.

THANK YOU!

Thank you to all those who sponsored the MM&E 2007 St. Louis Regional Expo
AVSC • Cvent • GMS Incentives • NHS • The Resort at Port Arrowhead • Tan-Tar-A Resort • Up, Up & Away! • Windows on Washington

Thank you to the student volunteers from the following schools:
Patricia Stevens College • The Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks

Thank you to all those who donated floral centerpieces
Green Dream Florist and Gifts • Focus on Design by Schnucks • Walter Knoll Florist

Thank you to all those who donated door prizes
Ted Drewes • Elicia’s Pizza • Copia Urban Winery

Thank you to all of the magicians who made this an enchanted event
Steve Corbitt • Dan Fleshman • Jania Taylor

About the author

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