by Heather Howard
They had me with the warm chocolate chip cookie they pressed into my hand as I took the hotel key in my other hand. Any event or weekend that starts with a warm chocolate chip cookie has to be good.
The Missouri Meetings and Events Expo was held May 21-22 at the DoubleTree Hotel and Conference Center in Chesterfield, Mo. “PLANit Tech-Know” was the theme for the event. The meeting and events business is finally picking back up from the recession, and the Expo was the perfect time to connect with new suppliers exhibiting on the show floor, network with other planners and suppliers, and get new ideas from the featured speakers.
In the familiar tornado that goes though a meeting space before a show, boxes were being hauled in, meeting rooms checked out, and registration desks set up. And then the flower arrangements for the tables showed up and the hallway was filled with bright colors, fragrances and “oohs” and “ahhhs.” Each arrangement was a different design and an excellent example of the creativity that can be put into centerpieces. During the meals, workshops and networking events that were held in The Great Room on the main level, the centerpieces were often a topic of discussion.
The first day started off with exhibitor set-up, planner registration and educational sessions. The topics covered important information on using online marketing tools and improving donations as a non-profit in 2012.
After the sessions, the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Center hosted a planner reception, including a tour of the newly renovated facilities. The tour started with a refreshing blackberry martini and mini roast beef sandwiches, but that was just a tease. Each time we toured a new part of the facility we were greeted by suited men holding silver trays of exotic cocktails and elegant appetizers. It was more of an experience than just a typical tour. By the end we stood holding our champagne and chocolate mousse cups, giggling and debating whether we should do the tour a second time.
The tour was a great transition to the Opening Reception that was being held in the Great Room. The typical conference room was transformed into a laser light show filled with music, smoke and entertainment. Emcee Jillian Richards hosted the event in an awesome metallic space-age costume that added to the party atmosphere. In the center of the room the appetizers were arranged on tables with clear glass shelves – a unique presentation that felt as though we were serving ourselves from an ice sculpture.
During the Opening Reception, the Meet Business Exchange (MBE) offered face-to-face appointments with six different suppliers, which allowed planners to spend extra time with them and network about future business. Prizes were given, and a photo booth was set up to create magazine covers with our pictures, proclaiming us as “Planners of the Year” or “Suppliers of the Year.” When we posted them on Facebook we didn’t reveal they weren’t real, so for the evening we were all Planners or Suppliers of the Year …
The next morning of the conference started early with a Yoga Break and breakfast in the Great Room. It was a very user-friendly, interactive session. The moves were easily performed stretches done in a seated position or standing. The session ended with a few minutes of seated relaxation guaranteed to refresh, energize and inspire for a day filled with exhibits and educational sessions.
The second day of educational sessions was packed, running from 8 a.m. until 2:45 p.m. Many topics were covered, from Internet security and your career, how to interview for a new career, insurance liabilities, hidden trade show costs, online registration and online marketing tools. The varied education curriculum allowed for plenty of options to choose from based on what applies to each attendee in their day-to-day job.
In the Valley Amphitheater, a panel discussion was held on the topic of The Sunshine Act’s Impact on Meetings and Events, presented by IMMPA (the International Medical Meeting Professional Association).
As the industry focuses on transparency and reporting, this session addressed the many questions that continue to exist around the uncertainty of The Sunshine Act and the implications and responsibilities it casts on planners and suppliers.
You could tell you were heading in the right direction to the exhibit hall from the smell of the food all the way into the lobby. Samples and giveaways were in abundance. With more than 50 exhibitors set up in the Grand Ballroom there was plenty to see and learn from the suppliers and services on display. Several awards provided by GMS Incentives LLC were given to exhibitors. The winners were selected by planners and the MM&E editors.
The “PLANit Tech-Know” Award, recognizing the exhibitor that was the most creative with the event’s theme, went to Record-A-Hit Entertainment. The Editor’s Choice Award, for the exhibitor that is most creative with or without using the PLANit Tech-Know theme, was presented to the DoubleTree by Hilton St. Louis – Chesterfield Hotel and Conference Center.
The Planner’s Choice Award, given to a first-time exhibitor, went to Saint Louis Snow Cone.
LUNCH, KEYNOTE SPEAKER AND FAREWELL RECEPTION
What better way to end a conference than with a great meal, additional educational information and free prizes. Paige Cahill gave a very informative session on how to “Rev up Your Events, Relation ships, Referrals & Results with Online Marketing Tools, Tips, and Strategies.” Her talk introduced us to ways of supercharging online marketing efforts and results. At the end of the reception a wide range of prizes was awarded to attendees, ranging from gift certificates to trips and TV’s.
After another successful event, the responses from the Expo Evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. An attendee wrote: “I look forward to the trade show every year as I am always looking for something unique and different to include in my events, whether it is meetings or employee events.” Not only was there good food at the PLANit Tech-Know Expo, but lots of networking events and opportunities, new vendors to meet, old ones to reconnect with, and of course, lots of prizes. Some of the planners even got to leave with the beautiful centerpieces as prizes! If you were not able to make it to the St. Louis Expo, we will see you at the next Missouri Meeting and Events Expo, September 17-18 at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown. To sign up as an attendee or to reserve your exhibit space, go to www.meetmags.com/mme/expos/
See you in September!!