25 Steal-Worthy Meeting Style Ideas From Engage!13 Wedding Summit

Clever ideas for event gifts, catering, decor, and entertainment abounded at the popular conference for luxury-wedding industry professionals.

By Lauren Matthews June 19, 2013, 7:15 AM EDT

Photo: Jeremie Barlow

Engage!13 General Sessions Engage!13 Dessert Party Engage!13 Welcome Party Engage!13 Closing-Night Gala
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The 11th biannual Engage! luxury-wedding business summit was held June 2 to 5 at the Inn on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The sold-out, three-day conference drew 275 wedding professionals from 27 states and 13 countries who came to hear speakers like Colin Cowie and David Beahm speak about the challenges and opportunities facing the wedding and event industry. In addition to the daily speaker and panel sessions, a series of daytime networking activities and nighttime parties kept attendees’ energy going—and were designed to show off all the venue has to offer for events.

Planned by Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce of wedding strategy consulting firm Engaging Concepts, the entire weekend was designed around a 1920s theme. “It was a natural fit being that we were at the Biltmore Estate, which was in its heyday from 1895 until the 1930s,” Grinnals said. “And with the popularity of Downton Abbey and the release of The Great Gatsby just weeks before the event, it seemed like the stars were all lined up for us.”

Gifts for the Good Life headed up the design and creation of all the branded swag, accessories, and collateral for the event, including the welcome totes. The elaborately branded swag bags included items that nodded to the weekend’s Prohibition theme, as well as treats from the South.

Kicking things off on Sunday was a Southern hospitality-infused barnyard bash at the Biltmore’s historic Antler Hill Barn, one of nine event facilities on the property. The four-part welcome event included cocktail hour in the garden, a field-to-table feast in the barn, desserts by the campfire, and a chance to meet the farmyard animals. As the exclusive design partner for the evening, online event decor and accessory company Pressed Cotton provided the party’s rustic-chic design. Guests enjoyed country and bluegrass music played by live band Hilary Hawke & the Flipsides, and local distillery Troy & Sons provided an interactive mixology bar. The dinner stations, provided by the Biltmore’s catering team, offered Carolina pulled pork sandwiches with blue cheese coleslaw, fried green tomatoes with tomato bacon jam, pork ribs, crab hush puppies, grilled corn on the cob, and roasted corn spoon breads with piquillo jam.

On Monday, attendees gathered in an open-air tent for a half-day of 22-minute platform presentations and panel discussions from event industry heavyweights such as David Stark and Todd Fiscus. In the afternoon, guests could choose from an extensive list of small-group experiences, including horseback riding, archery lessons, a beer tasting, rafting, and biking. “Attendees were asked to rank their top five activity choices in advance, and all were accommodated with one of their top three choices,” Grinnals said. “It allowed for intimate and organic networking in a non-presentation setting.” Before heading out for the afternoon, every guest received a branded gift bag relating to his or her chosen activity. For example, those taking part in outdoor activities got drawstring backpacks, packs of granola, and reusable water bottles; those on the winery tour got wine charms and a custom tasting notes set.  

On Monday evening, the headlining speakers each hosted a small group of attendees for dinner at various private locations around the estate. At 9 p.m., everyone reconvened for an outdoor dessert party that had an eclectic vintage look, with china from Upstyled Setting and lush florals by the Bloom Room presented in antique vases. Later on, an after-party was held in hotel’s ballroom, which was transformed into a speakeasy for the evening. A faux brick façade and door, equipped with a sliding peephole and bouncer, signaled the party's “secret” location.

After the next day's sessions and a picnic lunch, guests headed back to their rooms to get ready for the 1920s-themed closing-night gala. Attendees could also take advantage of a wardrobe styling and accessory suite, where they could borrow on-theme jewelry and hair accessories for the evening, plus pick up tips from stylist Julie Sabatino of the Stylish Dresser.

Before heading out to the South Terrace and Italian Garden for the gala, guests entered through the Biltmore House where Dini Cecil Pickering, the great-granddaughter of George and Edith Vanderbilt and current co-owner, was on hand to greet them. “Guests were also welcomed to take a private tour—the Winter Garden was set up exactly as it was for Cornelia Vanderbilt's wedding brunch in 1924,” Grinnals said. The main event was set up on the lawn in an airy white tent from Classic Event Rental. Karen Tran—with support from Blossoms at Biltmore Park—designed the Gatsby-worthy event, which included a wall of white roses, dozens of sparkling chandeliers from Signature Chandeliers, and centerpieces dripping with feathers, gold sequins, and crystals. Guests entered through a tented hallway lined with candelabras and rose petals before emerging into the main space, where an array of entertainment offerings from Elan Artists packed the party, including vintage burlesque and cabaret dancers. A fireworks show over the estate capped off the night's festivities.

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