Tips for Planning a National Convention in Colorado

By Devon Binder

My career as an event professional has allowed me the opportunity to travel and produce events in many wonderful places—London, Paris, the Virgin Islands, Napa Valley, San Francisco and New York City to name a few. Yet, I am always excited to have a client that wants to consider Colorado as the destination for a meeting. With the popularity of Colorado (visiting or moving here is a bucket list regular these days) and access via the web to what Colorado has to offer as far as venues, locations, vendors, culinary, activities and accessibility go, selling the destination and planning an event falls into the “normal” wheelhouse.

As someone who always tries to use the destination beyond the norm, I have incorporated a few additional resources and six tips for planning a national convention or any event in Colorado.

Tap Colorado’s robust event industry. There are highly educated individuals providing not only experience in producing events in the area but creative solutions as well. There are 13 meeting and event industry organizations that make up the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado. Whether you are a member of one of these national and international organizations in your state or not, try connecting to some of their leadership for recommendations. As a past president of Meeting Professionals International Rocky Mountain Chapter, I always reach out to the leaders of other MPI chapters for advice about their destination when looking for a specific type of venue or vendor.

Destination Colorado, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the site selection and planning experience in Colorado convenient and straightforward, is another great resource. By working together, Destination Colorado’s 130 members (hotels, venues, destination marketing organizations and suppliers) provide resources, information and solutions for meeting and event planners under one umbrella as a starting point.

Networking and gathering ideas at Destination Colorado’s Front Range Trade Show. Photo by Josh Gold Photography.

Plan a community service activity. With more than 20,000 nonprofits registered in Colorado, there is ample opportunity to connect with one and coordinate a community service outreach program that aligns with the mission of your organization. Start by connecting with the Colorado Non-Profit Association for ideas about a possible partnership.

A trail maintenance activity with the Walking Mountains Science Center and U.S. Forest Service during the 2018 Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Vail. Courtesy Beth Buehler.

Build in outdoor time. If you are going to make your attendees stay indoors the entire time, why are you coming to Colorado? Your attendees don’t have to hike a fourteener or ski a double black diamond to experience the Colorado outdoors. No matter the season, there is a way to incorporate outdoor experiences in your event, whether it be part of the education experience, team-building or networking.

A beautiful setting for a meal outdoors. Courtesy Winter Park Mountain Lodge.

For example, move the roundtable discussion to the gondola. Create a list of topics and as people load the gondola (average number of seats is 6) hand them a topic to discuss on the ride to the top of the mountain. Each group must provide one or two solutions around their topic at the top of the mountain before having lunch or dinner.

Summer dog sled rides to a concert at the world renowned Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver and everything in between will provide a unique Colorado experience. Or how about a reception outside where you hand out a blanket and a picnic basket and let groups gather casually for a concert or even an informal presentation over lunch? For cooler months, still try to get a reception space connected to outdoor space. Add a few heaters and I guarantee that your out-of-state attendees will wander outside for some picture taking of the magnificent Colorado views, and Southerners may even try to catch a few snowflakes!

Connect with great speakers. Finding speakers to fit your audience, messaging and budget has become increasingly difficult. I have two automatic go-tos when assisting clients with speakers for meetings in Colorado. The first is National Speakers Association Colorado. The membership covers a depth of topics and experience. Secondly, Colorado is home to several institutions of higher education. Reach out to these universities and colleges for subject matter experts that can serve as keynotes, breakout session speakers or panelists. Local speakers don’t require flights and sometimes not even a hotel stay.

Keep attendees hydrated. Staying hydrated is the key to feeling good in The Mile High City (Denver) and many Colorado communities, so we put a spin on a common college drinking game. We replaced watching your favorite TV show and taking a drink whenever a specific character said or did something with while attending a session anytime a speaker used the word “financial” (it was a financial services conference) the audience would have to take a drink of water. It helped reinforce the drinking of water throughout the day and staying hydrated.

Keep attendees hydrated using unique containers, branded water bottles and fun games. Photo by Beth Buehler.

Start sourcing early. Denver and many mountain towns in particular are popular destinations in Colorado. Even with the planned expansion of the Colorado Convention Center and additional hotel rooms and meeting and event space added in recent years, availability is tight.

Blue Bear sculpture peaking into the Colorado Convention Center. Courtesy VISIT DENVER.

Most importantly remember that Colorado is known as one of the friendliest states, so reach out to an event professional in Colorado for some friendly conversation!

Devon Binder, CMM, CMP has worked primarily for third party meeting management companies and association management companies until opening her own meeting management company, Red Door Alliances in June 2015. She is also a founding member of EventWaves, a community-driven events platform that solves logistical, marketing and collaborative challenges in the meetings & events industry.