When you gather with the créme de la créme of the wedding industry in Sea Island, Georgia, magic is bound to happen!
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For years I have watched from afar as our wedding industry’s crème de la crème gathered in beautiful resorts all over the world to learn from one another, build new relationships and gain inspiration from some of the most beautiful parties.
Madison Sanders Events has grown in ways I never imagined possible and when the opportunity arose to join this talented group of industry professionals in the charming Sea Island, Georgia for the Engage Luxury Wedding Business Summit, I knew I couldn’t pass it up.
Engage was everything I dreamed of and more. It was surreal as I was sitting beside and building friendships with those individuals that had inspired me for years (HELLO Imoni Events, Jordan Payne Events, Carley Roney, Southern Weddings and Sapphire Events!). I was incredibly nervous to attend but I quickly discovered how unnecessary that was considering every person in that room started their business the same way I did… with some fears and a little self doubt, but also with plenty of determination, passion for the wedding industry and love for the couples we serve.
Image Credits on images when clicked
This particular summit featured keynote speakers including Mindy Weiss, Marcy Blum, Preston Bailey, Simon T. Bailey, Abby Larson and more. Attendees have the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions on an array of topics such as design presentation, social media, branding and networking. There was surprise and delight around every corner from fun themed breaks (my favorite was the BUBBLES bar!) and live entertainment. Cocktail parties, dine-arounds, dancing and a Gala to round out the weekend…it was just as much fun as it was educational!
For weeks leading up to my first Engage, I scoured the internet for insight on what to expect, what to pack and how to prepare for this trip. Now that I am on this side of the experience, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my feedback and ideas to make the most of this adventure for other perspective attendees. Here are my TOP 5 reflections for you!
On the first day of the summit, any First-Time-Attendees are encouraged to attend a special session that outlines what is to be expected over the next few days. It’s here that they share tips like “Drink a lot of water….and go easy on the alcohol at parties.” and “However many ‘balls’ a person has on their name tag will represent the number of times they’ve attended an Engage Summit…some people have a lot of ‘balls'” … oh! And “Don’t be nervous to ask these super-famous fellow attendees questions about their life and biz…Stars, they’re just like us!” Was I still nervous? Absolutely.
This session was incredibly helpful to calm my nerves and to let me know that I was not the only one with a lot of questions swirling about what was to come. My favorite insight? Shira Savada, Real Weddings Editor with Martha Stewart Weddings, gave us all a sigh of relief when she said “Whatever you packed in your suitcase? It will do! Now, stop stressing over what to wear!”. I chuckled…who me?! You think I stressed over my clothing for this event? Umm…YOU BET! Before attending Engage I had worked myself up to think that this experience was a major fashion show and that I needed a new wardrobe as a ticket to attend. If you are planning to attend for your first time, and you are reading this post, you may be freaking out just like I was. But PLEASE stop. It’s not worth it! I now understand that what is most important is that you feel COMFORTABLE and CONFIDENT throughout the summit. Be yourself, pack the basics and things that make you feel like YOU and rock it!
The Engage team sent some goodies in the mail in advance of my trip that outlined the itinerary and a rough schedule of the days/parties. Included in this packet was a list of suggested attire with descriptions like “Business Casual” or “Resort Casual” or “Semi-Formal”. For some reason these descriptions really stressed me out because on a normal day I wear Black Jeans, Black Top + a Jacket or Sweater. I was also feeling overwhelmed because in my mind we were weeks away from Christmas (lots of sweaters and boots) and I was headed to a warmer climate in Georgia!
What I needed to do in this time of extreme anxiety over clothing was to remember is that what is considered Business Casual in L.A., for instance, is very different than what might be considered Business Casual in the Northeast. And attendees are coming from all over the world! Someone will always be better dressed than you are….and someone might be worse off than you are. That is just the truth in any scenario! Take ownership of your personal style and don’t try to be something you are not. Do you want to leave a great first impression on the people you meet? Sure! If you currently meet clients for consultations, or attend networking events in your own city I am confident that you already desire to make a great first impression on brides/grooms/colleagues and I am confident you probably have clothing that already does the trick.
Let’s talk about some of MY go-to’s/suggestions on what to include in that suitcase. Keep in mind, I’m a simple less-is-more kinda girl. (This is where that idea of that oh-so-trendy capsule wardrobe can come in handy!)
Here are some pictures of things I actually wore… I should have done a daily OOTD. Maybe next time!
When I shared that I was interested in attending an Engage Summit, I had the encouragement of a dear industry friend, Weddings by Hannah, to register and make it happen…together! I definitely recommend having a trusted travel companion and someone that you can bounce ideas off of before and after the experience. (It is also a saving grace when you have horrible travel luck and need someone to endure the journey with. Ask me about how we missed our flights from ATL > JAX and had to rent a car to complete our trip…that might be a story for another day.) Hannah and I were able to split accommodations costs which was super helpful and it was nice to have a familiar face! We also acted as one another’s “sidekick” for those first few sessions or parties where we felt intimidated by all of the new faces!
If you are attending with a friend … DO Encourage one another throughout the week to step outside of your comfort zone and make the most of your time there. DO Establish a game plan for how you’d like to split travel expenses. DO Share your goals for the week so that you can have accountability in crushing them. DON’T Be afraid to split up or “divide and conquer” to create your own experiences. DON’T Treat the week as a competition for who can make more connections…that is just silly. DON’T Expect that you will have identical take-aways…what works for your business can differ from your friends and that is good!
I’ll be honest, I feel like Hannah and I rocked this buddy system and went in with a clear mind that we wanted to get the most out of the experience that we possibly could. The only way we felt like that could happen was for us to have our OWN experiences. We got ready and waltzed into cocktail parties together, made some mutual friends and introduced one another to our new acquaintances but then really made an effort to divide and conquer. She had her goals and I had my own goals. We cheered one another on as we saw connections being made and it was super comforting to be able to come back to our shared room at the end of the day and talk about the new things we’ve learned.
There are LOTS of little treats and breaks packed into the experience from Champagne Bubble Bars, candy/sugar rush opportunities and stations with small bites and lots of coffee/tea! My one big regret? Not prioritizing a full meal packed with the sustenance that would carry me through! I was so excited to chit chat and network on the first night and I didn’t eat a full meal…and then I had a glass (or two) of wine. Let’s just say that caused for a difficult next couple of days. Yep, I’m keeping it real around here! Unfortunately for me, that oversight on my first night then resulted in a full on “stomach flu” and then a REAL STOMACH FLU the days following. I think between all of the travel, hand-shaking (I should’ve added hand sanitizer to my packing list) and very few nutrients, I had not set myself up for success and my body was not feeling strong. You power through, because you want to make the most of it, but I could have felt way better if I would have prioritized my meals!
Pack granola bars, an apple, some almonds, etc. to get real food in between meal times. While adorable gummy candies and chocolate covered popcorn are a tasty indulgence, they can’t be your only snack all week. Fill that water bottle and stay hydrated!
Get ready to WERK…. I mean, NETWORK! I think one of the greatest parts of attending Engage was the networking opportunity and connections made with professionals in the wedding industry from all over the US and beyond. I now have an incredible group of individuals that I feel confident in reaching out to when looking for a new source or way of handling a business scenario. The keynote speakers and break out sessions are amazing. However, that the most powerful learning came from one-on-one conversations I had with different planners and pros during the breaks. It is important to know that everyone attending really does have their guard down and is willing to be vulnerable. We’ve all had highs and lows in our businesses and understand the power of community. That community is felt strongly at Engage and I was so grateful to be a part. Yes, networking can be uncomfortable….but you realize quickly that you will get the most out of this opportunity if you are willing to put yourself out there and extend an introduction to those around you. With so many talents and experienced pros in one room, you are sure to gain some incredible insight from every conversation you have! Be prepared to make some friends!
There can be a lot of powerful connections made through Engage…but like any relationship it requires thoughtful pursuit, follow up and nurture to continue to grow! This can take shape in many different ways – social Media following and engagement, email follow ups, handwritten notes, small gifts, trips to visit a new friend, etc. I’ve been so spoiled to reconnect with some individuals traveling through Kansas City who reached out for a coffee date while they were here. In addition, when I travel to Dallas for wedding planning meetings I now have an entire list of folks to grab drinks/coffee with between time spent with my clients! The trick is… actually reaching out and actually doing that follow up! It takes two to tango so you’ve got to be committed to these relationships following the experience or you won’t see the fruit that can come from them! For future attendees, I would recommend keeping a pretty clear calendar in the days following the trip so that you can actively follow up, send out little notes/gifts and continue the conversations you’ve had with others while there. You never know what doors may open!
All in all, Engage was incredible and I cannot wait to attend again in the future! If I’m able to swing it this year, you’ll see me on the beaches of Nizuc! A very special thank you to Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Acre for this amazing experience and for all of the hard work and dedication it has taken to build Engage into what it is today!