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.

How to reward and retain your top producers – Part 2

Michelle DeClerck, CMP

Michelle DeClerck, CMP

Last week we shared why you need an incentive program and this week we dive into proven strategies that drive motivation and build loyalty for your organization. Read on to find out which type of incentive is right for you.

Top Rewards used by Insurance & Financial Companies:

  • Full-blown incentive with a 12-month production cycle – company pays for most expenses and offers numerous networking opportunities – especially with senior management.
  • Luxury Incentive (6- to 12-month production cycle) – company pays for many expenses (not all) and gives agents more free time, while still offering networking opportunities. This incentive let’s attendees decide how they spend their time and saves the company money by not paying for all dinners and activities.
  • Limited incentive (12-month production cycle) – company typically pays to get attendees to the destination and for hotel accommodations. They’ll also include a welcome reception and a final night farewell. All other meals and activities are at the guests’ expense, therefore networking with host company staff is minimized.
  • Seminars and conventions – training sessions in which the company automatically pays for attendees’ air, makes qualifiers earn it, or attendees pay for air on their own. Land expenses are typically paid for with the same categories.
  • Gift cards – While gift cards do make great gifts, they don’t provide lasting memories like incentive trips. When you receive a gift card, it’s likely you spend a few seconds looking at it before you put it in your purse or wallet. When you go to spend it – it’s no longer a reminder of who gave it to you. Your recipients may tell you they’d rather have cash, but most don’t know how they would spend it and don’t appreciate it like a reward trip. This “Preference Reversal” is why putting stretch goals with aspirational rewards in front of your audience is important.
  • Travel My Way – Individual leisure reward certificates are best used when a company has a very limited budget for rewards but understands that rewards help increase sales by providing motivation and incentive to sell. Individual rewards are a nice, simple option, but fail to build the relationship that a true incentive trip offers. Without the connection of face-to-face interactions during a trip, an individual travel reward becomes simply a transaction with lesser after-trip appreciation tied back to the company offering the reward.

We have also been enhancing the reward trips with our new Gift Suite Experience. In the past, many incentive programs have included room gifts, void of customization, often with unappreciated gifts being left behind in hotel sleeping rooms.  Now, personalized gift selection is the rage when you give your attendees the opportunity to stop by our Gift Suite Experience to see, touch and select a gift of their choosing that meets their desires and unique style. Complete with a gift voucher to invite your guests to pick out their ideal gift in their preferred color and size, you can then relax knowing the gift will be shipped and waiting for them after they return home (on site gifts also available).

Kids or no kids? More and more clients want to spend quality time with their attendees and would prefer the kids were not in attendance. However, if they do attend, most clients are collecting a “buy-in” fee for all expenses and taking these extra attendees off the company master account so they can spend their money equally among the qualifier and their one guest. This is the most equitable option for all involved.

What’s the best reward for your group?  If you are just starting out – crawl, don’t jump.  Avoid putting your company in financial risk with an over eager sales cycle that doesn’t have the history to support it.  Our job is to help you navigate the waters as you reduce the amount of time you have to spend recruiting new talent and ultimately creating rewarding incentives to retain your top agents.

And if you are asking yourself, wouldn’t it be great to retain all your top talent without having to provide rewards, then you’d miss out on great networking opportunities and a chance to increase your sales.

Volunteering brings personal, professional growth – Part 4 of 7

This article originally appeared in the Business Record Lift IOWA 7.6.15 newsletter.

Editor’s Note: This piece by Michelle DeClerck is the fourth in a seven-part series focusing on the importance of community involvement and volunteering for women to grow both professionally and personally. Parts one, two and three are all available online. Part four focuses on how volunteering provides opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Michelle DeClerck
In my introductory article in this women’s leadership series, I promised to touch on how personal enrichment is one of the major benefits derived from your dedication of volunteer time and talent. The more you are involved in developing programs to help others, the greater the personal benefit can be.

Examples of those benefits include:
• Making new friends.
• Satisfaction and sense of achievement in making a difference.
• Gradually and naturally developing your leadership skills.
• Building self-esteem and self-confidence through speaking opportunities.
• Receiving positive recognition and promotion within your organization.
• Feeling a sense of accomplishment in trying something new or challenging.

Whether you are asked to make a few phone calls or run errands to support an effort, join the executive committee, or step up as a member of a working board, it’s impossible not to benefit from your time commitment.

I recently launched Mentor Tank to help advance the careers of young women by providing access to established women business leaders in Central Iowa. I certainly don’t need another volunteer activity, but I love giving advice (my children know this comes even if unwanted). The personal satisfaction I receive knowing I impact the career paths of students in some way drove me to create a forum where others receive real-life advice from those of us who have “been there, done that.”

In “The Girls’ Guide to Building a Million-Dollar Business,” Susan Slovic emphasizes that female entrepreneurs are rewarded by their ability to give back and how they view philanthropy as a top priority — 92 percent give back, compared with 88 percent of male-owned businesses.

Women business owners also write larger checks and devote more time to charity work. Slovic goes on to quote DSC Logistics CEO Ann Drake when discussing why women don’t go in business — “Women don’t see business as a way to help the world, but if you have money, then you can influence the world and have the money to spend on the world.”

This book was a real eye-opener for me to realize that being successful allows me to support my favorite causes.

It’s no cliche — you really do get out of it what you put into it. Volunteer to continually build your leadership skills, and don’t forget to thank the person who trusted in your abilities to help their cause.

Michelle DeClerck, a certified meeting planner, founded Conference Event Management and Financial Speakers Bureau, a woman-owned business enterprise and provider of event, conference, incentive travel and meeting experiences.

DeClerck is involved with both the Iowa Women’s Leadership Connection and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Iowa. She is working to involve college students with the Iowa Women’s Leadership Connection, and NAWBO has recognized her as one of its Woman Business Owners of the Year. She enjoys speaking on female leadership, business ownership and mentoring, and is addicted to self-help business books. DeClerck can be reached at

How volunteering helps others – Part 2 of 7

This article originally appeared in the Business Record Lift IOWA 4.6.15 newsletter.

Editor’s note: Two weeks ago, Michelle DeClerck kicked off her seven-part series focusing on the importance of community involvement and volunteering in helping women grow both professionally and personally. Part two focuses on how women can “hit a home run” by giving up some of their free time.

Have you ever watched “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and felt so excited for the family that you become choked up when they shout, “Move that bus”?

It happens every episode. The home-building crew, led by Ty Pennington, gets to know a family in need of improved housing and recruits community volunteers to build a new home. Seeing a community of volunteers offer support to deserving people can’t help but make us feel good.

When it comes to volunteering, most of us don’t get to work on a reality TV show or such a large-scale project, but we can still make a monumental difference.

Take my experience as an example. For the past three years, I’ve had the chance to build personal relationships with girls and boys in Central Iowa through Opportunity on Deck. This organization initially started out as a baseball league for children who wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to play in organized athletics.

Initially, I wasn’t very excited to give up two to four nights per week for the entire summer to haul equipment, set up, tear down, and play ball in all weather conditions. It didn’t feel like leadership at the time.

However, what began as coaching kids on baseball techniques quickly turned into an opportunity to mentor and become a role model. I was often assigned to help develop the girls’ self-confidence. In a safety zone where hugs, high-fives and cheering for both teams and all individuals are encouraged, I hit my own home run by working with the elementary-age participants. Perhaps it was especially meaningful for me because we had minimal financial resources during my childhood.

As I taught Litzy to catch, she tugged at my heart strings by telling me she wanted to be like me when she grew up. How could a third-grade girl think that?

By the time Litzy progressed to catching pop flys and hitting to the outfield, I progressed as well. Instead of viewing my time as something I gave up, my perspective changed to seeing how I could lead and offer hope when Litzy told me, “my dream is to go to college someday even though I’ll never be able to.”

At the end of the season, I approached Litzy’s dad with a letter I hoped he would give her. I shared that if someone like me could have the same dream and achieve it, so could she and to not let family finances stand in the way. I told her to never quit dreaming, and someday, I’d watch for her to own her own business and provide for other families.

I hope Litzy doesn’t quit dreaming.

Since then, my son, who founded Opportunity on Deck as a teenager in 2012, expanded the league to Des Moines’ inner city and formed two new umbrella leagues. With a garage full of baseball, basketball and soccer donations, a son with a heart full of generosity, and the ability to donate my time with league play and as president of the board of directors, I am privileged to volunteer with other community teens, former coaches and Drake University students who are hitting a home run too by providing hope through our leadership.

Providing leadership through coaching and mentoring is common in today’s workforce.  However, when women get involved in volunteering with children, especially with young girls, it has been statistically proven that they can help build the girls’ self-confidence at a time when they are formulating their paradigms on what they are capable of doing later in life.

Now’s the time for women to get involved and help “Move That Bus,” ultimately opening doors for young women to take their place in tomorrow’s workforce in the C-suite, in STEM careers and in fulfilling leadership roles.

Michelle DeClerck, a certified meeting planner, founded Conference Event Management and Financial Speakers Bureau, a woman-owned business enterprise and provider of event, conference, incentive travel and meeting experiences.

DeClerck is involved with both Iowa Women Lead Change (IWLC) and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Iowa. She is working to involve college students with the Iowa Women’s Leadership Connection, and NAWBO has recognized her as one of its Woman Business Owners of the Year. She enjoys speaking on female leadership, business ownership and mentoring, and is addicted to business and leadership books. DeClerck can be reached at


U.S. Dollar’s Strength Means Greater Value in Meetings Abroad

Visiting countries where the dollar has a strong exchange rate means you get more value for your money. In many popular destinations abroad, restaurants and shopping are 15-50% cheaper right now for Americans than they were this time last year. Some hotel rates overseas are seven percent less than last year, and an even bigger drop of nine percent in Europe. Consequently, our strengthening economy is bolstering international travel from the US which is up almost 10% from 2014.

dollarGroups can take advantage of exchange rates in favor of the dollar in several ways including contracting hotel rates now for future international meetings and events. One of the many benefits of using a third-party planner like Conference Event Management (CEM) versus a tour company is that CEM receives current market rates rather than tour companies that contract rates a year or more in advance which can be a disadvantage when the dollar changes. CEM can also help by providing recommendations on forward contracts, or buying foreign currency at a set rate without having to pay immediately. Forward contracts offer a protection against uncertainty in currency market fluctuations.

While the dollar is strong today, the reasonable expectation is that it will not remain this way forever. If your international program is occurring a year or more from today, you may want to consider arranging a forward contract to buy the foreign currency at a set exchange rate with an added benefit of not having to pay for the total price until the contract is exercised at the specified future date. The purchaser pays a transaction fee based on the amount of the transaction. The currency you contract for the term of your program is then available to pay event expenses. Or you may choose to wait and see if the dollar gains even more value relative to foreign currency the closer it gets to your event. Many economists are speculating that the Euro will be equal to the US Dollar by 2016 which will offer Americans even greater purchasing power.

Destinations where the dollar is strong:

Europe – The Euro and the British Pound have both fallen against the dollar in the past year. Earlier this year, the Euro fell 20% – its lowest level against the dollar in 12 years, and the Pound fell 15%. Travel in the off-season of late winter to early spring to compound your savings.

Canada – The Canadian dollar is now 20% cheaper than last year and with an increase in popularity of destinations like Banff and Whistler, you can create a unique, high-value event for your attendees that may not have been possible in prior years.

Mexico and Central America – The dollar is currently enjoying its strongest exchange rate against the peso since 1993. With easy airlift from the US, meetings and events south of the board are a great value for groups.

Contact CEM for ideas on where to take your group and benefit with the most bang for your buck – or 515.254.0289.

Picture Perfect Events

When this meeting expert isn’t in the office or on the road, Rachel can be found on the fashion pages of publications or helping her friends launch the website for their new salon. All of our meeting planners wear multiple hats, and for Rachel that means modeling on the weekends. Creativity coupled with attention to detail equips her with the skills to be successful in both roles. Contact Conference Event Management to learn how we can make your next event picture perfect! Rachel 2



Tackling the Exhibit Hall – What You Need to Know

Let’s face it – sometimes exhibit halls can be overwhelming. You know there are companies there you should be connecting with, but the thought of walking down the long hall aisles with hundreds of booth staff trying to get your attention could seem about as intimidating as learning a new insurance product. But it doesn’t have to be something you dread! With a little planning and some enthusiasm, it might turn out to be one of your favorite parts of NAILBA. Below are a few tips to get you started:

Do Your Research: Know who the exhibiting companies are, and how they could potentially help you and your producers. Are sales down? Is morale low among your producers?  There IS a company at NAILBA who can help you solve your problems, but you may not find them if you’re aimlessly wandering around.

Be Open to New Ideas: Approach an exhibitor that you aren’t familiar with. Learn about a new sales tool or idea for your brokerage. Or at least benefit from another friendly smile, and you might leave with a cool pen or stress ball. And who doesn’t need more of those?

Be a Social Media Master: By following the #NAILBA32 on Twitter, you can come across a promotion an exhibiting company is offering (free Starbucks? OK!) , or a speaker session you may have forgotten about but really want to attend.

We hope you have a great NAILBA experience, and can’t wait to meet you! Feel free to stop by our booth (722) to pick up a fun conversation starting ribbon for your badge, and learn about how our services can help you achieve greater ROI from your next meeting or incentive trip. And if you’re lucky, one of our team members may even show you her juggling skills!

The Mark of a Great Hotel

As seen through the eyes of a teenage hotel prodigy – retold by Michelle DeClerck, CMP, President

My son visited today and shared details of his weekend college road trip and his stay at a hotel that was not so super after all.  I suppose he formed his opinions void of vacations and instead traveling the globe with me doing site inspections, quickly forming him into a teenage hotel prodigy.

I can vividly remember when Dylan was in fifth grade siting in the back seat with his buddy Aaron, as I drove through the streets of Des Moines.  Aaron shared that he spent the weekend in Kansas City and Dylan quickly asked him if he stayed at the Ritz Carlton or another four or five star hotel.  With an awkward pause, Aaron did not reply and having caught himself, Dylan quickly corrected himself and said, “Wait, there are no five-star hotels in Kansas City, what was I thinking.”

Fast forward to this weekend’s jaunt with his buddies and he shared that this hotel was a dump and of course I couldn’t help but laugh, knowing there was no bellman to welcome them or fine amenities to boot.  So what does a child who has easily stayed in over 50 of the world’s most luxurious hotels find the most compelling reason to classify this hotel as not being appealing.  They had no artwork on any of the walls – it had no character!  Who knew he had been paying attention after all!  He also commented that the light fixture was just a see through clear bulb – the really cheap kind.  The tub was a super flimsy plastic unit where you could see all the caulk popping out, the curtains had moth holes and breakfast was Oatmeal Crème Pies and Honey Buns … without any fresh fruit at all.  None.  Oh, and a train went by every two hours with the horn blaring.

So how does this two-star hotel help classify the mark of a great hotel?   Great hotels have character – whether they’re luxurious or classy, modern or historic, uniquely charming (boutiques) or standard and predictable (chains).  You may even find you don’t worry about your surroundings or wonder if you’ll get a good night’s sleep without interruption.  The experience should leave you feeling good about yourself, about your travels and about your adventures. Perhaps the best reason you can call it a great hotel is that it satisfies your traveling needs without making you wish you had picked another hotel.  Artwork and fresh fruit are a nice touch as well.

Don’t pick the wrong hotel and regret it – contact our Strategic Sourcing Manager to help you avoid the not so super hotels in the world.

Las Vegas- Just When You Thought They Couldn’t Add Anything Else…

Las Vegas has decided they don’t want to be known just for their blackjack & roulette and they are once again positioning themselves to be a recreation destination with many new renovations and expansions.  A few highlights groups will find appealing include:

  • Caesars “The LINQ” – an entertainment district all itself.  This $500 million dollar dining, shopping and entertainment district will include the Las Vegas High Roller – the world’s largest observation wheel, 550 feet above street level.
  • Bellagio’s recent tower rooms and suites renovation, followed by a focus on Vegasenhancing their event food & beverage.
  • MGM Resorts is creating unique space – a 20,000 seat basketball mecca and the first urban park with great outdoor space.
  • The Smith Center for Performing Arts opened and intends to become “The Broadway of Las Vegas.”
  • Shark Attack – Mandalay Bay’s Seascape ballroom sits within the Shark Reef Aquarium, featuring 30 sharks and other aquatic wonders.
  • The Ghost Bar at The Palms is a great place to unwind and listen to the tunes.
  • Massive remodeling project at the Las Vegas Convention Center – additional space, upgrading technology and creating a major transportation hub that connects the three convention centers with the thriving resort corridor.
  • The Cosmopolitan added Chelsea – their 3,000-seat theater catering to boxing events, concerts and convention attendees.
  • Reinvention of Wynn & Encore with a larger casino and convention center, and elegant Asian cuisine at Andrea’s.
  • And coming up in 2016 …  – an Asian-themed Resort with 3,500 rooms, luxury dining and half-million square feet of convention space including a world-class size pool and a replica of the Great Wall of China.

– written by Sheila Nord, our Strategic Sourcing Manager


Top Ten Hotels for Incentive Groups

Our staff often get asked where are our favorite destinations and hotels are in the world.  It’s hard to answer that as it depends if we are staying for personal reasons or hosting a group, what time of year we attend, what the weather was like, what else we did while we were there – all the things your attendees consider when they form their opinions of your event and your chosen hotel.

So our unofficial hotel (cruise) list, without favoritism for any other reason than these hotels delivered excellent stays for our groups’ experiences, include:

10. Four Seasons Australia

9.  Grand Del Mar, CA

8. The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island – a comfortable luxury stay

7.  Hyatt Regency Kauai

6.  Montage Park City, Utah – an unexpected surprise

5.  Grand Velas Riviera Maya – gourmet all inclusive luxury

Aerial view of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Aerial view of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya

4. RCCL Allure of the Seas – downright fun at every turn

3.  Four Seasons Whistler – new product, warm welcome

2. Thala Beach Lodge in Port Douglas, Australia – a treehouse haven

1.  Pearl Resorts Tahiti – over the water beach bungalows are just too hard to top