I loved taking a walk down memory lane in my first Blog shared last week, especially when it comes to the planning and set-up of what is one of the most inspiring events I’ve had the privilege to be part of. With the Convention being an annual event, we now get to look forward to a renewal each year. We know that we can count on being reminded of why we do what we do, and the reason the Convention gives this to us is because of our attendees. And… where we left off in the last entry, we were setting the stage for the arrival of 370 of some of our most passionate members and followers and this is the part where we get to sit back and just be amazed by each of them!

So… let’s get to the good stuff… the official opening of the Convention!

Thursday – the Start of it All!

The Thursday of Convention is our more informal day, as the educational sessions don’t officially kick-off until Friday. But, it’s proven to be an important (and busy) day with the hosting of our National Advocacy Training Session along with our newly-expanded OAC Member Mingle event. But, Thursday also marks the opening of Convention registration – and this is where it all starts to get a bit more real. I’m not sure if my team even noticed, but this year I was able to sit back and watch the opening of Convention from the sidelines. I loved being able to see the attendees’ reactions to the first smiles and welcomes they received and for me, this was the start of it all. All the months and months of planning are finally paying off. These are real people, not just names in an Excel document, and they are all VERY excited to be here to learn, listen and lean on others. All the more pressure to show everyone an inspirational and amazing time!

While registration ran perfectly, Joe Nadglowski, OAC President and CEO, and our Policy Consultant, Chris Gallagher, were prepping for the National Advocacy Training Session. The sole purpose of this event is to train our next set of advocates to go to Capitol Hill, and I can still recollect the immense energy in the room from all the passionate OAC members eager to learn about the advocacy process. Perhaps it was the liveliest when the participants broke into their groups to conduct their “mock legislative visits,” complete with some pretty tough-acting OAC Board Members and Trained Volunteers who moonlighted as elected officials for this occasion. I know Joe was very impressed with this year’s group and was proud to welcome 68 newly-trained advocates to the OAC’s expert advocacy team. I’ve included a few photos of this session, along with a recent photo of a group of advocates we took to Capitol Hill just a few weeks ago, which consisted of some of our newly-trained advocates from our Convention in Phoenix! Now, that’s pretty direct action if you ask me!

Once the Advocacy Training Session concluded and the official “Advocacy Trained” ribbons were awarded, the OAC staff moved swiftly to attend our National Board Meeting, hosted onsite that afternoon. The schedule for this day was really back-to-back for us, but settling into the room with the Board where we could all sit back and breathe for a second was just what we needed to carry us into the evening. I would debate anyone under the sun who said they had a better Board of Directors than we do, because honestly this diverse volunteer group who directs all the motives of the organization is comprised of some of the most brilliant individuals I have had the pleasure of working with. You can thank the Board Members for forming the organization, and you can thank them for the Convention because it was all part of their grand scheme to help the individuals we serve.

OAC’s Member Mingle Event… Kicked-up about 20 Notches

For me, the Board meeting was about a 15-minute break, but I had to pop back to monitor the set-up and run through for our Member Mingle event that was taking place that evening, just a few short hours after the Board meeting. Last year, we hosted the Member Mingle in Dallas, but it was a very casual and informal gathering, not even an event really. This year, we took this event up about 20 notches and committed to hosting the Teaming up to Tackle Obesity Program, which was proudly sponsored by Covidien. We also committed to streaming the event LIVE for all our viewers at home. Oh yeah… and it included two former NFL players along with two very distinguished physicians. And… we’d never hosted an event like this. Jump into my shoes for a moment and you will likely feel the trepidation and uncertainty for how it would all go. About 10 minutes into the event, I was put at ease and quickly realized that this was going to be one of the many highlights of the Convention once Corey Louchiey and James Thornton (the two NFL alumni) began sharing their personal struggles with weight and their different treatment paths.

How these two very dynamic and overwhelming men could reach out and grab your heart was beyond my expectations, but this event lives as one of my very favorites of the entire weekend. Perhaps one of the key parts to this event was witnessing the dialogue and people in the room who all just nodded their heads in agreement, to the effect of… “Yup… I’ve been there.” You felt like you were surrounded by 150 of your closest friends in your support circle. I just can’t say enough about what I got out of the event, so I can only imagine the takeaways that our attendees continue to feel. Special thanks to Covidien, along with Corey and James, for making this a very unique and memorable event.

After a good night’s rest, it was an early-start to Friday morning with the official kick-off to the education of the Convention. This also meant that we would soon connect with the rest of our attendees we had been waiting for, majority of which were attending the meeting for the very first time.

Exhibit Hall Grand Opening

Shortly after Registration opened we officially opened the Exhibit Hall. Once those doors opened, the long line and gathering soon drifted into the 10,000 square foot ballroom where we hosted 31 hand-picked vendors with products and services of value to our attendees. Just a tid-bit of information that you may not know, I actually had the privilege of turning down nearly a dozen vendors who were willing to pay top-dollar to be in our Exhibit Hall, but didn’t “meet the needs and guidelines of our group.” This phrase was one I had to diplomatically use for companies that approached me with their new “cure to obesity,” or their “magical device guaranteed to help you lose weight or your money back,” and their “24-hour fat flush that helps you shed pounds in a couple hours.”

For those that are familiar with the OAC and our core principles, these companies represent the motivation behind doing what we do, helping to educate the public about the EVIDENCE-BASED strategies, not the gimmicks. Our attendees have faced these strongly mixed messages their entire lives, so our Convention will never be the time where we compromise our integrity to simply fill our Exhibit Hall. That’s our story, and we are sticking to it.

Let the Education, Fun and Community Begin!

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the next two days, I have to mention the actual FIRST start to Friday was the 6 am Organized Walk led by OAC Board Member Michelle Vicari. I have to admit when she told me she wanted to do it, I was skeptical she would actually have company. I was wrong. This photo (left) shows some dedicated folks starting their day off right, just as the sun was rising! And… they were able to beat the Phoenix heat, if at all possible!

Friday’s very first session was not one that we would consider “educational,” but instead we wanted it to be “motivational.” One of our National Board Members, Tracy Martinez, RN, BSN, CBN, who was pretty much the mastermind behind the idea to host a National Convention, had one goal in mind for this opening session – to set the tone for the weekend! This session kicked-off the education and the entire Convention experience, complete with a keynote speaker who helped our folks dedicate the last portion of her talk to a little bit of meditation. A very different approach for us but very well received!

Part of what helped to set the tone for the Convention was the opening video that we showed right before the session to really give the meeting its springboard for the weekend. I am hoping to eventually share this video virally with our online audience, but the picture to the right are the words and concept used for this video. These are words that every attendee can live by, and it is our hope that all who follow the OAC realize the message in this image.

From here, the Convention momentum built session after session. Our schedule was packed-full of an amazing line-up of speakers, presenting topics most important to our members and followers. The truth is that I could do a whole Blog series about our incredible speakers and educational sessions presented (maybe I will just have to do that, one day!), but at the end of this Blog entry you will get information on an opportunity to see it for yourself! Don’t scroll yet… I am not done!) What’s important to note about our speakers is that they were hand-picked for very specific reasons. The main reason – because they genuinely CARE for patients and those whom they serve. We are lucky, it’s said as simply as that. We will continue to only bring-in the best-of-the-best to present evidence-based education to our folks.

Friday afternoon, we found ourselves hosting the most popular event of the Convention, the Lunch with the Experts. This ticketed event allows our attendees to sit one-on-one with an expert of their choice to learn about a topic most important to them. Attendees signed-up for the topic in advance, and each table only had eight other attendees and one expert. These are meant to be more in depth and personal discussions, with an opportunity to ask the questions you’ve always wondered about, but with the right person giving you the answers! I have included a couple photos from this session, but you will see that there really weren’t any empty chairs at the tables. To give our attendees this once in a lifetime opportunity to have access to experts of this caliber = priceless!

Letting Your Hair (and Tentacles) Loose!

Friday continued with more education, new friendships being made, light bulbs going off and much more! Once the sessions and exercise activities completed for the day, attendees now shifted their focus to let their hair (or tentacles) down to have a little fun! Friday evening’s social event is a themed party and is coined the Friday Night Welcoming Ceremonies. It was quite a welcome this year. We started the tradition last year to invite our attendees to dress-up for this event and going into this year we weren’t quite sure if folks would really dress-up. If they didn’t, that would be fine by us, but we didn’t have to worry about that. This year’s costume party theme was Hollywood Beach Party, inviting our attendees to come dressed in their best beach attire, but from a famous television or movie. Our attendees brought a tough competition and got to each cast their official vote to “the Academy” for best costume of the evening. I have included a few photos from this evening, but you will see that Ursula the Sea Witch from the popular kid’s movie, The Little Mermaid, was the evening’s winner. It was a tough competition with Elvis and Tom Hanks’ character from the movie, Castaway, but Kesha Calicutt from Texas received the Grand Prize of a free registration to next year’s Convention.

Riding the “tentacles” from the excitement, we then unveiled our 2014 Convention date and location – which is September 25-28 in Orlando, Fla. To commemorate the event, we threw out Save the Date beach balls to the audience to let the party continue. It was a long day for everyone, not just the OAC staff, and we still had an entire day left, along with the Walk from Obesity on Sunday morning.

Saturday’s educational program schedule mirrored Friday’s nearly to a “T,” but with even more valuable topics presented. I don’t have nearly enough room in this already long Blog entry to talk about each and every detail of the presentations to even do them justice, so you will just have to keep with me for a couple more paragraphs so you can see where I want to take you.

The Convention then slowly came to a close with Saturday evening’s OAC 2nd Annual Awards Dinner that shifted the tone to honor our dedicated volunteers and members. I loved seeing our 370 attendees dressed-up and renewed from the weekend – it was really a representation of how full circle we had already come in just a few short days. After a beautiful video compilation of the photos from the weekend to help our folks reflect on all they had experienced, most attendees retreated to bed early to get ready for the Phoenix Walk from Obesity held the next morning at the Arizona Grand. The Convention was slowly coming to a close, and this is the part where I had to come to grips that I would need to say goodbye to 370 amazing people the next morning (some before that), and shift my emotion to looking forward to reuniting again in 2014.

YOU are the Reason

As my Blog series comes to a close, I want to highlight some of my reflections once I told the DJ he was done on Saturday evening and instructed the AV crew to start striking the “set.” It’s funny how conditioned you get – we spend so much time focusing on the messages we want to send, the people we want to reach, the lives we want to touch and the folks we want to help. We want to get every detail right; we want the event to run smooth… with all action items on each of our to-do lists being crossed off going into the meeting. But it’s funny how those to-dos don’t belong on a list once onsite at Convention, they just become natural. And that’s where I want to end my very long recollection of the 2013 National Convention in Phoenix.

This Blog series is called “Why We Do What We Do” for one very appropriate reason – you. Whether you are reading this entry to relive moments from YWM2103, or you’ve made it this far because you’ve been curious about the OAC and this National Convention you’ve heard so much about, there is a place for you at the OAC. Yes, nothing can top the experience of the OAC’s National Convention than attending in-person, and it is my hope that we can one-day welcome thousands of attendees to come together to feel it for themselves. But, just because you don’t attend a Convention in-person and get to dress in a crazy costume doesn’t mean you can’t experience the power of the OAC. Because… you can, and in many ways!