SPINCon Converges on Atlantic City

Annual senior planners’ gathering focuses on creating community, conquering challenges, and educational opportunities.

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From June 4-6, approximately 100 seasoned meeting planners from across the U.S. and Canada converged on Atlantic City, NJ, for the third annual installment of SPINCon, hosted by the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN). The intimate gathering brought planners and various meeting suppliers — CVBs, meetings/event technology specialists, hoteliers, and other industry shows — together at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City for three days of networking and educational opportunities.

This year’s conference agenda included an opening general session in which SPIN Founder and President Shawna Suckow encouraged attendees to take full advantage of the conference, and to focus on what she called the “Four Cs: community, contribution, challenges, and celebration.”

The conference also drew attention to its locale — Atlantic City — a destination that has weathered many challenges in recent months following last fall’s Hurricane Sandy. “I hope this event generated some GSR — geographic social responsibility,” says Suckow. “We brought our meeting here because Atlantic City needed it.” She hopes more planners will consider similar destinations like Atlantic City, places that have had to deal with issues of perception in recent years. “I think planners can be more thoughtful about how our choices can have an effect on so many others. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to do that because of our unique opportunities to help entire cities.”

Taking Risks in the Name of Innovation

This year marks SPIN’s fifth anniversary as an organization, and Suckow said that this year’s SPINCon, in particular, was both challenging and rewarding to put together. “In some ways. It gets more difficult every year because we don’t want to have the same conference and elements ever year, year after year,” she explained. “Our attendees are the ones who have been around the longest [in this industry] and they are very hard to impress, so we put together an Innovation Committee of peers to help us pull this all off.” She adds, “We’re lucky that our group is forgiving when we take risks and is embracing innovation, even when it fails. We all know that we can still learn even when we fail at taking a risk.”

New at this year’s SPINCon were Walk With Me Sessions, where speakers led an impromptu 45-minute walk and discussion through the Harrahs Resort on a variety of different meetings topics. Other educational sessions covered such topics as meeting architecture, healthful food and beverage, digital storytelling, and meeting engagement from speakers that included Meeting Support Institute President Martin Vanneste, Thrive! Meetings & Events President and Chief Connecting Officer Tracy Stuckrath, Meeting U President Jim Spellos, and Play with a Purpose CEO/IdeaSparker Sharon Fisher.

Building Relationships

Another mainstay innovation at SPINCon was its booth-less, paperless trade show on June 6, a SPINCon staple since its very first installment in Minneapolis in 2010. “We want to keep it booth-less,” Suckow explained, “because we want to take away all of the ‘stuff’ and bring back the focus on relationships. Our planners have enough pens, papers, and brochures, but what we’re often lacking are those relationships.”

The trade show component of the conference also included an interactive “Challenge Bar” set up by Interactive Meeting Technology, where attendees answered a quiz on different iPads to win a prize. SPIN also utilized its own SPINCon 2013 mobile app from EventMobi to communicate and connect attendees.

For some first-time SPINCon attendees, the relationship building opportunities, both with peers and suppliers in a relaxed environment proved to be invaluable.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Krista Reasoner, corporate events manager for Bellevue, WA-based Edifecs. “I love how everyone here takes dropping all pretenses to heart. I’ve never met so many people that do what I do. Other events are so big and that can be so overwhelming.”

Lenise Fourcalt, an associate with Meeting Planners Plus in Costa Mesa, CA, added that she appreciated being able to meet with other senior planners, all of whom possess at least 10 years of planning experience. “I’m just very impressed by the fact that because we’re with other senior planners, we’re all starting at the same level of experience and expertise. It makes it that much easier to begin the conversation and you feel free to be open and honest with each other, and people care enough — and know enough — to be able to help you.”

Future Forward

Looking ahead, SPIN hopes to grow its Canadian presence with its new partnership with IncentiveWorks, Canada’s largest meetings, incentives, and events trade show, which takes place this year in Toronto from August 20-21.

Suckow also said that planners can expect to see SPIN and SPINCon continue to evolve to meet its members’ needs. “We’re still evolving as an association and as a conference. We don’t know from year to year exactly how things will change but we do know that our mission and our culture will never change: We still have the coolest conference culture in our industry, and people are always talking about the feel of it.”