As I reflect back on the 2012 HR Florida Conference & Expo three words come to mind – Wow… Amazing…Stressful! I’m in my final year now as HR Florida’s Conference Director and I believe because I’m in my second year I’ve got this in the bag. Think about it, as you go into your first year of a new job you take it all in and handle everything that comes at you. Going into the second year of your new job, you now have the “street smarts” to develop a plan and make decisions well ahead of time about how you will get better. For the conference, my plan included program improvements, marketing enhancements and revenue increases. You might not know this, but the state conference serves as HR Florida’s sole revenue stream, which we in turn use to give back to our SHRM chapters and our HR professionals by the way of chapter support, professional development and other programs. So, the conference is of critical importance to us and to our members.
As with most conferences, state or otherwise, conference directors move along with great ease for about three quarters of the year before hitting the busy, hectic throes of final planning to get a conference of this magnitude off the ground. Yes, there were some concerns going into planning for the 2012 conference, as there always is with conferences in general. For us, we had some unique challenges. For example, how would the SHRM National Conference held in Atlanta, GA this year affect attendance at our state conference? How would the Republican National Convention (RNC), just down the road in Tampa, affect hotel accommodations and other logistics in Orlando?
Without a crystal ball we had to wait and see, but by May our concerns regarding these two potentially competing events were nonissues; our numbers were up compared to the same time last year. Hotel reservations were already pouring in so we added more rooms to our contract to ensure we could accommodate all of our attendees’ lodging needs. Let me tell you, life as the conference director in Year Two was looking good. But the job was not nearly completed; it was still very early and there was a lot more planning to do. However, we were well on our way to reaching our attendance and revenue goals.
Usually by two months before conference time it becomes incredibly busy as there are so many details to finalize before we make it to the finish line. For us, everything was going exceedingly well – our programs were set and we were able to confirm we would achieve our goals. Things could not have been better and then…BAM!
About two weeks prior to the August 27thconference kickoff, we were told that Soledad O’Brien would not be able
to attend as our Tuesday morning keynote speaker due to work and broadcast changes. Thanks to our incredible programs team, we secured an outstanding replacement for Tuesday’s session – Christopher Gardner. Chris’ life story is the inspiration behind the New York Times bestselling book and blockbuster movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. Once again, we were back on track and all was well.
Then, a week prior to the conference Tropical Storm Isaac decided to visit Florida so our eyes and ears were glued to news reports as we attempted to finalize the last minute conference details. The news on August 23rd was not good: Florida was in the “cone.” By Friday evening though, Orlando was out of danger. Our conference team continued as planned and arrived Saturday morning. Although Orlando was not to be affected by the storm, we still kept up to date with Isaac as we worried about friends and colleagues throughout the state.
So, things were progressing smoothly until Sunday morning – literally the day before the conference was to begin – when we received another devastating call. Our opening keynote speaker had to cancel due to travel fears created by Isaac and security concerns created by the RNC for the state of Florida.
After a minute of shocked, stunned, utter disbelief, team members jumped into action reaching out into their networks to see if we could pull a white rabbit out of a top hat – literally! By four o’clock Sunday afternoon we had ourselves another opening keynote. Could we have really pulled this off in that short amount of time? Yes, it just goes to show you the power of a great network. At this point though, we kept our fingers crossed because we wouldn’t be able to confirm until Jim Knight and his Culture Rocks! presentation were physically on site Monday morning.
Well, Jim arrived as scheduled and it was everything I could do to remain professional and not break out in a happy dance on the spot. FINALLY, we were back on track and could get the conference underway!
Despite all of the unexpected challenges, we could not have been more pleased with our keynote speakers, Jim
Knight and Christopher Gardner, and how they wowed the attendees beyond our wildest expectations. We were also delighted with our final keynote, John Foley, who capped the conference with a thrilling Blue Angel Pilot call to action regarding our leadership and teaming skills.
Overall, the conference was an amazing success in spite of the weather. In addition to our great speakers, we also:
- had record-breaking attendance with more than 1,800 attendees and exhibitors in house,
- offered 17 continuing education credits for PHR, SPHR and GPHR recertification,
- packaged over 5,000 meals for Kids Against Hunger,
- held a successful SHRM Foundation Silent Auction, raising $5,957 to support HR education and research, and
- presented our Second Annual Conference Theme Competition Award to Steve Ostrom for his creative use of his Red Solo Cup.
By the way, check out all the great pictures of the contest and the conference at our HR Florida Flickr page.
I really can’t put into words how wonderful the conference was. I believe Chris Gardner sums it up better than I can. In an email he sent to us on Tuesday evening after returning to his home in Illinois, he wrote:
THANK YOU! Awesome! Some things and events are truly SPECIAL! I will be in touch with you soon to share a very special Thank You to all of your members.
PS. The only way to TOP this year is to get ELVIS and he is ‘booked’! Tell Soledad that I said ‘SoleWHO’! Ha!
To the conference team who made this event truly special, I lift up my Red Solo Cup to say,
You are more than amazing,
You are more than fantastic,
You are not just a team,
You are my friends, my best friends.
THANK YOU all for being my friends. Cheers to next year!
Dana Chatelain, SPHR is the 2011-2012 HR Florida State Conference Director. Aside from her role on the HR Florida Executive Council, Dana is the Manager of Human Capital for SCI Companies, where she manages and implements best practices for hiring, performance management, employee relations and HR Communications. She is committed to providing Human Resources Best Practices consultation for Clients on issues related to legislative compliance, performance management and other potential areas of liability within employment.
It was a truly great conference and experience, Dana, and you and your team should be commended. My one tiny piece of advice is that you should have publicized the Chris Gardner switch, since you had a little more lead time than you did with Jim Knight.
I know two attendees who missed Chris Gardner’s awesome keynote because they had already heard Soledad speak and decided to skip the keynote. These people were deeply disappointed when they found out they had missed Chris Gardner instead.
I am looking forward to future HR Floirda conferences, and thanks again to you and your team for an amazing opportunity and experience.
To quote Stephen King, “I wouldn’t have missed a single minute of it, not for the whole world.”
Dana, You did indeed pull off a wonderful conferences. I was thrilled to attend and be a part of it. Thanks for all of your hospitality in addition to the great conference.
You know though when you raise the bar every year it gets harder and harder to get over the bar!