Unicorns? Check. A wizard? Check. Dance breaks? Check. Bingo pajama party? Check.

Game-changing sessions and connections? That’s definitely a check.

If you’ve been there, done that, you were likely here at SPINCon 2018 doing it all over again.

“This is why I come every year,” said my newfound SPINCon friend, laughing as she took the hand of a newcomer next to her, looked her in the eye, as instructed by the speaker on stage, and said, “It’s gonna be weird, but you got this.”

SPINCon, the annual conference for members of SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network), kicked off in down-to-Earth fashion Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at The Don Cesar, the wonderful “Pink Palace” in St. Pete Beach, Florida, that is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

The theme of this year’s show was “In Pursuit of Magic,” and magic was certainly in the air from the start.

Shawna Suckow, founder of SPIN, took the stage wrapped in a giant plastic unicorn—now a tradition of sorts at SPINCon—and a T-shirt that said, “In a field of horses, be a unicorn.”

Tracey Smith, executive director of SPIN, joined her in a full-on wizard costume.

“Whether planners or suppliers, we create magic,” Smith told attendees.

Take the SPINCon Pledge

Not your average conference, SPINCon is designed as a “no judgement” zone and the pledge you take at the opening session proves just that:

“I do solemnly swear to leave my preconceived notions at the door. To welcome honest friendship. To hug a sponsor when I see one. And to just be open to the experience.”

SPINCon 2018 Attendees After a High Five, Credit: Josh Power Photography

SPINCon 2018 Attendees After a High Five, Credit: Josh Power Photography​

“Several years ago, we started to focus on not just the person who comes to work,” Suckow said. “There’s so much more to us than that. We wanted to create SPINCon as a place where everyone can come after your crazy hectic year and just exhale. This is your safe place where you can rest.

“You don’t have to be on, you don’t have to wear your mask, you don’t have to be perfect, and we actually kind of expect that,” she added.

The secret sauce for SPIN is that we take care of the whole being, according to Smith.

“So while you’re here [at SPINCon] we’re going to help you with your brain, your body, your being and your business,” she said.

Power to Its Participants and Moving Forward

For SPINCon 2018’s content, Smith said all members were polled for topics of interest and sessions were voted on.

The final lineup included breakout sessions with topics focusing on everything from growing your business to marketing to mindfulness and self-care to pricing tips and tricks to artificial intelligence, including Suckow's own program, Become a Marketplace Unicorn! Six Steps to Make Yourself and Your Business more Findable, Likeable, Memorable and Bookable.

A new program this year was “Going Outside to Go Inside,” which was a 3.5-hour combination professional and personal development retreat focusing on the power of being clear and present to become more productive and achieve better results. The session was an expansion and facilitation of the powerful opening keynote speech by Brian O'Malley, an adventurer, author, speaker and photographer who zeroed in on the importance of clarity and looking within to achieve insight.

Going Outside to Go Inside, Credit: Lori Tenny

Going Outside to Go Inside Professional and Personal Development Retreat, Credit: Lori Tenny​

O'Malley and Dean Savoca, professional speaker from The Savoca Performance Group, facilitated the packed session, which took attendees outside to melt away the chaos of a busy mind and use nature and connections with each other to slow the mind and find insight and inspiration.

Another new element was “quiet time” for the last five minutes of every session.

“Research shows that when you are in a learning process, if you give your brain a few minutes of relaxation afterward, you will retain more information,” Smith said.

SPIN: Chain was also introduced at this year’s show, during which the roughly 170 attendees, representing two-thirds planners and one-third suppliers, broke out into small groups to make connections, get to know new destinations, venues and planner needs.

SPIN: Chain Breakouts, Credit: Josh Power Photography

SPIN: Chain Planner and Supplier Breakouts, Credit: Josh Power Photography

2018 SPINCon Award Winners 

Meanwhile, SPIN had no shortage of awards to give out this year. SPINCon’s first Rosie Awards were given to planners Terry Lombardo and Tom Anderson for their contributions to SPIN. The award, a giant silver cup signifying that with SPIN, your cup always runneth over with support, is in recognition of a planner and dedicated SPIN member who took her life a few years ago.

She was the impetus for changing the entire concept of the show to be a place where members can find family, friendship and support for any struggles they may be experiencing, while also making business connections, learning new strategies and letting their hair down to have fun.

At the SPINCon 2018 luncheon, another highlight was the 40 Over 40 Awards, which SPIN started last year. The awards recognize 40 planners over the age of 40 who have made outstanding contributions to the industry.

The Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach, Florida, Credit: Josh Power Photography

The Don CeSar (Home of SPINCon 2018), St. Pete Beach, Florida, Credit: Josh Power Photography

Meanwhile, SPIN held its first leadership retreat before the show as well as an advisory board meeting in which solid goals were set. Included are a new membership database that will be implemented by the end of January 2019. The member experience, including the website, will be completely enhanced through the initiative, including a job board and a Facebook community.

In January 2019, SPIN will also hold a virtual small business workshop on Zoom that will be led by Suckow. The half-day retreat will be dedicated to going through a workbook to discuss what went well in the past year, what didn’t, and to plan ahead, set goals and hold each other accountable.

In line with its commitment to body and being, next summer, SPIN is also planning a wellness retreat.

“It will be a weekend to relax, rejuvenate and take in nature,” Smith said.

“And we’ll talk business—if we have to,” she added.

Bingo! A Pajama (and Milkshake) Party

Business of the bingo kind was on the agenda for the last night’s party, taking bingo night to an entirely new level. For Not Your Grandma’s Bingo!, attendees arrived in their pajamas, slippers and whatever else made them completely comfortable to kick back, dot some colorful bingo cards, imbibe in “adult-flavored” milkshakes and hit the stage for a few dance breaks in-between—a common practice at the show, particularly to take turns busting a few moves as a giant plastic unicorn.

Not Your Grandma's Bingo Night, Credit: Lori Tenny

Not Your Grandma's Bingo Night, Credit: Lori Tenny

Unicorns—and plenty of other cute fuzzy creatures—were also predominantly featured in SPINCon 2018's innovative CSR initiative with Wildly Different, which facilitiates corporate teambuilidng, CSR and engagement programs. SPIN wanted to focus on a literacy imporovement project for St. Petersburg, and Wildly Different heeded the call.

The cuteness overload fit right in at SPINCon, as attendees stuffed, fluffed and hugged 150 fuzzy animals such as pink unicorns and tigers and dressed them in outfits such as a doctor or Batman. The stuffed animals were to become "Reading Buddies" for disadvantaged youth as part of YMCA Reads of St. Petersburg.

Reading Buddy CSR Activity by Wildly Different, Credit: Lori Tenny

Reading Buddy CSR Activity by Wildly Different, Credit: Lori Tenny

The Reading Rocks CSR initiative also included roughly 700 children's books that were donated by SPINCon 2018 attedees. Of course, "I Am a Unicorn," was the first one I spotted on the donation table. 

The magic pervaded on Tuesday with innovate sessions such as a TED-like talk in which three prominent industry execs, Bonni Scepkowski, Phil Gerbyshak and Christy Lamagna, took on three current business mantras, strategic, logical and authentic, in entertaining and informative fashion.

SPINCon 2018 closed Nov. 13 on as high of a note as it began. Keynote speaker Thom Singer regaled attendees with his hilariously informative and inspiring keynote, The Paradox of Potential, followed by shout outs to all who made the conference happen.

High fives and hugs were plentiful, in typical (untypical) SPIN fashion.

Stay tuned for additional coverage on SPINCon 2018’s breakout sessions.