More than 150 industry women representing 72 companies from across the U.S. and Canada are in New Orleans, Louisiana, this week for PPAI’s 10th annual Women’s Leadership Conference. The popular three-day event is designed to deliver a carefully curated mix of general sessions, breakout sessions and roundtable discussions on highly sought-after topics, along with numerous opportunities to network with and learn from other women in the promotional products industry. While many attendees come back year after year, 61 of this year’s registrants are first-timers.

“This year we have worked hard to really make sure everyone feels welcome and included,” says Kelli Denes, co-chair of the WLC Work Group, which is comprised of 15 volunteers who have worked with PPAI staff to plan this year’s program and every detail of the WLC experience. Included again this year is an app with all event specifics, including an activity stream where attendees are encouraged to post photos and messages from the conference.

The event began with an optional Café Crawl on Monday for early arrivals to explore, at their own pace, the sights and sounds of the French Quarter. “For example, with the preconference outing, we made sure to select activities that didn’t require pre-registration,” Denes explains. “We updated our location on the app in real time so as people came in or had free time, they could easily join us without notification. I love this because it gives everyone freedom, but it also is an open invite to participate any time you are ready.”

Conference attendees also consistently give back to the host city by participating in a community service project. This year 30 attendees volunteered for a three-hour project on Monday morning at the Edible Schoolyard, a New Orleans organization that maintains a vegetable garden at a local school. Unfortunately, rain caused the group’s participation to be cancelled, but there were plenty of other options as small groups departed the hotel, umbrellas in hand, and headed to nearby shops and restaurants to enjoy a few free hours.

The conference was officially underway on Monday evening with a networking reception followed by the Welcome Dinner and Woman of Achievement Presentation, held in the Royal Salon at the Omni Royal Orleans, the site of the conference. This year’s two honorees, Daryll Griffin, MAS, president of Accolades, Inc. in Norcross, Georgia, and the late Irene Kogutt, MAS, former owner of Dart Manufacturing Company in Dallas, Texas, were recognized for paving the way for women in the promotional products industry, as well as providing outstanding leadership and making significant personal contributions to the industry and their communities. See the separate story in today's PPB Newslink.

Today and Wednesday, attendees will participate in education programs taught by experts inside and outside of the industry. This morning began with a general session on how to listen to—or silence—your critical inner voice, presented by professional speaker Carla Howard, followed by a choice of breakout sessions on accountability taught by attendees Kelli Denes and Jenny Straub, and on building skills taught by professional speaker and author Courtney Ramsey. This afternoon, PPAI Chair Brittany David, MAS, and PPAI VP Business Development Alan Peterson presented a state-of-the-industry update covering current and key issues facing PPAI and the industry.

Roundtable discussions followed where attendees met in small groups to discuss and exchange ideas on more than a dozen hot topics. Tonight, attendees will join their pre-selected groups to hit the town for a dine-around at several of New Orleans’ best restaurants.

Following a full day of educational programming on Wednesday—including a general session on strategic foresight with PPAI’s Director of Public Affairs Anne Stone and and PPAI Chair Brittany David, MAS, a general session on innovating as a competitive advantage presented by professional speaker, author and futurist Julie Austin—WLC will wrap up with a special offsite event including dinner, jazz music and networking at Grand Oaks Mansion, a replica antebellum mansion where attendees will enjoy a vintage Louisiana experience.

After months of program design and detailed preparation, organizers were excited about the opening day of the conference and eager to see their plans in action. “I hope that this year's attendees take away from the event a renewed sense of energy and confidence, a wider, stronger network and many great memories,” says Work Group Co-Chair Leanne Finney, CAS.