Article by Solana Shellner
Corporate fund raisers, business luncheons, and other events never stop appearing on the calendar, so event planners must be ready with new, exciting, and trendy ideas. Aligning planners with exhibitors and suppliers, all in one place, creates a continuous cycle of education and networking and an exchange of thoughts and experiences.
Missouri Meetings & Events Expo strives to provide an environment that will accomplish that goal. Held each year in St. Louis and Kansas City, MM&E Expos allow exhibitors to display their offerings while speakers educate and spark new ideas to ensure each business, event, and planner is successful.
This year on November 9 and 10, a unique venue and eager attendees ensured the success of MM&E’s two-day fall Kansas City Regional Expo. It was the Expo’s first showing at Stoney Creek Hotel and Convention Center in Independence, a creative space that allows guests’ needs to be met all in one place.
In keeping with the Expo’s theme, “Igniting Team Spirit,” the venue’s staff helped set up booths and performed other tasks to contribute to a worry-free event. This allowed attendees to focus on building bonds and establishing connections with new businesses and people.
Stoney Creek sales manager Tera Wood said her staff was happy to host this year’s MM&E Expo, and enjoyed meeting the planners and suppliers who attended.
A good start
Before the Expo officially commenced, an invitation-only focus group gathered to discuss the Hospitality Desirability Factor Index, a new research effort examining why planners and attendees choose to come to Missouri venues for meetings and events. Many who attended agreed that the program was effective and needed. The group of 12 industry members who comprised this first meeting is expected to grow as the study expands.
This year’s Kansas City Regional Expo was emceed by Terri Williams, who kept guests entertained, informed, and on schedule. She also was an exhibitor, manning a booth for Lifework Systems. The goal of Lifework Systems is to redirect negative behavior with training and consulting services. Who better to emcee than an energetic, charismatic, and professional team player?
Once attendees arrived and checked in, they were treated to a challenging slate of educational sessions. When Monday’s last session wrapped up, planners were ushered into McCoy’s Bar for the MM&E Planners’ Reception, hosted by Stoney Creek. The night ended with a banquet for all attendees, complete with a live “Mystery Train” theatrical performance, speed networking, prizes, and a chocolate fountain dyed royal blue in celebration of the Kansas City Royals’ 2015 World Series championship. Below is a synopsis of what MM&E’s speakers offered in their sessions on Monday and Tuesday:
“How to Avoid Being a Victim of Identity and Credit Card Theft” was an informative look into the science behind identity theft and credit card fraud, and the minds of criminals who perpetrate them. Detective Trent Koppel showed attendees how to protect themselves from the growing perils of the Information Age.
“Process Excellence” was a systematic approach to ensure success in every organization by focusing on customers and delivering their wants in an effective and efficient manner. Speaker Ann Gravette, CMP, CSSBB, EECE, outlined the fundamentals of process definition and improvement through flow charting, cause and effect diagrams, and other devices to show every planner how to achieve excellence.
“The process improvement [guidelines] helped open a door to creativity that will help refresh looks at the many events and activities I host,” says Stephanie Weiberg of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“Enhancing Your Personal Dynamics, Strengthening Your People Skills,” presented by Richard Avdoian, CSP, showed attendees how to enhance individual achievement through self-examination, and contribute to collective success.
“Hiring and Working with Professional Speakers,” also presented by Richard Avdoian, was a dialogue designed to uncover creative ways for planners and businesses to enhance events using speakers. Avdoian spoke about identifying the best presenters, leveraging speakers’ reputations and expertise, and establishing memorable experiences.
“Staying Relevant in the Trendiest Industry” showed attendees how to ignite mundane events by harnessing new and exciting trends. Speaker Anne Churchill examined ways to maximize these opportunities, taken from her personal business experience. Joyce Scanning Becker, office manager for the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, particularly enjoyed the educational sessions. “No detail was missed,” Becker says.
“Churchill had many very good ideas on how to stay relevant and creative. All the sessions were informative and well done. I had a fabulous time [due to the] wonderful networking opportunities, and hotel and staff.”
“The Ultimate Checklist for Conferences and Special Events” was an interactive discussion on the special level of attention to detail that’s required when hosting conferences and special events. The session, presented by Anita Parran, consisted of 151 key items every meeting professional needs to cover to ensure a successful event.
“Guests and Their Increasing Expectations,” presented by Ann Gravette, was a charge to elevate events by exceeding expectations through the incorporation of four experience realms, people principles, and design principles. Planners were given “homework” to show how their events make use of these tools.
They were challenged to appeal to consumers in the current age of technology and immediate gratification. Between educational sessions, planners and exhibitors mingled and networked on the trade show floor. Exhibitors were challenged to come up with creative and intuitive displays to entice planners using the theme of “Igniting Team Spirit.” Many booths featured gifts, candy, and other edibles to attract planners, but Branson Convention Center took home the award for applying the theme in the most creative way. Convention center staff offered “build-your-own” s’mores, which drew a number of planners to the booth. Once the edibles were consumed, planners were able to dive deeper and discover meeting resources they may not have heard of prior to the Expo. A number of well-known industry players were in attendance, including the Lake of the Ozarks CVB and Kansas City Marriott Downtown, but new faces were also well received.
One new exhibitor, The College Basketball Experience, presented information on its state-of-the-art facility that combines basketball excitement with flexible meeting space. The venue hosts events from team-building gatherings to corporate parties and black-tie galas, all in a basketball-themed atmosphere.
Celeste Lupercio, the venue’s director of sales, marketing and events, says she became interested in attending this year after reading positive reviews about past MM&E Expos. “[The networking] was another reason to come, because sometimes you meet someone and make a connection you never thought you would make,” she says. “That’s the great thing about this event.”
Talk about a venue
During the Planner Reception, Stoney Creek Hotel & Convention Center provided a tour showcasing 10 of its 167 uniquely themed guest rooms. With a complimentary apple cider in one hand and a room key in the other, each planner took a journey through the Stoney Creek Hotel. Some planners even collected prizes along the way if their key cards opened particular “surprise” rooms. The tour allowed each planner to explore the many amenities of the rooms; see how the themes and open floor plans suited their style; and learn about “Buddies on Beds,” a Stoney
Creek fund-raising project that supports children’s charities. Stoney Creek is not just a “single night stay” hotel. It provides many amenities that will make guests want to linger, including on-site washers and dryers, a business center and free WiFi. Unlike some hotels that only provide a bed, shower, and microwave, Stoney Creek Hotel really strives to be a guest’s home away from home. Visitors can choose from junior king suites with two flat screen TVs and a whirlpool; a family suite that sleeps up to seven; and the presidential suite, complete with a fireplace, four TVs, and full bath. Extended stay suites come with living rooms, balconies, and fully outfitted kitchenettes.
Expo attendees commented positively on the venue’s convenient location, food quality, staff, and parking. Many planners and exhibitors enjoyed the clever descriptors for the conference rooms, named after elements found in nature (e.g., water, earth, metal, and fire). Others commented that the ability to park in front of the venue and wheel suitcases and displays right in at two entrances was very helpful.
Extending past Show-Me borders
Many vendors said they came from neighboring states after hearing positive remarks about previous MM&E Expos. Downstream Casino Resort, which serves a tristate market in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, sent representatives who stated that they continue to come to the Expo to meet new vendors and explore ways to expand their client bases. When asked why she chose to attend the Expo, Erica Walsh, director of sales for the Hampton Inn and Suites in Dodge City, Kan., said, “We’re after meeting planners to come and use our facilities because we have huge event space of about 30,000 square feet. We have the largest Hampton Inn, with guest rooms, five restaurants and casino, all under one roof. We want to promote a ‘get out of the city’ concept.” Walsh also said the MM&E Expo was a great way to alert planners to the hotel’s amenities, and its staff’s eagerness to work with them.
Now that another successful MM&E Kansas City Regional Expo is in the books, it’s time to start thinking about the St. Louis Expo in spring 2016. Stay tuned for information on location and dates!
Solana Shellner is a freelance contributor from St. Louis.