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Gary Kroeger


Why you CAN go home again.  Connecting with our Midwestern values and quality of life.

About Gary Kroeger: Gary Kroeger was born in Cedar Falls and attended Northwestern University.  In Chicago, he helped found The Practical Theatre Company with fellow alums Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall.  This association caught the eye of Saturday Night Live producers and the three of them became regulars on the venerable late-night comedy show.

After SNL, Gary moved to Los Angeles for a series on CBS, called Spies with George Hamilton and later produced George’s daytime chat show, The George and Alana Show.  Television appearances on many popular shows led to starring roles in films A Man Called Sarge, The Return of the Shaggy Dog, and Archie To Riverdale and Back.  Gary went on to host versions of The Newlywed Game and the classic Beat the Clock. He was the weatherman in a popular episode of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

In 2003, Gary moved back to Cedar Falls and worked as Creative Director for Mudd Advertising and is now the CEO of Outlier Creative Solutions.  He is a motivational speaker as well as an After-Dinner speaker and emcee. He keeps active in community theater and is the statewide spokesman for Court Appointment Special Advocates for abused and neglected children.  Gary speaks frequently at events that focus on mentoring students to become better citizens through leadership.

A political enthusiast who has run for office, Gary continues to write his blog “Gary Has Issues” and was a featured columnist in the Waterloo Courier.


Telling Your Story with Photos:  Tips & Tools for Capturing Amazing Images with Your Cellphone Camera

Discover the versatility of your smartphone camera, from mastering the camera app to capturing stunning shots in diverse conditions.  Learn composition, lighting, and editing techniques that will transform your photography game.  Veronica’s practical insights and creative tips will empower you to harness the full potential of your smartphone camera, leaving you inspired and ready to capture extraordinary moments effortlessly.

About Veronica Bareman: Veronica Bareman, the acclaimed “Hip Grandma” of photography and travel, is an award-winning photographer based in picturesque Holland, Michigan. She expertly melds creativity and storytelling in every project. As the owner of Veronicajune Photography, she captures scenes with unparalleled detail. Beyond the lens, she’s a multimedia pro, managing two successful blogs – Veronicajune Photography and Hip Grandma with a Camera. Her influential online presence has made her a sought-after photographer, published author, respected freelance writer, and frequent contributor to publications like Travel Awaits and Lakeside Living.

Recently, she celebrated a significant career milestone with her book, “100 Things to Do in Holland, Michigan Before You Die,” a captivating glimpse into the culture and beauty of Holland, Michigan.
Veronica’s unique strength lies in her seamless blend of photography and storytelling, making her not just a photographer but a visual storyteller who leaves a lasting impression.
Natasha Nicholes


All in the family with Natasha Nicholes of Houseful of Nicholes

In this session, we will examine multigenerational travel trends and why every CVB needs to explore and encourage this through the content creators they partner with.

About Natasha NicholesNatasha Nicholes has been a traveler since birth. She mostly goes road-tripping with her dad, mom, and three siblings over spring break. That love of road-tripping has grown into a love of travel in general. Now married with four children of her own, Natasha has become a champion of multigenerational travel. As the owner of Houseful of NicholesNatasha has found a unique way to share about the travels that she goes on with her family that also includes parents, grandparents, aunts and nieces/nephews. Family is important to her and became even more so when her sister passed away in 2002. Focusing on the need to create memories with loved ones while she could, she set off to take as many adventures as possible with as many family members as possible.



Are you thinking about buying a drone?  Or did you just buy a drone? We’ll talk about – What equipment you need and what you don’t need.  Where to fly and where not to.  When do most crashes happen and how to avoid it,  How to get the best photos and videos from your drone.

About Brian Abeling: Brian Abeling has been a freelance travel photographer for ten years and an active drone pilot for the past six years.  He is a frequent contributor to regional magazines as well as travel destinations.  His website is Iowa Road Trip (


Win-Win for Both Content Creators & Destinations

A discussion on the best practices for destinations when working with content creators. This session will explore how destinations can attract content creators and create lasting relationships with them for the mutual benefit of both partners.  Destinations have the ability to create additional value opportunities for content creators and how these considerations reap lasting results for those destinations.

About Kerrie Kuiper: Kerrie Kuiper is the Executive Director for Visit Fort Dodge and works with event planning committees, tourism development, office operations, budget, advertising, and the Visit Fort Dodge Marketing Grant program. Kuiper represents VFD on Iowa Travel Industry Partners. She is the VFD liaison to the Main Street Fort Dodge Board and Fort Dodge Public Art Commission.

Theresa Goodrich profile photo



Optimizing your site for search engines has always been challenging, but with AI’s increased power and presence, it’s become even more difficult. Listicles and formulas are all the rage. How can you rank in Google without sounding like everybody else, even the robots?
In this session, Theresa will demystify SEO while showing you how to avoid resembling an AI-generated mess while keeping your unique voice.
With easy-to-understand step-by-step tips, you’ll learn:
  • Why SEO is important (it’s not only what you think)
  • What is Reader Intent and why it matters
  • Which comes first: content or keywords?
  • How to find your perfect keywords, including free and paid tools
  • Where to put them
  • How to write for your reader so you don’t sound like a robot
  • And how to be a good “netizen.”
You CAN write a good story and still rank well in Google. In this session, you’ll find out how.

About Theresa Goodrich: Theresa L. Goodrich is the force behind, a site dedicated to telling in-depth stories of magnificent, quirky, and unique places. Theresa is an Emmy-winning author obsessed with road trips, camping, and history. She’s turned these passions into multiple books, including Midwest Road Trip Adventures, 2nd Edition, and Midwest State Park Adventures. She’s the author of Living Landmarks of ChicagoPlanning Your Perfect Road TripShow Me Shipshewana, and the Alex Paige cozy mystery series. She’s spoken across the country at the Travel and Adventure Show and the Chicago Auto Show, mentored at Bloghouse, and leads the Midwest Travel Network’s Writing Workshop. She’s driven, often literally, to inspire you to get off the interstates and explore the towns and communities that make this country a constant and welcome surprise.



In today’s fast-paced society, we often overlook the world around us as we dream about a world just beyond our reach.  The grass is always greener, right?  Well, sometimes it turns out that there is just as much green beneath your feet as there is anywhere else.  With video, we have the unique opportunity to reveal the beauty and magic that so many people fail to recognize.  In this session, Steven will share the tips and tricks he has learned along his travels to re-engage our communities, build a sense of pride and belonging, and celebrate the world around us.

About Steven Kimmi: Steven Kimmi is an educator turned TikTok travel influencer based in central Kansas. His travel platform, Midwest Explorer, launched in 2020 and is one of the most recognized travel TikToks coming out of Kansas. His content offers affordable and accessible travel advice to Midwesterners, specifically Kanasans, and ideas for small-town adventures. Steven is known for his humor and his approachable, down-to-earth take on travel influencing. He is in the process of launching a new project under the Midwest Explorer brand: “Tiny Towns, Big Stories,” a digital interview series and podcast that chronicles the rich histories of small rural communities in Kansas. The new project is an extension of his travels across small-town Kansas and is an effort to encourage local travel and celebrate those who are rural by choice. For the last 18 years, Steven has served the Kansas education system as a teacher, school principal, activities director, and now a district administrator. He serves on a number of local boards to advocate for rural life and the communities in his area. He has five wonderful children that he often tries to convince to travel with him, but is currently experiencing a 30% success rate. Find him at: and @stevenkimmi

Phil Gerbyshak - speaker

Phil Gerbyshak


In this engaging session, Phil Gerbyshak offers his expertise to travel influencers and destination representatives, focusing on cultivating productive partnerships. As a traveler at heart, Phil provides actionable insights for creating a symbiotic relationship between the storytellers of the travel world and the destinations they bring to life.

About Phil Gerbyshak: Phil Gerbyshak is a man of multiple talents, deftly blending the roles of a tech enthusiast, relationship expert, and sales wizard. Phil has spent over two decades navigating the complex terrains of Wall Street and Main Street, empowering corporate titans and small businesses. His approach is not merely transactional; Phil’s forte is crafting enduring connections, leveraging the latest tech, and deploying his sales acumen to elevate businesses to new heights. His prowess as an author is evident in his work “Zero Dollar Consultancy,” and his electrifying keynote addresses are a testament to his expertise and engaging speaking style.

Away from the corporate hustle, Phil’s zest for life shines through his personal passions. He is a devoted family man, prioritizing quality time with his wife, children, and canine companions. An avid pinball enthusiast, he finds joy in the silver ball’s chaotic dance, a reflection of his own dynamic journey through sales and marketing. His love for business literature underscores his commitment to continuous learning and growth, further enriching his professional endeavors and podcast insights

Sara Broers



Be inspired and learn how you can embrace the word “NO.” Sara has heard the word many, many times. She has learned to view the word “NO” as a Yes. In this session you will walk away knowing that is OK to hear the word “NO.” You will learn that “NO” will be your best friend, as you grow your passion and/or business. 

About Sara Broers: 16 years is a long time to be working in the online space, and that is where Sara Broers has spent time since 2008. Sara Broers is the co-owner of the Midwest Travel Network, CEO of Travel With Sara, podcast host of The Iowa Traveler, author of 100 Things To Do In Iowa Before You Die and Perfect Day Iowa. She co-authored Midwest Road Trip Adventures and Midwest State Park Adventures. Sara leads the Midwest Travel Network Pitching Workshop and she is also a frequent speaker at tourism events across the country. Relationships are the backbone of Sara’s business. Sara’s passion for travel and tourism will show you that you can be the next destination or content creator that everyone wants to partner with.

Sara and her husband live on the family farm in Iowa. They have two grown sons and three grandchildren. Sara attributes a lot of her success to her father, an Iowa farmer. She and her husband enjoy camping, hiking, road trips, and anything their three grandchildren can rope them into doing. Fun fact about Sara, she’s also an auctioneer.  

Linsey Knerl

Linsey Knerl


Artificial intelligence (AI) is here, and it’s changing how we create and consume content. What should creators and destinations know before they use it? Linsey will explore the legal, ethical, and practical considerations for creatives wanting to supercharge their storytelling. Learn how – with the right boundaries –  AI can be harnessed to improve workflows and bring even more humanity to your work.

About Linsey Knerl: Linsey is a 16+ year freelance writer and author (as well as an alumni speaker of the Midwest Travel Conference.) She currently covers AI and machine learning (ML) topics for brands like HP, Coveo, and several B2B SaaS brands in the health, fintech, and e-commerce industries.

Her passion for technology and travel has influenced how she homeschools her children (all six!) on a rural homestead in Nebraska. When she’s not making gravy, writing gritty crime stories, or promoting her book (“Homeschool Hacks: How to Give Your Kid a Great Education without Losing your Job – Or Your Mind”), she does the marketing and copy for her husband’s antique business.

Sheila wearing a hat in her studio



You have something to say, but you’re not the only one! Sheila has spent most of her life performing on stage or talking through a microphone, but she hasn’t always been the best listener. In this interactive session, Sheila will walk you through confidently expressing yourself while hearing what others say. She’ll also discuss collaboration and why we should be each other’s biggest fans.

About Sheila Jenkinson: Sheila was born and raised on a farm in rural Northeast Nebraska. She moved away and then returned to Nebraska, where she and her husband enjoy living on a farm without actually farming it. Sheila has been a former on-air personality for over twenty years for three different stations, serving as news director, morning show co-host, and/or mid-day announcer for several years. Later, she went part-time to focus on raising their two kids.

Sheila is currently the host of the Growing Small Town Nebraska Podcast: Revitalization in the Cornhusker State. Besides traveling for the podcast, she also enjoys traveling outside of her home state, public speaking, teaching piano, a crazy amount of indoor and outdoor hobbies, and seeking out new adventures. The Growing Small Town Nebraska podcast can be found wherever you listen to your favorite podcast or on the website: . You can also find clips and more on Facebook or Instagram.