Sometimes routine feels good, and it's easy. But the same old gets boring, especially when it’s an annual conference working hard to attract both new and repeat attendees. This year’s Meeting Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference and Trade Show is a case study of how new approaches were boldly taken for a gathering entering its 15th year and held mid-March at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.
Incorporated in 2000, MIC is a coalition of 13 member organizations related to the meetings and events industry that was created to enhance collaboration through networking and education. Rather than each organization hosting its own annual conference, planners, suppliers and sponsors have one cost-effective and educational-rich opportunity on a regional level.
“It’s important as representatives of the meetings industry to continue to innovate and do things differently. Sometime it is easier for an organization like MIC to take the risks so that planners can see something new that they might be able to implement in their own events,” explains Debbi Beldon, CMP, national account manager for Experient and MIC’s immediate past chair at the 2015 conference. “The feedback overall was very positive. There is always room for improvement, but to me taking a huge risk and having it payoff is the best reward!”
At a June 2014 strategic planning meeting of the membership council, Debbie Taylor, owner of Taylor Made Events & Speakers and then chair of MIC, asked facilitators Dean Savoca and Brian O’Malley to lead a discussion about keeping the organization fresh. “We literally all agreed that for MIC’s 15th anniversary, we needed a dramatic redesign,” explains Taylor, who has been closely involved with the conference for most years since 2000.
“We are the organization that is supposed to bring new thoughts to the industry in our region, and we felt that we had stagnated a little and needed to innovate,” shares MIC Treasurer Steve Kinsley, who agreed to chair the redesign committee and is president of Kinsley Meetings. “There were about 15 of us on the committee. We met twice for about two hours each time, and then we met in smaller groups. Ansley Seymour [Brede-Colorado, Inc.] and Kelly Kucera [previously with Image Audiovisuals] were the drivers on the floorplan design and the production design.”
Taylor adds, “Brede and Image kept tweaking drawings, about 20 of them, before we had what we thought was a winner. The brainstorming was full of hope and excitement for the new changes. The open concept of the ballroom then lead us to provide the first-ever meeting-planner-only session the day before.”
Kinsley, who has attended all but a couple of the 15 conferences over the years, reveled in watching the reactions from attendees as they first walked into the ballroom. “There was excitement and a buzz that you could feel and that we have not felt for a few years,” he says. “We also changed the format of the breakouts to make the times a little shorter, 45 minutes for most of them. I think this kept people more engaged overall.”
Taylor’s favorite part of the new design was the open space for the general sessions, lunch and trade show that gave attendees more time and space for networking. “We had a recordbreaking 1,160 attendees, which is amazing for a regional event,” she says.
Carol Porter, CMP, who recently established Denver-based Aero Events and previously worked as an in-house corporate planner for ViaWest, attended the 2013 and 2015 MIC conferences. “I enjoy the face-to-face interaction with colleagues and meeting new people to do business with in the future,” she says. “I was excited to actually be an attendee and participate in the educational sessions, as normally I’m the one organizing educational content and am too busy to enjoy the content!”
She valued the new planner-only session, held the day before the conference and immediately before the VIP reception. “Michael Dominguez did a phenomenal job articulating the state of the industry and how drastically it is changing. It has helped me explain to clients how rapidly things have changed over the last few years and the importance of adjusting their budgets appropriately,” she says.
During the conference, Porter liked how exhibits were placed in the same room as the general session. “It was convenient to have everything in one location and helped maximize my time with exhibitors,” she says. “I thought it was great the exhibitors could enjoy the general sessions without leaving their booths. It also allowed a unique setup for general session seating as there was a mix of theater-style, rounds and even people sitting in the booths.”
After attending the MIC conference every year for 10 years, Ellen Collins, CMP, senior manager of national group sales for Vail Resorts, describes the new format as “progressive and inclusive—no barriers.” She says, “Vail Resorts Meetings & Events enjoyed having our booth on the perimeter of the general session. Knowing this, we built our booth to be an extension of the general session with living-room seating.”
She adds, “For exhibitors, the new format was fresh, unexpected and upbeat. This created elevated energy around MIC 2015.”
Collins commends organizers for hitting a home run with preshow communications, the VIP party the night before and the day of event. “The keynote speakers were passionate storytellers, and the thought leadership series was intriguing. The planner attendance broke records,” she says.
Jeremy Wilson, director of national sales for The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, has attended and exhibited at the MIC Conference every year since 2010. “I thought the new format was very creative and brought energy throughout the entire conference. The exposure exhibitors had with planners was a huge success,” Wilson shares, noting his favorite part was having everything and everyone in the same room except for the breakout sessions.
The food and beverage experience could be elevated, he suggests, and drawings for prizes from sponsors could be sprinkled throughout the show with winners coming up to the stage before and after the keynote addresses.
“The MIC board has done a wonderful job of bringing life back to this conference for what I believe will draw more exhibitors in the future due to the ROI of having more face time with planners during the conference,” Wilson says.
MIC’s membership council recently gathered for its annual planning retreat, and many ideas came forward for further attendee and exhibitor engagement. “We may have an opportunity for more space, which will allow us to accept more exhibitors. In the past several years, we have had a waiting list to get into the show and would love the opportunity to be able to accept all of those who would like to exhibit,” Kinsley says.
“We also are looking at additional changes to the format of the breakouts to add to the educational opportunities for the attendees,” he says.
“It was exciting to see the new layout and design come to fusion with the exhibitors and keynotes all in the main ballroom together,” confirms Freddie Templeton, who has managed MIC and the conference with her husband, Keith, for 10 years as owners of Rocky Mountain Event Consultants, LLC.
“From the surveys I have read, attendees declared it a resounding success. The goal is to continue this format for MIC next year,” she says, confirming that tweaking is needed for the “grab-and-go” food stations.
Porter suggests implementing a voting poll or survey in advance for people to submit educational topic ideas. She also proposes a custom app that would help attendees track their sessions, mark exhibitors they need to visit with or make appointments with them. “This would be helpful to track educational sessions and connections so attendees can have a comprehensive history of their MIC interactions. I plan to attend every year, so I know that would be helpful for me,” she says.
It seems only appropriate that Meeting Professionals International recognized MIC with the RISE Award for Community Achievement in Knowledge and Ideas at this year’s World Education Congress in early August. The award is presented to chapters and communities for demonstrated achievement in making human connections through innovation and creativity.
Not resting on its laurels, the membership council plans to keep the innovation moving forward. “Overall the new format is a huge win for MIC, and we will work diligently to keep making it better,” Kinsley says. “We are all very excited for next year!”