Preparations for NLOWE’s 16th annual conference began early in the year. I remember being in St. John’s for one of our staff meetings in January and discussions around conference planning and logistics were well under way: dates, locations, venues, speakers, agenda, sponsors, etc. I know first-hand how efficient, organized, capable and full of energy, all the ladies I work with at NLOWE are and I can picture much of the behind the scenes preparations that took place at head office over the last few months.
All of the detailed planning became evident to me the week before the conference when we all received our finalized agenda which clearly outlined each of our roles and responsibilities throughout the conference. We had concurrent pre-conference and conference sessions and some of our responsibilities included working the registration booth, being responsible for tweets, introducing speakers, working the NLOWE trade show and video booth, or assisting with photography.
Having worked with NLOWE for a little under a year, I was genuinely excited to attend my first annual conference. I had heard rave reviews from both colleagues and past attendees about previous conferences. This year’s conference took place in Gander at the Hotel Gander on April 17 & 18th. I will admit that I had high expectations, because that is the standard I have come to expect from NLOWE. I was not disappointed.
I arrived in Gander with my West Coast colleague Marvella Wells on Wednesday morning. On the drive out we chatted about the upcoming conference – will the conference go well? Will the food be good? Will everyone enjoy the workshop sessions and speakers? – We wanted everyone to walk away with a positive experience. These are the usual things you worry about when you are the organization putting together an event- it’s your organization’s reputation on the line. I am sure Betsy Saunders (Business Growth Advisor) and Lindsay Lindahl (Business Start-up Advisor) for Central were even more anxious because the conference was being held in their region. Betsy and Lindsay were so sweet and left a decorated wine glass filled with little treats in each of the staffs’ hotel rooms. This little gesture of kindness started the conference off on a positive note for me.
After we were all checked into the hotel, we had a quick lunch and short staff meeting to ensure we all knew where we should be and what we should be doing. I loved that all the conference rooms were in close proximity for the event. When you are wearing heels for two days, the less distance you have to walk the better. I imagine Kristy Hoddinott, NLOWE’s Assistant Director must have felt much the same way in those gorgeous, leopard print killer high heel shoes she wore to our opening reception.
The pre-conference started off with two concurrent sessions. One workshop was presented by Alison Stoodley on Social Media Marketing Done Right: Driving Sales Instead of Wasting Time. The comments were very favorable from workshop attendees, as they always are when Alison delivers a presentation. The second concurrent session was presented by Carolann Pollett entitled Making Trade Shows Work for You. Having been in the room for this session I can say it was informative and well received by those in attendance. I have heard Carolann deliver several presentations and I always learn something new. My mother always told me that if I learned one new thing a day, I would be doing well. She would be proud because I was learning many new things at the conference.
Two more concurrent sessions were delivered that afternoon. Brenda Kelleher-Flight facilitated a session on Networking and Connecting in Business in one salon, and in the other, Deborah Youden, Export Consultant with NLOWE, facilitated an expert panel made up of Nancy Allen (Women’s Business Development Council, Florida), Mary Anderson, (WEConnect Canada, Toronto) Anne Marie White (ACOA) and Carolann Pollett (IBRD) entitled Beyond our Shores: Growth Through Supplier Diversity and Export. The panel for supplier diversity was warm and welcoming and very knowledgeable in their respective fields as was evidenced in the questions being asked and the responses being given. During the introduction of the panel, I enjoyed the story Nancy Allen told of her young son. When he asked what his mom does for her job, he replied, “She works in the company of women.” I love that description and I intend to use it. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.
The official Networking Reception took place from 7-9pm on the 17th. The room was buzzing and full of energy as all the women connected, asked questions, listened and shared with each other in an effort to learn and grow their businesses. I had wonderful conversations with many of the women business owners and thoroughly enjoyed meeting them. I even found a few that would make great participants in our Business Connections program. Come on, you didn’t think I would write this without a plug for the program that Melissa Wheeler and I facilitate, did you?
One of the conference highlights for me was the launch of our first annual publication, The NLOWE Advisor. Executive Director Paula Sheppard revealed the publication at the networking session and everyone was really excited about it. We are very proud of the publication and we hope you enjoy it. If you’d like to get your own copy, be sure to contact the business advisor in your region.
Day two was just as exciting! Meg Soper, Humour, Motivational and Work Life Balance Speaker, kicked off our conference and delivered a very funny presentation called Wit, Fit and Balance: Strategies for Success that got everyone energized for the day. Her presentation touched on how we deal with everyday stresses in a constantly changing environment, and the importance of humour to keep life’s challenges in perspective. Meg was honest, refreshing and engaging. There were times I laughed so hard, I cried. At one point I wondered if I was under surveillance by Meg. How did she get inside my head? However, as I looked around the room and saw all the other women laughing hysterically, I knew I wasn’t alone in the overwhelming moments of trying to juggle it all and stay sane. A few of my personal favourite takeaways: Bring it on, you need a sense of humour to survive life, ta da!
The morning’s concurrent sessions were delivered by Pauline Pennell, Move Forward Financially, and Gina Pecore, Elevate your Elevator Pitch. Both received positive reviews from those in attendance and provided conference attendees with tangible takeaways that they could take back to their businesses. Between sessions there were networking breaks where people could participate in the video and trade show booths, or if you wanted, you could attend NLOWE’s Annual General Meeting to meet our recently elected Board of Directors.
Our Keynote Luncheon speaker was Patricia Lovett-Reid, Chief Financial Commentator for CTV News Channel. Her talk was entitled, Get Real: Follow your own Authenticity Track. Patricia’s talk was relevant reality for both our personal and professional lives. I particularly enjoyed her commentary on the importance of the five Fs (Family, Friends, Finance, Fitness and Faith). I quote her in saying, “Life is like a movie and you never know how it’s going to end.” I love hearing all our speakers’ personal stories, their experience in business and how they got to where they are today. Two of my personal favourite pieces of advice that Pattie shared with us include: don’t work in roles, work in outcomes, and, always have a plan B.
In the afternoon, there were two additional sessions to choose from: Creative Leadership Solutions to Increase Employee Retention and Engagement for Business leaders by Michelle Ray, Workplace Relationships and Personal Leadership Expert, as well as Customer Service-Making it Work in Person or Virtually by Donna Messer, Networking and Social Media Expert. These sessions were received with very positive feedback. I really wished I could have been everywhere at once and attended all of the sessions simultaneously. Maybe one day we’ll have a speaker on cloning.
The day ended with our final closing session and wrap up where we gave away prizes to conference attendees. Katja Moehl of KM Designs won the grand prize for the day, which included an hour of one-on-one consulting with conference speaker Donna Messer, as well as a spot on Donna’s radio show, “Talk to Donna.” Based on all the feedback and comments, I think it’s safe to say that NLOWE’s 16th Annual Conference was a huge success – Ta-da!
Lisa Birmingham is a Business Connections Coordinator with NLOWE. You can reach Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.