Welcome to Boot Camp 2011: Planners and suppliers see active duty at St. Louis MME Expo

June 28, 2011

ExpoReview1By Julia M. Johnson

Not even the threat of serious weather kept planners and suppliers from reporting for duty at Missouri Meetings and Events’ 2011 St. Louis Regional Expo, which took place May 23 and 24 at the Sheraton Westport Chalet Hotel in west St. Louis County.

“MME Boot Camp” was the theme for the busy two-day event, which introduced planners and vendors to new business, innovative meeting concepts, savvy marketing ideas – and each other.

Exhibitors embraced the boot camp motif by draping their displays in military green and camouflage. Speakers and presenters drilled home the importance of proper event insurance, effective meeting budgets and silent auction profitability. And attendees marched from educational sessions to networking events, arming themselves with new ideas for more memorable and successful gatherings.

In the classroom and beyond

A dozen knowledgeable speakers and panelists formed the main event at this year’s St. Louis Regional Expo. On Monday, May 23, Scott Graham of Chillicothe, Ohio-based Excellent Meetings Inc. and Amanda Cooper, CFP, spoke to planners about developing smart event budget spreadsheets that answer important expenditure questions at a glance. And Sherry Truhlar of Red Apple Auctions in Alexandria, Va., energized attendees with compelling ideas on how to present– and how not to present – bid items at silent auctions.

“When you’re designing a silent auction for your event, try to mimic the best concepts you’ve seen in your favorite commercial settings,” advised Truhlar. “Look at what Macy’s or Target is doing to attract people’s attention to displays. And think about the latest trends being used to ramp up auction profits –e-bidding devices, environmentally friendly themes, and displays that create visual interest. Try using lots of color, and square or rectangular tables mixed in with round ones.”

Following the afternoon’s educational offerings, attendees and exhibitors were treated to a pair of lively networking receptions. Many enjoyed guest room tours at the Sheraton Westport Plaza Hotel, which is adjacent to the Sheraton Westport Chalet. Both facilities are owned by Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM), and have recently been stylishly renovated.

Planners and suppliers also went head-to-head at the Meet® Business Exchange, an innovative series of by-appointment sessions where they could speak one-on-one about doing business together. Tuesday, May 24, kicked off with a Sherry Truhlar presentation on engaging audiences at fund-raising events. Then, concurrent educational sessions got under way with Scott Graham’s presentation on basic training for planners; a discussion on properly insuring events by Corey Schuster of The Daniel and Henry Co.; and a presentation on hotel contract negotiation with
Jerry Shackette of The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks. Luncheon speaker Cary Hall of Benefits by Design Inc. regaled attendees with a myth-busting talk on understanding health insurance reform and lowering coverage costs. The afternoon wrapped up with an illuminating presentation and panel discussion sponsored by the Saint Louis University School for Professional Studies on career-boosting ideas from a number of experts in the field: master chef Aidan Murphy, general manager at Old Warson Country Club; Bob O’Loughlin, hotel developer and CEO of Lodging Hospitality Management; and Dave Wallington, owner of Midwest Hospitality Search. The session was moderated by Pat Schaumann, president of Meeting IQ and managing director of China Connect. A number of thought-provoking questions from attendees brought forth the panelists’ most candid personal advice on shaping a successful career in the hospitality and meeting fields.

Also during the lunch session, attendees passed the hat and collected a total of $425 to assist the staff at the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, who were unable to attend following serious tornado and storm damage in southwest Missouri. The Expo wrapped up with further networking and refreshments.

The Lighter Side

MME Expos are all about education and enrichment, but they’re also about fun and games. At this year’s St. Louis event, planners made clever image flipbooks of themselves, courtesy of Record-A-Hit Entertainment’s digital photo booth. Exhibitors such as American Carnival Mart offered games and prizes at their booths. And there were a number of chances for exhibitors and planners to take home tangible rewards. MME congratulates the following attendees, who won valuable prizes during the closing reception:

• Carla Veizer, Arch Coal Inc.:
Hitachi 19” UltraThin LED HDTV
• Louise Hayden, Coventry Health Care Inc.:
Flip Ultra HD video camera by Cisco
• Pamela Carter, STERIS Corp.:
Igloo Ice Cube 60 quart rolling cooler filled with enticing
rations, and a Coleman Big & Tall 4-in-1 sleeping bag

MME also applauds the following vendors, who received
recognition for the most effective booth designs:

• Hampton Inn & Suites Columbia at the University of
Missouri: Boot Camp Award for Best Overall Exhibitor
• Exclusive Events Inc.: Editor’s Choice Award
• American Carnival Mart: Planners’ Choice Award

Applying the “Boot Camp” Expo theme and master culinary skills, three teams presented entries for the Expo cake competition. Attendees voted for their favorite designs and the winner was announced during the closing reception, while attendees sampled the delicious sweets. The award was later presented to the team by Gladys Schubach of GMS Incentives.

Congratulations to the winner of the cake competition, Le Cordon Bleu St. Louis Team B, headed by Chef Nancy Bosch. Thank you to Le Cordon Bleu St. Louis Team B, as well as all of the contest participants, including Le Cordon Bleu St. Louis Team A, headed by Chef Karen Williams; LaTonya Thomas, owner of Sweet Start Bakery; and GMS Incentives for making
this first contest a piece of cake.

The Expo’s most inspiring exhibitors included the Semper Fi Society of St. Louis, a Toys for Tots nonprofit founded by former Marine and Expo speaker Corey Schuster. It was selected as the St. Louis Expo’s preferred charity for 2011. “Our function is to serve as a liaison between active duty soldiers and the community,” Schuster said. “Marines are always being assigned to new areas, so it’s often difficult for them to maintain relationships in an area. We hold many different events that support the Toys for Tots campaign and get the community involved with our soldiers. All event proceeds go back into the charity.” For more information, and to learn about upcoming Marine Week events in St. Louis, visit www.stlmarines.org.

LaTonja Thomas, director of circulation and special events for the St. Louis Business Journal, said the 2011 Expo allowed her to put faces with names and enjoy networking opportunities with a variety of suppliers and planners she hadn’t met before. Thomas said the sessions she attended were a good refresher in the basics of successful meeting planning.

“This event was very educational and the topics were new and fresh. Not only was I able to learn new planning skills, but I was able to meet many other meeting planners as well as suppliers,” said Ramona Huckstep, community involvement coordinator for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson City. “This year’s sessions had some great new ideas, like those presented by Sherry Truhlar about auctions and fund raising. They were applicable to many parts of meeting planning, not just auctions.”

This year’s St. Louis Expo is a wrap, but don’t worry, there’s more to come. Polish up your elevator speech and keep an eye out for the next installment of Missouri Meetings and Events Expo. It’s slated for this fall in the Kansas City region. For more information, visit www.missourimeetingsandevents.com
or call (314) 781-8880.

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