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. There were some concerns going into planning for the 2012 conference, as there always is with conferences in general and 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. As hotel reservations were already pouring in, we added more rooms to our contract to ensure we could accommodate all of our attendees’ lodging needs. 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 27th conference 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.
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 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 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.
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.
P.S. 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!
Here’s what some of our attendees have to say...
“I have just returned from yet again, one of the most comprehensive and informative HR Conferences in the state—the 2012 HR Florida Conference and Expo. This was my fourth conference, and each year it gets better. The keynote speakers were inspirational, motivational, and pertinent to the environment that we deal with every day—Company Culture, How to Engage Employees, and what it means to be a true team player, accountable to the companies and non-profits that we work for. Each concurrent session was right on track with what we need to learn to take back to our jobs and be better HR professionals. It is the only conference I go to that I can attend early morning sessions and Masters Series and hear from all the best HR vendors in the world all at one time. In the words of John Foley, closing key note speaker,CEO of Center Point Companies, and former solo pilot for the Blue Angels—I was glad to be there!” - Tricia Kristoff, PHR at Flagler College, St Augustine FL.
“She Partied Like a Rock Star…Now What?” As a first time HR Florida attendee, this session caught my attention. By the end of the presentation, we had glow bracelets and were holding our hand in the air rocking out while our picture was taken and posted on Facebook. There was a mix of HR topics for everyone from staying union free to immigration compliance auditing! The best part: being able to earn up to seventeen recertification credits! The expo hall was not what I was expecting—it was huge! There were a variety of vendors and most had a raffle with prizes like iPad’s, Coach purses, and jewelry. The Venetian masquerade ball was a great way to unwind from the two busy days. The HR Florida board was in full dress and looked amazing. There was a photo booth so you could strike a pose while making funny faces at the camera. The biggest surprise of all—I say “surprise” because our keynote speaker for Tuesday was not CNN’s Soledad O’Brian, but Christopher Gardner, author of The Pursuit of Happyness. Christopher Gardner was my favorite part of the conference. He is an inspiration! He worked so hard and was determined to bring himself and his son away from being homeless, when as he so humbly put it, “Life Happens.” This little phrase can have so many meanings, especially to the employees who work for us. As HR professionals, we have to remember that sometimes “Life Happens.” I am looking forward to HR Florida in 2013! I know it will be even better than 2012!” - Sarah Wright, PHR at Tallahassee Primary Care Associates.