One of the biggest trends in meeting design is to integrate an event’s location into aspects of the event itself — an idea that Jennifer A. Lichty fully embraced when planning a recent conference of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
The senior manager of curriculum and training programs at CASE brought the flavors of Portland, Oregon, to the Social Media and Community Conference, held April 24-26 at the Hilton Portland Downtown. The annual conference, as you would guess from its name, shares ideas about social-media engagement and building communities. Lichty used her F&B ideas to boost the traditional breaks and cocktail reception into something more memorable — and Instagrammable.
“I knew even before we signed the contract that the first break would be a doughnut taste-off,” Lichty told Convene, because of Portland’s stand-out doughnut spots — Voodoo Doughnut and Blue Star Donuts + Coffee.
When the 250 attendees stepped out of the pre-event sessions for their first break on Day 1, they found a taste-off area where 12 dozen halved doughnuts from each shop were displayed.
To emulate Blue Star’s “clean, white, and modern” aesthetic, Lichty said, she hung blue stars from the ceiling and dressed tables in white tablecloths with more stars. The doughnuts, including Valrhona Chocolate Crunch, Blueberry Bourbon Basil, and Buttermilk Old-Fashioned, were displayed on white plates.
To capture Voodoo’s “quirky, rock ’n’ roll vibe,” she said, Voodoo’s pink boxes were placed inside wood crates or on wood trays, which sat on tables covered with black tablecloths. The doughnuts, including The Loop, Voodoo Doll, and Bacon Maple Bar, were placed inside the pink boxes.
Each participant was to select half a Voodoo doughnut and half a Blue Star doughnut. And while they munched on the treats, they were invited to take part in an Instagram poll to decide which shop’s doughnuts would be crowned the winner.
Lichty wanted to do something more than the usual “coffee and cookies” break, she said, and give her attendees an interactive exercise that would get them talking with each other.
“It really generated a lot of conversation,” she said, and a lot of social-media interaction (search #casesmc on Instagram). After intense voting, Lichty said, the group chose Voodoo Doughnuts as the favorite.
For the second day break, Lichty worked with Lemmy Cooper, director of food and beverage at the Hilton Portland Downtown and The Duniway Portland. They featured ice cream from local favorite Ruby Jewel, which is hand-crafted and locally sourced from Oregon and the Northwest, she said. Chefs scooped the cones to order, pairing the ice cream with coordinated mini cupcakes, called dots, from Saint Cupcake.
Large pink patio umbrellas, ice cream carts, tissue paper confetti, and two paleta (cooler) carts — which Cooper secured from Ruby Jewel — decorated the space. “Lemmy made extra efforts to make all breaks, and especially this one, exceptional,” Lichty said.
For another social event, the conference reception, Lichty got a little help from Ryan Reynolds —well, a life-sized cardboard version of him — and Aviation Gin, a Portland distiller where the actor owns a financial stake and serves as creative director. A representative from Aviation Gin talked with delegates about the gin’s properties and organized a gin tasting. An Aviation Gin & Tonic specialty drink was served at the event, too.
Despite the popularity of the gin and Replica Ryan, the crowd was more interested in meeting two live guests — Rojo the Llama and Napoleon the Alpaca. The hotel team recommended the therapy animals as an option, Lichty said, because they had appeared at other events at the hotel.
Shannon Joy, owner of Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas, took photos of attendees with the two therapy animals, who wore top hats and bow ties. Throughout the evening, attendees could get “carrot kisses” from the animals by holding a carrot between their teeth for either Rojo or Napoleon to take.
The kissing animals provided yet another chance for attendees to post on social media, a definite goal for a conference focusing on social-media interaction. Lichty said the key to the event’s success was her focus on bringing Portland into the conference space — something any planner can achieve.
“Look at what already exists on the menus and work with the CSM, F&B director, or whomever you might partner with to bring a taste of the area into the conference,” she said. “Even if you can do small things to add to existing sets, it will make a difference.”
Curt Wagner is an associate editor at Convene.
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