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Engage Summit: Behind the Scenes Guide

Engage is one of my favorite conferences to attend each year. Touted as THE event to attend to truly connect with and understand the luxury market, Engage takes place in multiple locations domestically in North America, as well as internationally.

Personally, I find that preparation to attend Engage takes more time than other seminars and workshops that I attend throughout the year. Given the typical investment to travel and attend Engage, it makes sense that you’ll want to maximize the opportunity as much as possible.

With my fourth Engage (Nizuc!) right around the corner, I thought it would be timely to share some of my favorite tips for ensuring your attendance at Engage is both productive and enjoyable.

First- have a plan

I always loved when someone local when to the same Engage that I did, because it gave us the chance to sit down together prior and map out our goals. After all, attending Engage will easily cost you several thousands dollars and it’s essential to be able to answer the question- “what has to happen in order for this to be considered a success?”

The hope is that you’ve given this thought well before you registered and paid, so now is the time to revisit this and think on:

  • What would be a realistic ROI for attending Engage?
  • Who would I like to meet at Engage?
  • What do I hope to learn from Engage speakers?

Personally, my initial goal in attending was to meet as many quality editors at the Media Lounge as possible. I prioritized this part of the event, even being one of the first to show up during breakfast. As a result, I met everyone I wanted to and am still thankful for the editorial relationships that have resulted from that morning.

Be mindful that your successes won’t be won overnight- it takes time to forge relationships, no matter the conference. So for now, the very best thing you could do is to find a fellow Engage attendee (local or otherwise) and spend a few minutes prior to the event chatting about your goals for attending and how you could potentially assist one another.

How should l book my travel?

Typically, Engage registration begins midday Monday so many people realistically will arrive on Sunday, giving them a day to unpack, catch up, and relax. If you don’t have a wedding on that Saturday, and you’re able to budget it, treat yourself by coming in Saturday so you can really take a full day to enjoy the property and great up for a busy week.

Can’t make it until Monday? I myself had my Cayman flight cancel on a Sunday, and I wasn’t able to make it until Monday, and it was perfectly fine. I just made a point to get a great night’s rest before I flew out, and I didn’t feel like I missed too much.

As for leaving, most will head out on Thursday. Bear in mind that the gala takes place typically on Wednesday night so don’t rush out the door first thing if you can help it, because you will be exhausted. The airport distance varies considerably- I was only 15-20 minutes away in Palm Beach while in Banff, it was over 2 hours away. Airport transfer is sometimes handled within your Engage registration but in other instances, they will send you options to book on your own.

As for the Hotel, book early if you can. I booked Nizuc several months out and wasn’t able to get the exact room I had wanted so in hindsight, it would have made sense to just go ahead and get the room when I registered.

Where do I begin with packing?

If you’re attending Engage internationally, start early to map out anything you may need to ensure your electronics work overseas.  Above and beyond the dress codes, you’ll want to be mindful of the local weather.

Personally, I also bring my laptop and expect to work on site. Not everyone shares this sentiment and with good reason. Engage is about forging connections, which you can’t do if you’re busy with your nose in a laptop. But given the timing is typically Sunday-Thursday, it’s near impossible for me to step away for such a significant amount of time. So, bring your laptop if you need to, along with an easy tote or laptop to carry around on site. It may just end up living in your hotel room, but at least you can be prepared.

As for business cards, I always bring a few but I daresay that I’ve never actually given them out. What I particularly love about Engage is that they give you a great, hard cover book with photos of each attendees. With the exception of Banff, it’s been small enough to carry around. So when I’ve made a connection, I take a moment to make a note near their name with what my next step actions would be.

Lastly, be mindful of how much your bags weigh going into Engage. If you’re nearing the weight limit already, there’s a strong chance you’ll go over with all the swag and need to pay considerably if you don’t have an additional bag. Bring only what you need and nothing more.

Ok do I need to pack a bag for swag?

The Engage swag is legendary- all you have to do is follow along on the Engage Instagram to see. Early on, it was suggested that I bring an empty overnight bag and tuck it into my suitcase, and that has served me well over the years. Others may bring a full empty suitcase, but I’ve never necessarily seen a need to do so.

What about the clothes?

If there is one question I get asked the most about Engage, it’s- do you really have to change your clothes several times a day.

My answer? Well, yes and no.

Typically, the Engage team will introduce a series of dress codes for each event and admittedly, it’s easy to get wrapped up in finding the perfect outfit. In fact, my first year, I can’t even imagine how much I spent on Rent the Runway.

But then on site, I quickly came to the conclusion that attendees more not paying attention to what YOU were wearing- instead, they were focused on their own outfits. It made perfect sense and from that point on, I enjoyed honoring the themes as much as possible, without completely stressing out over how I would look.

With that being said, I will still admit that I’m quick to get one last-minute blow out before the flight, and then try to book something either on site or within walking distance. Engage is an all day and all-night sort of affair so if I schedule a couple of blow outs, that’s one less thing I need to be concerned about. Word to the wise- if your salon options are limited on site, book early so you don’t have to miss your chance later.

Can I ship my Rent the Runway clothes to the property?

Some attendees opt to utilize a rental service, such as Rent the Runway. From a practicality standpoint, it may make sense to send the items directly to the hotel. I’ve taken this route a handful of times with conferences but would caution you on the following:

  • First, stick with domestic properties only. International shipping is not practically, and typically, not even an option for you.
  • Next, make sure there is shipping and receiving on site at the hotel and ask for any fees (as there will almost always be fees). When calling to check, ask them typically how long it will take for a package to process. The first concern is that if it arrives on site prior to you arriving, that could be an issue. It could also arrive at the perfect time, but then take a day to process. Finally, it may take time to ship out, which could delay making it back to Rent the Runway.
  • Even if the timing works out perfectly, you may still need to steam/iron outfits so find out early if they have laundering services on site in case you aren’t able to take care of it in your room.
  • Always choose the eight-day option for renting items- this will give you the wiggle room you need.

Personally, I’ve had enough issues with Rent the Runway, that it’s not worth the extra hassle, especially if there are additional fees from the hotel. If you want to explore it, the key is to make sure you have covered all your bases prior to ordering.

Interested in speaking?

One of the most common questions I get asked is- how in the world do you get to speak at Engage? I had the pleasure of first presenting a breakout in Banff last year, and am now eager for my talk in just a few short days in Nizuc.

While I certainly can’t speak on behalf of the Engage team here are a few tips to get you started on the right path:

  • First, you have to go, period. Engage is very different than many of the other conferences you may have been to, so it is essential to get a feel for the overall mission, audience and the speakers already on deck and having success at the conference. Personally, I attended Engage at the Breakers and in the Cayman Islands before being considered and I genuinely think my first talk landed well because I had gone previously.
  • Keep an eye out for the speaker submission form, available on the Engage site. The submission deadline just passed for this year, so set a reminder on your calendar for next fall for when it will historically open again. The sooner you can get your hands on the submission guidelines, the more time you and set aside to craft a thoughtful submission.
  • Offer exclusivity on topic. I’d suggest pitching up to 3 topics and making sure that they are exclusive to Engage. In other words, create topics that are new to your portfolio, ones that you don’t have planned elsewhere.
  • Be mindful of how saturated you are in the marketplace. Engage is a considerable expense, no matter how you look at it. And if you book yourself so much that you’re incredibly accessible for a fraction of the cost, you may want to reconsider that strategy for the time leading up to your submission. Is this a deal breaker? I’m certainly a great example that it’s not but with that, it makes it that much more important that you’re offering a topic that is only to be revealed on the Engage stage.

And if not picked up? Have no fear- there are plenty of great reasons to attend Engage. In the event that you’d like to try again for the coming year, consider having a note set up on your computer so you can jot down speaking ideas as they come to you. Make a concerted effort to attend and be mindful of the talks that were picked up, to give you a better idea of what they may be looking for in the future.

And finally, remember that Engage doesn’t end with the flight home

I am not the first to advise on carving out time after a conference to dig into your to do’s, and connect with attendees. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had great intentions of following that advice and as soon as I’m home, I get caught up in the day-to-day of home and work.

With that, because Engage was a bigger investment, I committed early on to build in time post-conference, even if that meant getting to work as soon as I got on the plane.

The best thing you can first do is create a follow up plan, doing as much of the preparation work in advance so that you can execute immediately upon return. Consider the following strategies:

  • Grab the photo book and follow up as soon as you’re able. Personally, I first add people to my social media channels as appropriate. This is a small but essential step that has allowed me to reconnect with colleagues at other events and conferences throughout the year.
  • Then, I re-read my notes and follow up with people as promised- typically via email. I may have had a great chat with someone, for example, in New England that is eager to connect with more florists and I have just the person for her. So, I’ll prioritize following up and making good on my promise of introducing them.
  • Consider targeting up to 15 or so people that I’d like to send handwritten notes to. If you’ve got a lengthy flight ahead of you, bring the cards with you to get a head start on things. I’ve found that if I don’t do it immediately, it just won’t get done. And it’s perfectly fine to skip this step and do an email, if you fear you’ll run short on time to take this initiative when you arrive home.
  • If you are speaking at Engage, find a way to capture leads during your presentation. This tends to work better in the breakout rooms, and I normally have a lead capture that relates to the presentation and allows me to stay in touch with those who were in my room.
  • Engage will also typically send you a spreadsheet of all attendees, including their mailing addresses and emails. I often used this guide to add people to my holiday card list. When speaking, I also find this to be a great resource for following up with those who may have not made my talk.
  • Share your thanks with Kathryn and Rebecca. I can’t even begin to imagine how much work it is to run multiple Engage Summits throughout the year. If you’ve truly had a spectacular time (and you will), take a few minutes to send a note or card over to Kathryn and Rebecca to let them know how things went. I am sure it will be appreciated.

Track, Track, Track

As noted above, it’s essential to be able to gauge the level of success for attending- after all, how can you be sure it’s the best investment for your company in the coming year? If simply attending and having an amazing time was enough, then it would be an easy yes. But attending any conference should also be about how it will take your company to the next level.

With that in mind, be sure that you have a way to track your successes. If you haven’t done so already, you should be asking every prospective how they heard about you. If you find, over time, that you are receiving referrals from fellow Engage attendees (and hopefully doing the same!), then you’ll quickly be able to quantify your Engage wins. If it was more about press features, be sure to keep an ongoing media list so you can track what gets picked up.

Engage Summits is one of the best personal decisions I’ve made for my company, and my hope is that with the above guidance, you’ll be able to maximize your investment.