Visit Salt Lake promotes itself by saying, “Stereotypes be damned,” and I can certainly see why after attending #ConnectMP. Stunning sunsets and mountain views paired with delectable bites and sips sprinkled throughout downtown made the trek out to the Wild West memorable. As a new Connect employee and a first-timer at the event, I was shocked not only by how much went into putting on a conference of this size, but also impressed by how many attendees Connect personally touches and connects (no pun intended).
If there is one thing I learned from the event, it is that Connect knows how to throw a great party. Looking ahead to Connect 2019 in Louisville, next year’s host city got the crowd pumped up with a red-rose closing reception at local art museum The Leonardo, signifying the city’s tie to major horse racing events like the Kentucky Derby.
Salt Lake was a great median for planners and suppliers alike. The location proved to be exciting for the explorers but also calm enough for the relaxers. One thing that stood out (and was something many people have not had the chance to experience) was The University of Utah welcoming the conference into its football stadium and onto the field for the opening reception. The turf field and surrounding landscape played the perfect host to kick off the week with food, drinks and games galore all while having a 360-degree view of the mountainous landscape.
Whether you are a sports buff or not, the 2018 keynotes, former “SportsCenter” and “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, delivered memorable speeches bursting with great advice. Roberts shared her story of rising to the top, but also her struggle with health issues and how she overcame those through the support of friends and family. She resonated with each attendee by wrapping things up with an uplifting motto: Dream big, but focus small. Manning leaned more toward comparisons between the events industry and football, leading with how each is a team and has several different functions, but all must have the same end goal to be successful. Both were warm and very at-ease in front of a crowd, exuding what it means to be a good leader and continuing to set an example for how each planner or supplier can succeed.
It’s safe to say, marketplace is where it is at. Thousands of booths set up for corporate, sports, association, specialty and trade show planners lined the halls surrounding the different multicolored registration booths and lounges. Suppliers scurried from booth to booth in speed-dating type fashion looking to soak up all of their six-minute interaction while testing their best sales skills. Every person was ready to put the pedal to the metal and get the networking going as soon as the clock started to count down. For registration, Meet Michigan won big: Think a bloody mary bar and playing up their love of local craft beer. Attendees were encouraged to participate in a short scavenger hunt around regiception (when attendees register and stick around and socialize) where they were rewarded with a light-up lanyard to wear to the opening reception and a chance to win a $50 gift card.
The Exchange, aka a new Connect tradition, boasted five different “corners of the U.S.” to expose five types of food each day was not only genius but also incredibly delicious. Pacific Northwest? Try the elk meatballs with chimichurri sauce or fresh handmade sushi with a side of smoked salmon atop a bed of greens. As for the South, chicken and waffles with fried pickles, anyone? We can’t stop dreaming about the bread pudding! There was no shortage of options, whether you are an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. Also, kudos to our planner team for providing soy milk during coffee breaks!