A panel of top event professionals shared their successful business strategies and painful lessons learned from the recent recession at yesterday's Opening General Session of The Special Event 2011. The annual conference and trade show runs through Jan. 28 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Getting his work force to help cut nearly $1 million in expenses was one of his smartest decisions, said Tony Conway, CMP, CEO and owner of Atlanta's A Legendary Event, while having to cut employee benefits was his toughest.

Jim Lisi, president and CEO of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based EventRents, said he made tough choices such as cutting "marginal" staff and investing in 60-foot-wide tents, which—while costly--landed him new business.

Faced with having to close an office and separate from a top producer, Kenneth Kristoffersen, CSEP, president and creative director of Canadian-based POP, said he learned to "let go," while wedding planner Joyce Scardina Becker, CMP, of San Francisco-based Events of Distinction said she shifted her revenue stream to include enrolling more students in her wedding certification program.

Also at the Opening General Session, Special Events editor Lisa Hurley announced the winners of the Tabletop Gallery competition:

Tabletops Below $1,000 Each

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Charlotte Tjong, Daly City, Calif.

Tabletops $1,000 and Above Each:

"Aubergine Arabesque" by Newberry Brothers Greenhouse and Florist, Denver.

Photos and descriptions of all the Tabletop Gallery entries will appear in the May-June issue of Special Events.

WEDDING BELLE

In her keynote speech at the annual Wedding Lunch, celebrity planner Sasha Souza, of Napa, Calif.-based Sasha Souza Events, listed some of her "favorite things," including Bloombeads, a service that turns bridal bouquets into jewelry, and the ColorSchemer iPhone app, which scans colors so they can be matched perfectly.

Guests also enjoyed stunning vignettes in the Wedding Gallery, which ranged from vivid citrus hues in an Indian-theme setting to a dairy-dream wedding brunch featuring a "cake" made of tiers of cheese wheels along with oversize cows in bas relief on the walls; the whimsical design was created by Los Angeles-based Good Gracious Events.

TODAY'S LINE-UP

The show continues today with sessions including "Michael Cerbelli's Hot Event and Entertainment Ideas 2011," "Wrap up the Room with Décor," "Who Needs Insurance Anyway?" and "Trends in Events 2011."

Photos by Special Events