It was 7:15 am on Monday, August 12, and Joe Nadglowski, OAC President/CEO, and myself were traveling out to Phoenix for the OAC’s 2nd Annual Your Weight Matters National Convention. Joe and I traveled out on the very early flight to Convention, while the rest of our team took a later flight that same day. It was early. I am not a morning person. I had barely had time to drink my large coffee I grabbed at Starbucks, and at this point I had been averaging about 3.5 hours of sleep per night for the past several weeks. BUT, despite all those factors, I was rearing to go and very excited to get to Phoenix and get to FINALLY see our amazing attendees face-to-face.

It was a full flight, and the airline made us very aware of this as they typically so kindly remind you several times over the intercom. When I took my seat, I had the aisle and a gentleman was already seated at the window seat, keeping to himself. Our middle seat remained unclaimed. Just before the flight doors closed, a young man walked our direction and motioned to me that he had the middle seat. Once we were both seated and getting situated, the gentleman at the window made the comment that started off the week and gave me the energy I needed to carry me through the upcoming weekend.

Here is what he said… “It’s a good thing we got a skinny one!”

When he said this, the young man had very little reaction and I think my face quickly stifled any momentum that the window-seat gentleman was looking for. Now, let me re-stress that it was early, I had very little coffee, and I was exhausted. It took every single fiber of my being to not start a very lively discussion about his comment but I had to weigh my options: I needed to get to Phoenix; My boss was a few rows up; and I don’t have a criminal record and wasn’t looking for one. I felt quite confident that my face filled with disgust and opposite reaction to what was expected (along with the young man’s lack of reaction) helped to keep this uninformed individual’s mouth shut. He did in-fact keep his mouth shut the rest of the flight (lucky for him). To me, silence is 100% win on many accounts in my book.

After my blood finished boiling, I took out my phone and texted the whole OAC team to share this experience with them, to remind everyone of why the long hours and hard work were about to pay-off. And boy, it sure did!

My Very First Blog Entry

I am so very excited that my first official Blog entry is about the 2nd Annual Your Weight Matters National Convention. I’ve had the privilege of being at the OAC since we opened our doors eight years ago, and I’ve been around for every single momentous occasion for this organization. For me, the Convention is what brings everything full circle – the years of building something so powerful and so important and bringing that energy into one single place. It’s honestly something hard to describe unless you’ve seen it for yourself. And, I am so happy that this year, 370 individuals got to experience it for THEMSELVES, and can take that energy into the next year to better their lives and health.

While we were overwhelmed with the growing response to our meeting and the fact we broke attendance records this year, we acknowledge that 43,630 OAC members, and likely many more supporters and followers, didn’t get to experience the energy. We know it’s tough –lives are busy, family obligations are important, and limited time and financial resources make it difficult to do everything we want to do. I am confident that as our momentum builds that we will eventually have the opportunity to touch the lives of all our members in-person… there is truly nothing like it! But for now, I get to give all those who did not have the opportunity to attend an inside-look at what happened in Phoenix and help those lucky ones that DID, relive their experiences all over again. The OAC’s National Convention is truly one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had the privilege of leading for the past two years, alongside the countless staff and volunteers who dedicate thousands of hours over the course of eight months to bring the meeting to life.

Behind the Scenes – All the Preparations!

Before I give you the play-by-play of the meeting coming together onsite, it is important to take a few steps back to look at how we planned our way to Phoenix for another ground-breaking event. It is always easy to look at the Convention and see all the efforts of the OAC staff because we get to be front and center for getting everything up off the ground by way of our education and advocacy programs. I always say that my job is to make things pretty, but the work and energy that is put in from the 11-person volunteer team is what makes the event what it is.

The Convention Planning Committee and all other subcommittees of the meeting have held no less than 50 conference calls since 2012 to cover every detail of the meeting. I would guestimate that the number of hours spent on calls, emails, etc. likely tops about 200 man-hours. Truly incredible dedication to this event. The reason we have the Convention vision in existence is because of the committee’s meticulous development of it; the reason our educational topics are so diverse and comprehensive is because of them; the reason we have the speakers attend is because of them, and the reason we have an exercise program incorporated is because of them. I could go on and on, but my point is that this Convention has truly been born out of the sincere passion and vision of this dedicated and hard-working volunteer group. Might I stress – VOLUNTEER group, and I am lucky to get to work closely with all these amazing folks each year. The photo above is from last year’s Convention of the leaders of the Convention, and I am sad I couldn’t find a photo with every single volunteer included so that will be my goal for 2014 to make that happen!

Arriving Onsite

The OAC Staff arrived to the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa on Monday. Monday and Tuesday served as set-up days for us, getting everything prepared and organized to welcome our attendees on Thursday morning. To be quite honest, this was actually very fun. I am very blessed to have an amazing team who can literally sense what needs to be done, and just do it. For those who have ever had to rely on others to get a huge project or task complete, you know how INVALUABLE this is. Joe and I actually were the first to receive the delivery of umpteen boxes to our office and we oh so carefully placed them in piles, as we were very nicely asked not to open them until Lisa Gresco-White arrived. Lisa is our Membership and Administrative Services Coordinator and is the master at organizing. Her list-making capabilities could win her a Pulitzer Prize someday.

Tuesday served as another organizational day, but also was our official assembly day. This means that all things that needed assembling, arranging, folding, blown-up, constructed… you name it, happened on this day. Here are a couple photos above to show you a sneak peek at our top-secret process. Well, I guess it isn’t so unique, but it was an impressive assembly line. What was even more impressive was the no less than 100 inflatables that the crew had the pleasure of blowing-up for our Friday Night festivities. For those thinking how cruel we were to make the staff blow up more than 100 inflatables… we actually brought an air compressor which made it all the easier and noisier to accomplish! Despite all the hard work, we did have a great time, but it’s easy to do with such a fun team!

That evening, we got to take a break and go to dinner at Rustler’s Roost that was literally up the mountain on property. The quick van-ride brought us up to the top of the hill where we were greeted by the fragrant live bull that they have positioned permanently outside the restaurant. Let’s just say it set the tone for the evening that included a beautiful view, a quirky server, lively conversation, a slide to get to the lower level where our table was and a discussion about leather saddles. We’ll just leave it at that, it was a good time. Here are a few photos from this eventful evening (see left).

So here we are at Wednesday morning, still one day left until the first attendees arrive. We got most of our assembly and organizational work completed, but had some minor things to do as a group. For me, this served as a major move-in day for our official decorator (Exhibit Services Company) and Audio Visual team. Our decorator takes care of making the event “pretty,” so that’s where we get the pipe and drape for the Exhibit Hall, all the beautiful signage, entry unit, basically everything that makes this a top-notch event. It’s important to us to go the extra mile for our attendees and make everything aesthetically appealing and a decorator really helps with that! This is one of my favorite days because it’s the day that  I say everything starts “coming to life.” I get to literally see the whole concept come together visually which is very rewarding for as much effort that goes on behind the scenes to make it all happen. Here are a few photos of the set-up taking place as everything starts to come to life.

Most of us retreated a bit early that evening to get ready for the grand opening of registration the next morning and to welcome the first attendees to the Convention. Our first day of Convention was a busy one, with our Advocacy Training Session, National Board Meeting and OAC Member Mingle Featuring the Teaming up to Tackle Obesity Program. Suffice it to say, this was the last chance at a full night’s sleep for many of us, so we took full advantage! Wednesday was also a fun day because our fabulous Chairman, Pam Davis, arrived to join in the pre-event fun. Being able to finally share everything onsite with her that we had been working on was another rewarding part to this day. I know we are all very proud of all the hard work put into the Convention, and it is all thanks to her leadership and vision of her Chairmanship that we’ve been so successful. Lucky for Pam she got to entertain several of our volunteers and attendees pool-side and enjoy some of the property before the craziness began. Guess those are the perks to being a volunteer AND the leader of a nearly 50,000 member organization!

It’s amazing to think that I just highlighted the first three days of SET-UP for the meeting. It’s fun to look back and see how it all comes together, so we hope you have enjoyed seeing a bit of a different side to the meeting.

So what about the actual meeting, the educational sessions, special events, parties, exercise classes, exhibits…? That’s all going to be highlighted in Part 2 to be released next week – so stay tuned! For those who had the pleasure of attending the meeting, you will get to relive it all again in my next entry. And, for the 43,630 who did not get to come to Convention and the many, many others who follow the OAC but didn’t get a chance to join us in Phoenix… you will get a chance to see the whole Convention picture once again through my interactions with the attendees and experience in planning the 2013 meeting.

PLUS… something exciting for ALL – We will be announcing a way for everyone to get engaged and continue with the unparalleled education that only the OAC can bring to you. It will be a unique opportunity, but I don’t want to share our secrets just yet… so you MUST stay tuned!