Article by Stacy Ross
This year’s St. Louis Expo, held April 16-17 at the St. Charles Convention Center was a big success. More than 95 percent of attendees who completed evaluations said they learned something new and the time and money they spent to attend was a good investment.
The Expo kicked off on Monday afternoon with concurrent sessions on event insurance, social media, and food trends. MM&E columnist Chef Martin Lopez joined chefs from St. Louis Community College’s nationally ranked culinary program, and mushroom farmer J.T. Gellineau for “Your Future in Culinary Events.”
SLCC Chef Casey Schiller demonstrated the latest craze in beverages, culinary cocktails, offering samples of a refreshing blend of his house-made rosemary-infused vodka, grilled lemonade and fresh blueberry coulis.
“Culinary cocktails can have a lower price point, with just a few ingredients,” Schiller told the audience. Lopez encouraged planners and to take advantage of their chefs’ expertise and creativity and collaborate with vendors to create less-expensive yet higher-quality menus using in-season and overstocked produce and other ingredients.
In between sessions, attendees were free to visit with 54 vendors in the exhibition hall. Shirley Clayton of Tradewind Tours in Nashville, Ill., is a veteran of several Expos and was pleased with the event. “The vendors were so friendly,” she said. “We met some new vendors and we’ve gotten new tour and event ideas.”
The afternoon ended with a panel on crisis management. Sean Wesley, a supervisor for Semper Blue Professional Services @ Ballpark Village talked about handling protests and the importance of an Emergency Action Plan. Other panelists included media relations specialists and a security service owner with training as a police officer, firefighter and emergency medical technician.
“I liked the different ways they approached each event,” said Cathy Susa, an event planner for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, of the crisis management session. “Things I never thought of.”
Monday ended with two happy hours, one exclusively for planners who got in the spirit with a quick change into their groovy ‘70s attire, complete with wigs and psychedelic prints. Later, attendees headed out to Kokomo Joe’s arcade and escape rooms in St. Peters for more networking and fun.
Awesome Way to Start the Day
Tuesday started with a breakfast presentation by Jeff Koziatek, a life coach and motivational speaker. His session “Value Driven Business: Authentic Leadership,” about teamwork and communication turned out to be the most popular session of the Expo.
“I was especially inspired with the breakfast breakout,” said vendor Kathy Barnes of Chemistry PR and Multimedia. “It was really awesome.”
After breakfast, LinkedIn trainer Pat Hensler presented one of two concurrent sessions, his on developing business leads through the professional networking platform. In the second session, former Webster Groves Mayor Terri Williams discussed overcoming internal roadblocks in “Power to the People: Power over to Power Within.”
As Williams identified the eight values that build trust, her audience nodded along in agreement, particularly when she got to number eight: Keep commitments! Later, she used a role-play exercise to demonstrate how habitual ways of thinking cause roadblocks.
Williams called several audience members to the front and blind-folded all but one, who was then tied to the rest of the group. That person was instructed to do whatever she needed to do to reach a chocolate bar, held by someone in the audience. The blind-folded participants were told to do whatever they needed to do to stop her. After a few minutes of pulling against the ropes and nearly reaching the candy, Williams finally asked, “Why didn’t you just untie your rope?”
A Necessary Conversation
More than 200 people attended the closing lunch and keynote presentation, sponsored by the St. Louis Area Hotel Association. Attendees listened to a sobering panel discussion on how to recognize and respond to human trafficking. Panelists included Katie Rhoades, herself a survivor of sex trafficking, Kathleen Thimsen, a nursing professor and founding member of Human Trafficking Collaborative Network, and Sgt. Adam Kavanaugh, supervisor of the St. Louis County Human Trafficking Task Force, and deputy commander of the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Rhoades walked attendees through her three years as a sex trafficking victim in the St. Louis area. She has gone on to become a social worker and found a nonprofit, Healing Action, for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
Thimsen told a disturbing tale of happening upon two young children while at a conference out of town who turned out to be victims, along with more than a dozen other children, of a child sex trafficking ring working out of the conference hotel. She noticed red flags, alerted the hotel and the children were rescued.
“I was overwhelmed with the prevalence of human trafficking,” said Koziatek. “It was a stomach turning but necessary conversation. The more we are aware of the signs, the better we can fight back.”
Stacy Ross is a freelance writer from St. Louis
Expo By The Numbers
− One hundred sixty people attended the Expo, with about half staying overnight.
− About half the planners in attendance worked for corporations, while a quarter worked for the government. The remaining 25 percent worked for nonprofits, educational institutions, or were independent.
− Almost 20 percent of attendees said they booked business with one of the more than 50 exhibitors while at the Expo, while almost 45 percent said booking was a possibility.
Stay tuned for details about the MM&E fall Expo in Kansas City.