Guest Opinion: Picking up where IWLC leaves off

Coming off of an energetic IWLC Central Iowa Conference just a few weeks ago lets you think, “What next?”  Michelle DeClerck

As an organizer of events and placing speakers at big name events, typically there’s a lull that follows after any size event. It’s hard to keep the buzz going with the attendee long after the event. As one of the speakers stated, if it were easy to stay motivated, you’d just hear one motivational speaker and you wouldn’t need to hear another again.

That’s the part about motivation, you need to hear it over and over again, each time serving as a reminder to help keep you from letting self-sabotaging thoughts creep in about your dreams and your goals, to help re-energize yourself, to inspire you to make a difference. That’s why repeatedly attending events, like the ones IWLC puts on, is beneficial for you and your organization.

Hearing the motivational speaker is only one part of it. To truly get the benefits, within a few days of being back, zone in on a few ideas that resonated with you during the event and post those on your desk or, if appropriate, on your task list. Based on our experience, it’s not always what the speaker said, but rather what creative idea you came up with while you were in the moment. Those can be even more impactful and propel you forward, resulting in an even greater event experience.

Both Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, and author Anne-Marie Slaughter shared a few thoughts that I wrote down that I’ll refer back to yet again this week, and they also focused on “Support other women — pay it forward by helping women.” This advice reminds me to say yes to that extra meeting request to help provide mentoring advice, even when I think I’m at my maximum capacity for my week. I always gain just as much, especially when meeting with millennials.

Kim Martin, chief brand officer for Meredith Corp., went in depth on how focusing on what matters most to millennials is detrimental to business success. The more we are open to change, the more we realize that having these high performers in our work groups gets us even better results, just like having more women on boards makes those companies more profitable. Martin shared that this group is eager for development and growth opportunities and wants to be involved in meaningful work, and she reminds us that they often can find a better, more efficient way of doing something if we’ll allow them to.

The next time you have an opportunity to learn from an industry or motivational speaker, remember that there’s more to it than just sitting in the audience. It comes down to keeping the experience momentum. By bringing back just one or two ideas, you make it worth hearing another motivational speaker.

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    The Dangers of Booking a Cruise…What Can Go Wrong!

    Perspectives of Dylan DeClerck, Event Consultant

    Post 5 of 5 in this series.   Dylan DeClerck

    Booking a group on a cruise, or for that fact any trip for a larger group, can be very exciting, especially when you’ve worked with a cruise expert to help you with the daunting research to locate the perfect location, received the best concessions and amenities, and created the best experiences for all of the attendees.  However, right after the trip gets booked, the overwhelming pressure of putting on an event just as well as you envisioned starts to feel heavy on your shoulders.  Let’s explore a couple of the things you need to address when planning a cruise and provide you with a way to alleviate some of the stress.

    Picking a Ship – One of the challenges in picking a ship is finding the company and vessel with everything you need for your group.  Unlike choosing a hotel and destination, a cruise ship has no room to add additional meeting space or any flexibility in set up, so everything that you need for the length of your group’s stay on board must be part of the contract or on the ship from the start.  This also raises the question of, “How do I know the ship has the right accommodations for my needs?”  Realistically you’d like to have prior experience with the ship, but secondarily there are event planner experts who can help with group planning.

    Miscommunication – While it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to construct a plan that avoids miscommunication, there are certain steps every event planner can take to make communication as clear as possible.  The first thing to do is establish a relationship with someone from the cruise company that you know will take good care of your special circumstances and needs.  Many groups complain that the cruise lines fail to address their concerns.  Working with a cruise can be completely different than working with a hotel.  A cruise expert can help align you with the right person to be your point person and vice versa, meaning that you almost exclusively communicate with each other when it comes to your group and the cruise.  Now these two steps may seem like an easy task, but unfortunately it takes time and investment from both parties to establish this clear line of communication.

    Challenges and Obstacles – As with all group trips there are going to be challenges and obstacles for the event planners to manage.  Most event planners know the best way to solve problems is to anticipate them and plan for them even before they occur.  If your group has never done a cruise before this can be incredibly difficult, but a good place to start is by talking with someone who has cruised with a group before.

    Fortunately for your group, a good way to alleviate some of this stress when planning a cruise is to work with a partner that knows your group and the cruise options available.  Conference Event Management can help you pick a ship because our cruise President and her cruise team have been on almost every ship that can accommodate a group.  In addition, we have established relationships and a single point of contact at all major cruise lines and won’t hesitate to reach out to them immediately as a problem arises.  Conference Event Management has the experience to make your group’s trip a smooth sailing!

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      Why you'll be thankful you didn't book the speaker or hotel on your own

      Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We’re familiar with this popular saying, yet too many companies keep booking their hotels, cruises and speakers on their own.

      When you find a great speaker online and book them directly, not only do you have to handle the contracting, but also the moment when they call the day before your event to say they have a family emergency. Then what will you do? You can avoid this type of disaster by having a partner that can save the day for you.

      • Using a speaker’s bureau can result in getting a last-minute replacement speaker–forget putting your head actuary on stage to motivate the producers.
      • Take the risk out of signing the contract with an advocate on your side.
      • Receive additional concessions and favor rates on certain occasions. You don’t know what to ask for, but your partner goes to dinner and spends time vacationing with these speakers, so many times, favors can come into play.

      Using our NO-COST hotel / cruise and speaker research and contracting services removes many stressors from your event-planning process. We’ll ask the right questions to get you in contact with the best speaker–and often for less than you budgeted.


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        Princess Cruises Provide More Intimate Experience

        Perspectives of Dylan DeClerck, Event Consultant

        Post 4 of 5 in this series.

        Although Princess Cruises does not have the largest ships in the world with passenger capacity upwards of 4,000 or 5,000 people, they are considered one of the four cruise companies in the mass/contemporary market.  The contemporary market also includes Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International, which can accommodate the largest number of passengers on their ships.

        For the 2017-2018 sailing year, Princess Cruises will utilize 18 ships to sail to destinations ranging from Alaska, where the company has its strongest presence, to the Mediterranean.  The largest ships in the Princess Cruises fleet host 3,560 guests at double occupancy, which is perfect for groups that are looking for specialty restaurants, many dining options, meeting and conference space, and a variety of high-quality entertainment.  On the smallest scale, the Pacific Princess ship accommodates a maximum of 672 guests.  This type of ship is ideal for the group the wants to have a more intimate experience with their attendees.

        Despite the generalizations made above, every group will have unique needs that are difficult to determine if they can be met without clear communications with cruise experts who understand the individual ships.  Ensure every accommodation your group needs fulfilled is met; count on Conference Event Management to help navigate your next cruise.

        Dylan DeClerck, Princess Cruises

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          Seafood – The Best Way to Eat on a Cruise

          Perspectives of Dylan DeClerck, Event Consultant


          Post 3 of 5 in the series

          While a healthy diet is good for us most of the time, there are certain places where a deviation makes sense. One of those places is during a cruise get away!

          This last week, I had the opportunity to cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles on an educational site inspection and had the chance to enjoy some cuisine delights, in addition to some of my favorite guilty pleasures. This blog explores some of the most interesting ways I witnessed guests enjoy their food on an all-inclusive cruise.


          The Plus One
          This technique is relevant for any sit down meal at an all-inclusive restaurant. First everyone orders their own entrée and in addition to everyone’s own meal, the table receives another entrée together. Usually this extra entrée is something exotic or new that they normally wouldn’t try individually, or maybe it’s just an entrée to compensate for the small portions they often serve.

          The Triple Double
          If one appetizer, one entrée, and one desert aren’t enough for your large appetite then this technique could be the go-to for you. This dining strategy involves ordering two of every course on the menu, and it’s one way to ensure that you’re more than full at the end of a meal. Your server may secretly be hoping your gratuity is a bit larger for their generous favors they’ve provided.

          The Delicious Dozen
          On most cruises there will be informal dining, such as a buffet, formal, and anytime dining options. This featured eating strategy is specifically for the anytime dining option and requires a ginormous appetite. After dinner you go to the anytime dining option and order a dozen of your favorite deserts to chow on for the rest of the evening. While your chance of stomachache increases exponentially, there’s no doubt that this dining plan will make sure you get the most out of your all-inclusive investment.

          The Sampler
          The options for food in an all-inclusive situation are numerous, and this plan is designed to take advantage of the amount of food available. In this plan diners get the chance to try a little of every restaurant, every food, and every desert available on the ship. Be careful, make sure that you’re eating small amounts of everything, otherwise this plan can go wrong very quickly, as I’ve personally experienced.

          Once you book an all-inclusive trip, one of the most important things to think about is your plan to conquer all of the dining options. The most important things to remember is to find a plan that works for you and remember that everything is healthy when traveling!

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            Why Executives Get Spooked About Group Hotel Bookings

            Conference Event Management can help you with group hotel bookings






            It’s no wonder why executives have concerns about their staff members booking group events directly.  When a staff member contacts a hotel and signs a contract on their own, only a few times each year, executives often question whether they’re getting the best possible deals.  It doesn’t have to be Halloween time to know the hotel or cruiseline contract can be scary to navigate on your own—and can put your company at financial risk.

            Top Haunting Concerns:

            •Leaving money on the table. Find a partner that touches numerous hotel and cruise contracts every day and knows how to request the clauses you need in your contract to protect you.
            •Spending more than you need to. Without a consistent presence in the hotel buying market, you’re probably not getting your fair share of savings and yummy treats.
            •Choosing a hotel that ultimately fails to meet your customer service and/or style expectations. Never select a hotel based on its website photos, as they can be very misleading, and never select a hotel simply because it worked five years ago. Frequent changes in hotel management means your experience could be much different this time around. Up-to-date, expert advice on the hotels that should be avoided can be the biggest factor in your event’s success, as top-booking hotels often move to the “black list” and vice versa.

            Using CEM’s NO-COST hotel and cruise research and contracting services removes the spooky concerns and puts you back in the driver’s seat when we sit on your side of the table. Find out why so many clients refer us and come to count on these unbelievable NO-COST services, especially for repeat events.

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              Cruising Trends – CUBA Here We Come!

              Dylan DeClerckPerspectives of Dylan DeClerck, Event Consultant

              Part two of five

              In the constantly evolving world of cruising the destinations change almost annually and the amenities change even more frequently.  This blog will explore two emerging destinations and a new trend among ship amenities.

              The first destination with increasing popularity is Cuba.  For years Americans were not allowed to set foot on the Caribbean nation’s shores, despite being just a short trip from Florida’s coast.  In July 2015 this changed when the United States reached an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations with the nation.  Since then more tourists have been coming into Cuba and cruise companies feel increasingly comfortable taking American passengers to the nation.  Since the land-based infrastructure is not yet built up for group comforts, a cruise is the perfect way to explore this country.

              The other destination more people are traveling to during the warmer months of the year (May through August) is Alaska.  There’s likely many reasons for this, but for a long time Alaska has been a popular bucket-list destination that people want to check off.

              When looking at ships’ amenities, more and more companies are differentiating themselves via specialty restaurants.  Gone are the cruises that force everyone to eat at one of two times in the same dining room, and new are the restaurants that provide you with flexibility when you dine and provide a new experience.  This includes restaurants set up by celebrity chefs and restaurants featuring exotic and luxury cuisine.

              What’s popular in cruising is up to the passengers, with cruise lines understanding the need to continue to innovate in order to bring more business on board.  Share your hot buttons with your Conference Event Management cruise team to determine what options are on what ships.

              Cruising Trends, Conference Event Management

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                Why Groups Love to Cruise

                Why Groups Love to Cruise (Part one of five)
                Perspectives of Dylan DeClerck, Event Consultant

                Dylan DeClerck, Conference Event Managment

                Dylan DeClerck


                Are you thinking of booking a trip for your incentive group?  There’s certainly plenty of options if you’re looking for a nice destination, ranging from Athens to Washington D.C.  However, instead of sorting through the alphabet of destinations, it may be in the interest of your group to see multiple destinations on the big C.  Cruise, that is!

                More incentive groups are cruising now, and many refuse to go back to regular destination incentive trips because of the group experience that cruises provide.

                One of the first reasons groups enjoy cruise ships is because they are an all-inclusive experience.  Once your group’s members board a ship they don’t have to spend another dollar on dining until they get off.  It’s nice to know that everything (dining, entertainment, activities, etc.) is taken care of!  Beverage packages can be built in at the time of contracting.  At the same time, if travelers would like to spend their own money for an upgraded experience such as gambling at the casino, a treatment at the spa, or an upgraded dining experience, ships can provide that as well.  This flexibility works well for many groups and makes it super simple for the event planners.

                Groups also enjoy cruises because they allow members to meet together if needed, while also providing everyone the opportunity to do some activities on their own or simply have some time alone.  To take advantage of this cruise ship benefit we always recommend that event planners leave some free time in the itinerary for members to be able to choose their own adventure.  A great group trip will provide an excellent balance between group and individual time.

                The last reason groups love to cruise that is covered here is because they prevent event planners from uncertainty.  There’s only so much room for a ship to have changes and that occurs when it’s taken off the market for renovation, so once you’ve seen the ship it isn’t going to significantly change before your group’s next trip.  This prevents the awkward situation where a group books an incentive trip in the perfect location, only to find their hotel undergoing significant renovations or closed amenities.

                If any of the reasons above make an incentive trip on a cruise sound appealing for your group’s next trip, Conference Event Management staff can walk you through some alternatives that may work best for your group.

                Conference Event Management cruise incentive trips

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                  Best Buddies Support

                  Conference Event Management donation to Best Buddies

                  Michelle DeClerck, president, shows Conference Event Management’s support to Blake Campbell, Best Buddies Iowa Executive Director, at their annual convention. Dylan DeClerck, event consultant, (right) has been an active supporter of Best Buddies for years and was pleased to join in the presentation

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                    Entrepreneur Spotlight – Michelle DeClerck, Conference Event Management

                    This post originally appeared as an article in the IA SourceLink September Newsletter. 

                    This month’s Entrepreneur Spotlight is a must read for every entrepreneur that is considering taking the jump into starting their own business. Michelle DeClerck was working for ING (VOYA) as the director of meeting management in the early 2000’s and as her role began to get restructured, she knew two things.

                    1. She wanted to continue providing value-oriented event solutions.

                    2. She wanted to stay in Central Iowa.

                    So she immediately began consulting for many of ING’s independent channels and under her newly formed Conference Event Management. “Wherever in the world groups gather, Conference Event Management can help get them there,” says DeClerck.

                    Conference Event Management is an Iowa woman-owned business enterprise and leading provider of unique, world-class event, conference, incentive travel, meeting experiences, reward strategies, hotel & cruise site selection and contracting, individual Travel MyWay® travel bookings, and national speaker’s circuit bookings.

                    We’ll get to some good entrepreneur-focused questions later, but with this month’s IASourceLink focus on trade shows and conferences, I definitely wanted DeClerck’s insight on solving common issues she has seen with clients. “We find that internal staff try to be all things to their internal clients when they don’t have the time, the resources, or the expertise to achieve their event goals.  By reaching out to experts such as ourselves, we’re happy to share our best practices with them to help them design their events and put them in hero status,” she explains.

                    There is also financial risk to consider when handling events. She continues, “Companies often allow the wrong people to sign hotel / cruise contracts within their companies and while they may sign one to two contracts a year, they open themselves up to financial risk or they leave many opportunities on the table.” Working with experts to handle these situations can reduce a company’s risk. Not to mention that experts, like those at Conference Event Management, have a much better handle on important event planning aspects such as venue management. As DeClerck says, “Not all hotels are the same.”

                    She also says Conference Event Management also finds many clients don’t know why they are hosting an event, “We want to help them strategize on the objectives and what a homerun looks like before we’ll accept the business to ensure all stakeholders are pleased with the end results.”

                    Then we got into the entrepreneur-focused questions. As someone who tends to overanalyze and want to wait for the perfect moment, I love her answer for the last question!

                    Favorite part of owning your own company.

                    The ability to think outside the box and know that no red tape has to exist. We are able to react on a moment’s notice without worrying about a higher authority putting barriers in our way to helping our clients achieve their success stories.

                    Most challenging part of owning your own company.

                    Finding talent that has the skillset that we would find most desirable is always a challenge in any company, and especially in an industry that has so many demands like ours. We look for experts with international travel and foreign currencies, numerous destinations, dealing with risk management, and always being alert and reactive to today’s trending situations such as terrorist acts, the Zika Virus and more. We will never be able to have an event plan that goes without incident, we must be able to be nimble and appropriately react in any situation.

                    Most useful resource.

                    We build websites for our clients to help them educate and register their guests. Recalling that we didn’t use these in the early years and the inefficiencies that caused, makes me take for granted the role technology plays in our everyday planning processes and how truly efficient this access to various levels of data allows us to be.

                    Most useful Iowa resource.

                    As an active board member for National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO – Iowa), I lean on my fellow members to network with, to learn of new resources, and come up to solutions to our business challenges.

                    What advice would you give to an entrepreneur wanting to turn their idea into a business?

                    There will probably never be a perfect time to start your own business. If someone has an idea and the passion to get a business off the ground, then that’s the time to get started. Create your vision, solicit feedback from other business owners and then engage business consultants to create a plan to help you avoid costly mistakes.  A short-term plan, paired with an ultimate strategic vision, can be enough to get your business off the ground and on the road to success—sooner rather than later.

                    And last but certainly not least.

                    Where can people go to learn more about you and Conference Event Management?

                    Email or visit

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