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Tinsley Conway (left), vice president of events for Connect Meetings, with her colleagues Erica Len and Michela Giovannotto

Pleasing the Toughest Event Audience: Fellow Planners

As she builds out her shows’ educational and networking opportunities, Tinsley Conway of Connect Meetings stays ahead of mainstream trends because her attendees want fresh ideas and activations they can use at their own events.

It’s a pretty sure bet that most business-event planners did not aspire to their present role when they were teenagers.

One notable exception: Tinsley Conway, vice president of events for Connect Meetings.

“When I was in high school, my dad attended the Dreamforce conference, and he came home and told me everything about it,” she recalls. “It just sounded like such a cool job to create an experience like that for people. So, I started following BizBash in high school, and that's when I decided I wanted to be in the events business.”

During summers in college, Conway interned at a third-party planning firm, taking it upon herself to summarize industry articles for her coworkers, exposing them to interesting event designs and activations. Upon graduation, Conway began a full-time gig at Connect Meetings—which acquired BizBash soon after her arrival.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, this has come full circle. It was meant to be,’” she says.

TinsleyConway1.jpgSix years into her career, Conway oversees a portfolio of nine events ranging in size from 150 to 2,500 participants. She and her team of three planners welcome the unique challenge of creating memorable education and experiences for other event planners and suppliers—a particularly tough audience to please.

“We definitely feel some pressure because our goal is to blow participants out of the water with what they experience, giving them lots of inspiration for their own events,” she says. “I want to build a show that’s creative enough to be highlighted by our industry's media outlets.” One thing that augments her team’s efforts: “There are so many cool activations coming from our industry partners who want to show off their products and services to planners,” making for a dynamic environment throughout the meeting venue.

Ideas Come from Everywhere
For Conway and her team of Millennials, their sources for creative ideas are wide and varied. For instance, “we’re used to seeing so many quick-hit things on Instagram and TikTok that are outside the events industry, and we try to incorporate some of them in a way that works for our audience,” she notes. “It’s just part of the search process; it’s natural to us.”

In addition, Conway’s manager provides a budget for the Connect planning team to attend forward-thinking live events to find out-of-the-box ideas. For instance, Conway and a colleague went to CES in Las Vegas in 2023 “and it really reinforced to me the value of finding inspiration from events that are completely outside the realm of our own industry,” she says. “If we only go to the meetings-industry shows, we’ll see the same things as everyone else.”

Another fountain of inspiration was her trip to the C2 Montreal event in May. “The way they decorated different areas, the types of seating they used, and how they maximized spaces for really creative, interactive session formats opened our eyes to new possibilities” for her events’ business-oriented settings, Conway notes. Come October, she and a colleague will also attend the Money 20/20 conference for the financial-services and -technology industry.

A Menu of Engagement Opportunities
As more than 1,500 planners and suppliers walk the show floor of the Connect Spring Marketplace each March as well as the Connect Marketplace each August, they’re able to recharge from their one-on-one appointments and educational sessions through entertaining activations created by Conway’s team and by exhibitors who collaborate with that team.

“We do some of the same things every year, like the puppy-petting lounge, because that's a favorite,” Conway says. “But we try to find other things that are worthy of Instagram and LinkedIn posts: different and cool.”

Some recent examples, with photos:

• Virtual-reality stations that also have a compelling real-life element: the chair that attendees sit in will move, roll, and spin to match the VR scenes they are viewing. So, a roller-coaster ride, a river-rafting trip, and a Grand Prix auto race feel fully life-like, which provides entertainment for spectators as well as participants.

• A tattoo station where attendees could get a temporary—or real—tattoo. “Something like that is where we can push the boundaries a bit for the younger generation of attendees, but also make an impression on everyone,” Conway says.

• An archery station for people to learn how to shoot with a bow and arrow. Of course, the arrows are made of hard foam.

• A giant floor piano that attendees can play with their feet, with prizes awarded for the best improvisational performance.

• Several photo stations offering costumes and other props to match different themes.

One new activation that drew big attention at the Vegas event was a mini-skateboard park (photo below) where experienced skaters jumped, spun, and zipped around just a few feet from attendees. Some attendees even sought to do a bit of skateboarding themselves.
“Those guys are there simply for entertainment and to teach attendees a bit about that culture,” says Conway. “It's something our attendees can be inspired by.”

Even for the walk between the hotel and the event space, the planning team created an activity to make the experience more enjoyable.

“Our graphic designer helped us create signage along the way that’s funny and lets them know how much closer to the show hall they've gotten since the previous sign,” Conway says. And for the event this August in Milwaukee, she’s considered creating a QR code to be posted on the first sign, which will provide a themed musical playlist that attendees can listen to during their walk.

Get ’Em to Tap the App
Lastly, Conway is enhancing the event app to become a strong experience-support element. Specifically, “gamification opportunities have really been a hit,” she notes. For instance, attendees can photograph various things from around the show to earn points for prizes in different tiers, from luggage to backpacks to Yeti containers. Many of those photos found their way to social media as well.

“We weren’t sure if people would do it,” she says. “But then we thought that somebody was stealing the QR code to win because of the engagement numbers we were getting.”

Future plans for the app include a “what-to-wear lookbook” for the bike-night theme at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, as well as creating QR codes for express on-site check in via the app. And for off-site social events, the ability to use the app to get into the venue rather than wearing a physical badge improves attendees’ security.

Besides all this, “what I think really made a difference with the app is how supportive our whole staff has been; we reference it constantly with attendees.” The result: Attendee engagement with the app is more than 95 percent for Connect events, one of the highest figures for any show owned by Informa, the parent company of Connect.

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