Do you have conferences you look forward to every year? Ones where you learn, see a lot of people you know in the industry, and have fun? That is a special combination and one that can almost guarantee planners decent attendance numbers. The two conferences I nearly always attend are the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference, held just a few days ago in Mt. Crested Butte and scheduled for Breckenridge next fall, and Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show always in March at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Here are some thoughts about why these conferences work.
Bring like-minded people together – It helps when you have a common cause like the state’s tourism and meetings and events industries. A similar interest provides a great forum for sharing ideas and concerns, giving examples of best practices, networking for partners and perhaps new work opportunities, and getting out for some fun. The tourism conference did a nice job of providing fun this year with group hiking and biking on Sunday afternoon and the best conference post-dinner party I’ve ever attended. I don’t know if it was the venue in downtown Crested Butte (the restaurant/bar Bonez), the deejays knowing what to play, the tequila beverages or what but this was a dance party that went long into the night. Rich Grant, recently retired VISIT DENVER public relations guru, said he’d never seen anything like it in all the years he has attended the conference.
Offer great speakers – I have really liked the keynote speakers of both conferences this year. Steve Spangler and Mark Scharenbroich caught my attention at the MIC conference, enough so that Steve is the profile person for our Winter 2016 issue. Tommy Caldwell, Estes Park resident and first climber to free ascent the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and Elizabeth Becker, award-winning journalist and author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel & Tourism, also were good. I also like hearing from Gov. John Hickenlooper, when he can attend the tourism conference, as well as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who is always at MIC. Both are passionate about Colorado and guys you can relate to.
Make pre- and post-plans with people you want to see – Conferences that allow free time for attendees to meet, socialize and enjoy a destination’s activities help create opportunities to grow friendships and business opportunities. I knew Vicky Nash from Glenwood Springs and Patsy Popejoy from Snowmass were arriving one day early in Crested Butte for the Mt. Crested Butte Chili & Beer Festival, so we made plans for a cocktail at Montanya Distillers. Chris Romer from Vail and a group he hiked with from Aspen to Crested Butte for the conference joined us a little later on the distillery’s patio. The first day of the tourism conference always ends with a reception that concludes around 7 p.m., so attendees can organize dinners out on the town. The magazine always holds our Best of Colorado awards celebration two nights before the MIC Conference, so people coming into town for both have a day in between to conduct business.
Be willing to change things up – There is nothing quite as stale as a conference that never changes. For the tourism conference, this pit is fairly easy to avoid as the destination changes every year and hosting towns are encouraged to add their own unique touches, like Loveland hosting a reception in one of its sculpture parks and Grand Junction having it’s high school marching band march through and help open the conference. MIC went the distance this year with a totally new design layout and an afternoon session just for planners the day before.
By following these four simple tips, you may just find that your conference really becomes the place to connect each year.