NAPO 2010 through the Eyes of a Seasoned Conference-Goer
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After losing an argument with myself about whether or not I would attend this year’s NAPO Conference, I needed to recruit a guest blogger to share the highlights with my readers, and the first person I thought of was Julie Bestry, who is a great writer and a constant source of support and inspiration to me. I think you’ll agree that reading Julie’s post is the next best thing to being there.
Innovate, Connect, Inspire…and Eat Amazing Ice Cream
For me, the National Association of Professional Organizers’ Annual Conference and Expo is a combination of the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards, with a dash of summer camp and a dollop of class reunion. One might imagine that after attending eight consecutive conferences, I’d be jaded going into the ninth, but even if that were remotely true, this year’s conference decluttered every bit of cynicism right out of me. For those of you who were unable to attend, Janet has kindly offered me the opportunity to share the details of what you missed.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Innovate, Connect, Inspire”, but I have to say I hold a special place in my heart for the “connect” element. The excitement began when two of my NAPO-GA colleagues, the Michelles (Grey and Cooper, of whom I was tempted to say “Hi, I’m Julie. This is my organizer, Michelle, and my other organizer, Michelle”) picked me up in Chattanooga for our rain-soaked road trip to Columbus, Ohio.
Upon arrival at the Hyatt Regency, I was eager to get up to my room to watch Lost. Although my room immediately struck me as oddly shaped, I was so captivated by the Smoke Monster that I failed to notice that Room #1111 lacked a desk! The narrow corner room, shaped quite like an arrowhead, with two full walls of windows and a rest room that required advanced yoga experience, was apparently one of four on each floor of the Hyatt that offered “special architecture”, as the front desk later pitched it.
I’m of a belief that anything that doesn’t kill you makes for great anecdotes, and found a flight-load of colleagues in the lobby on Wednesday morning to regale. While I warned those in need of desk space to avoid rooms ending in 11, 22, 33 or 44, friend and beloved host of NAPO’s famed Ask the Organizer Panel, Monica Ricci, noted that I have strange NAPO hotel room karma. It’s true. I endured a wee-hours fire drill the night prior to taking the CPO® exam in Minneapolis, and my hotel ceiling collapsed in Boston the year I opted for a “boutique” hotel.
While connecting with Randi Hutton, whom Janet has picked to share a first-time attendee’s tale, I sat in a prime position to see my colleagues as they arrived. Randi and I were repeatedly (but politely) interrupted by the joyous hoots of recognition and affection of colleagues, to the point that Randi must have wondered if we were more like sorority girls on the first day back at school than seasoned professionals. Unbeknownst to me, word had spread quickly of my hotel room adventures, and I ended up giving tours to the curious. I even played Pied Piper to one party of VIPs, including Clutter Diet’s Lorie Marrero, Hoarders celeb Geralin Thomas, the lovely Stephanie Shalofsky and incoming NAPO-NYC president, Sharon Lowenheim.
During another tour, I stated that the bed’s positioning made me feel as though I were about to be shot out of a cannon. Fellow Tennessee organizer Melissa Gratias noted that the narrow point at which the two walled windows connected seemed more like the bow of a ship, and promptly acted out the “I’m the King of the World” scene from Titanic.
Innovating Connections, NAPO EXPO-Style
Impromptu connections notwithstanding, NAPO had something bold and innovative designed to help prompt connections, not only with our fellow professional organizers, but also with our esteemed vendors. On Wednesday night, the NAPO-Ohio chapter sponsored an Amazing Race-themed game wherein teams of ten organizers were shackled to looped ropes, a la kindergarten art museum field trips.
Armed with a list of 40+ trivia questions about vendors and their wares, the Race had each team running – connected (by rope) – hither and yon, across and around the Expo floor. While the CBS version of Amazing Race might be more high profile, I’d wager that the speed (and competitive nature) of teammates and rivals made the game at least as compelling, and I’m certain that NAPO-Ohio’s Andrea Sharb gave Phil Keoghan a run for his money as host.
A good time was had by all, though probably not as good a time as the Scott Roewer-led team to which I was assigned…because, through Scott’s tenacity and leadership, and a stroke of genius on the part of NAPO-Philadelphia’s Annette Reyman, we landed in first place and won ClosetMaid canvas bins full of prizes donated by Expo vendors. Rest assured, not one prize item any of the teams received could be remotely considered clutter! (For a recap of the merchandise displayed at the Expo, I invite you to my blog.)
An Army of Professional Organizers Marches (and Connects) On Its Stomach
NAPOites also connected, refreshed and dined in ever-changing do-si-do configurations throughout the week. Our official lunches ranged from ad hoc, standing-room-only in the Expo for Thursday’s boxed lunch to regional tables (not quite regionally-arranged, such that Pacific Northwesterners lunched a fork’s throw from Mid-Atlantic organizers) at Friday’s annual NAPO business meeting. For Saturday’s award luncheon, we chose special interest tables so that members could chat about business organizing, or working with ADHD clients, and so on. (I lunched with one of three tables of NAPO Twitter colleagues).
Dinners were decided off-campus, and ranged from formal chapter meals to spontaneous gatherings at niftily-named Columbus eateries like the Surly Girl Saloon and Sushi Rock. The long-awaited, expertly-planned (by NAPO-DC’s Kim Oser) Tweetup at Bucca di Beppo was such a hot ticket that numerous late-deciders, including one former NAPO president, had to be turned away.
One unofficial dining experience seems to have been partaken by many… multiple times. (Indeed, only Saturday night’s downpour kept me from a third night in attendance at this local gem.) Each night, confection aficionados were found connecting and obviously inspired by the innovative ice cream at Columbus’ Jeni’s Ice Cream, where tantalizing flavors like Salty Caramel and Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Cherries captivated the NAPOites whom we saw coming, going, and standing in line.
Innovating and Inspiring…And Learning
Of course, the NAPO conference is much more than a big party. We came to learn…and be inspired! If the collective buzz, both at the conference and on Twitter and Facebook in the days since conference are any indication, our three keynote speakers were the most motivating in recent history.
Tim Sanders, author of Love Is the Killer App and the new Saving the World at Work, kicked off the conference with his keynote, Innovating How We Connect. Tim shared the lesson of his mentor, that we can “Accomplish more in two months, developing a sincere interest in two people, than in two years trying to develop their interest in you.”
Sanders talked about turning our customers into friends, but in a genuine and constructive way. First, he reviewed how we should not merely add, but multiply, the value we provide others, by recommending (and giving) books, because giving away knowledge establishes trust, and by sharing our networks, matchmaking to improve others’ professional and personal lives.
Next, Sanders spoke about empathy and the importance of listening “powerlessly”, without judgment or agenda, to help others feel truly heard. He captivated a room of 700+ professional organizers with the theory of “emotional leakage” propagated by Paul Ekman (upon whose research the Fox show Lie to Me is based).
Finally, Sanders spoke about elevating the purpose of a task to find the joy inherent within it. His anecdote about Timberland executives literally giving the boots off their feet to Hurricane Katrina recovery workers was awe-inspiring and left quite a few organizers decluttering their tears. And this was just on the first day!
Gina Schreck’s Friday keynote, Connecting Via Technology, delighted inveterate tweeters and technophobes alike. Schreck humorously brought home the lesson that good social networking is part of a solid professional image, and that even if we haven’t changed, our clients have, and it’s expected that professionals will connect, collaborate and build communities. As part of that, Schreck highlighted some best practices for using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and talked about the importance of using links to blogs, articles and video, not only to spotlight our expertise, but also to get indexed by Google.
I was enthralled by Gina Schreck’s entertaining combination of philosophical, practical and technical advice with regard to selecting whom to follow, befriend or link. Her best pointer, however, was one that, while referencing Twitter, should apply to all of us, each time we talk or type:
“Be interesting, be helpful, or be quiet!”
Quite a few of our colleagues must have been inspired to innovate and connect (see, there’s that theme again!), as we veterans have seen a huge influx of NAPO members joining Twitter in the past few days.
Our closing keynote speaker, Monica Wofford, sent us home with a lesson on Inspiring Contagious Confidence. She began with the precept that “confidence is a belief that you can do something”, and the notion that confidence is not the same as self-esteem (“the belief that you are worth the effort”). Wofford dazzled the room with a high-energy invocation to clearly identify what we want from our businesses and our lives, and learn to articulate those desires with authenticity, through changed thoughts, perceptions, beliefs and actions.
And these were only the keynotes! In between, we soaked up knowledge about the skills of organizing, everything from “power offices” to health data, from project management to Six Sigma. Other breakout sessions focused on specific client populations, including seniors, clients with ADD/ADHD, and hoarders. Along with such conference stalwarts, NAPO speakers also presented new topics designed to make us better at running our businesses, from Porter Knight‘s “Knowing Your Numbers” to Lisa Montanaro‘s “It Takes a Village to Run a Successful Biz”, in addition to sessions on transitioning from hands-on organizing to coaching, working with independent contractors, and writing effective business proposals.
Innovating NAPO Session Structure
NAPO also innovated this year with mega sessions, including two back-to-back classes from Canadian professional organizer and marketing expert Krista Green. She charmed novices and veterans alike, with her practical advice on running, branding and marketing a successful organizing business. Another mega-session offered in-depth discussion on serving, as well as marketing to, the aging senior market.
No matter where you stood on the technology spectrum, from Luddite to webmaster, there was something for everyone at this year’s conference. Scott Roewer and Lauren Halagarda, NAPO’s own “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” dynamic duo) each went a few steps beyond their 2009 offerings, inspiring attendees to venture into technological productivity solutions for themselves and their clients. In many cases, the Roewer/Halagarda team seemed to have inspired purchases of software and hardware (on an equal opportunity basis) for both PC and Mac platforms…and for all those gadgets.
Another session offered a veritable college-level survey course on the various “Organizing Tools on the Web”. My own conference highlight was attending a session presented by the two most innovative professional organizers I know, Brandie Kajino and Allison Carter, whose “How to Make Money With Virtual Classes” walked attendees through every step of the teleclass and webinar development experience.
The NAPO 2010 Annual Conference and Expo innovated its own practices and taught us how to innovate our businesses, our marketing methods, and our ways of thinking and interacting. We explored new ways of connecting, at the conference and beyond, with one another and with our clients and prospects. And we were inspired, not only by our keynote speakers and presenters, but by our colleagues. I never fail to be amazed that I get to rub shoulders and tweets with so many jaw-droppingly fantastic colleagues. I hope to see many more of you, again or for the first time, at NAPO’s next conference, April 6-9, 2011, in San Diego.
Julie Bestry is a Certified Professional Organizer, speaker and author, who helps individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems. Although a generalist, Julie specializes in paper organizing, blogging as the Paper Doll, and publishes Best Results for Busy People: Organizing Your Modern World. For more information, visit Best Results Organizing at http://www.juliebestry.com.