The saying that keeps running through my head after helping with the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference, held Sept. 14 – 16 in Breckenridge, is the one that involves not judging someone until walking a mile in his or her shoes. That is certainly true where meeting planners are concerned. Although I have organized my share of small meetings and a number of events, organizing a conference for more than 520 attendees is a totally different ballgame, and I was lucky enough to be part of the behind-the-scenes crew thanks to my editorial advisory board member Deb Brannon, owner of Denver-based Altitude Events and planner for the Colorado Tourism Office.
This is my second year as a volunteer, but I’ve attended the event for more than a decade. This time I arrived the day before to be part of the team meetings, overviews with the Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center conference staff, bag stuffing, name badge prep and more. Brannon and her right hand planner, Amanda Nelson, showed what it takes to stay positive and professional and how to keep all the pieces flowing. Here are a few observations.
1. Go with the flow and grab opportunities. What do you do when waking up to a cold mountain morning with snowcapped peaks and a wet tent when sunrise yoga was planned for outside at 6 a.m.? You quickly move it inside and help attendees get their day started with some amazing exercise. How about a moose (yes, one from the wild) wandering by in front of the windows at a breakout session and stopping by the patio by the registration desk? You say, “That was part of the plan,” with a wink. Another fun happenstance was Beaver Run’s mascot (a cute beaver of course) dancing in the autumn sunshine along this same bank of windows during a breakout about user-generated content. Dave Fluegge, who handles social media for the Colorado Tourism Office, grabbed the opportunity, went outside and brought the jubilant beaver inside for a selfie with session attendees.
2. Spend time at the registration desk. If you want a glimpse of how things are going and want to meet your audience, sit at the registration desk to help welcome, check people in and answer questions throughout the day. This is the place where I often put faces to the names of people from all over the state who I frequently communicate with via email, plus you can make a good first impression and solve issues as they come up.
3. Utilize partners and link people in the industry. Instead of going it alone, the Colorado Tourism Office and Brannon did a great job teaming up with partners like Breckenridge Tourism Office to host a fun opening reception at the Riverwalk Center and a scavenger hunt on Friday afternoon. Having key staff and partners who handle important functions like managing the CTO’s website, visitor guide, advertising and more on hand to interact with attendees also was key in making the conference beneficial for attendees.
4. Celebrate successes and bring in the big guns. When an event has the governor’s name on it, shouldn’t the governor be there? Gov. John Hickenlooper was indeed there again this year, offering insights and thanks to the tourism industry. Peter Greenberg, one of the best-known names in travel journalism, also was there. Some people might bemoan a dress-up night, but I feel like it adds some class to an event and truly makes it a celebration when presenting awards to deserving people. The awards dinner for this conference was preceded by a reception featuring Colorado beverages and appetizers served in the tradeshow, a nice way to get traffic flowing through the area.
Congratulations to this year’s award winners: Durango Area Tourism Office Director Bob Kunkel, Visit Loveland Visitor Services Manager Cindy Mackin, Breckenridge Creative Arts (BreckCreate), Visit Estes Park for its “Take a Different 70” winter campaign, and Tommy and Dorothy Collins, longtime volunteers at the Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur.
Next year’s conference will be held at the Two Rivers Convention Center in downtown Grand Junction on Oct. 25–27. Mark your calendars as its one where many people in the meetings and events industry mingle!