FBC2013 – An Honest Glimpse Behind the Scenes

FBC2013 Name Badge

When you give birth to something you are passionate about, building, nurturing it, and shaping it to follow a vision is a labour of love.  Labour and love being the key words.

When you publicly attach your name to it and throw it out into the world and are a recovering perfectionist like I am, it’s downright terrifying.  When you are also a control freak like me and you join forces with two good friends in the process, it’s also fraught with potential minefields.

When we opened up Food Bloggers of Canada to the Canadian food blogging community in September of 2011, we had no idea what we were doing.  We thought we’d make this nice little space on the web where we could all hang out and maybe learn a thing or two.  Maybe… maybe if we were lucky, we would reach 500 members one day.  What a crazy day that would be.  Were there even 500 food bloggers IN Canada? (oh we learned how naive that was pretty fast!)

FBC2013

And then we hit member 100 almost the moment we were out of the gate.  I still remember it – it was my introduction to the lovely Stephanie Eddy of Clockwork Lemon – still one of my favourite blogs and one of our conference panelists.  And suddenly, we had sponsors wanting to work with us and we had to scramble around to figure out how to make that happen.  And then we had more members and had to find content.

Along the way we made mistakes… lots and lots of mistakes.  And we did a few things right.  And then a few more.  Followed by some more mistakes.  And then came the day where we had to become a business.  And then we had to incorporate and learn about very un-food like things like insurance and government forms.

And then… then we had to plan a conference.  We’d never planned a conference before.  Mardi & Ethan had been to lots of food ones.    I had been to lots of tech and design ones.  Ethan & I had some experience working on event planning teams in different but relatively small capacities.  But none of us had started from scratch.

We agonized over decisions: who to ask to speak, who to ask to sponsor, where to have it, how much to sell tickets for, would we have enough money to pay for it and most importantly… would anyone come??  There were a million smaller but equally important decisions to make as well… what to serve for dinner, how to get volunteers, who to do our AV, all the little details that make or break a conference.

We got crash courses in negotiating contracts, working with big brands, PR firms, agents, and people we looked up to immensely.

We fought.  Yes.  We did.  Believe it or not, Melissa, Ethan and Mardi are not all sweetness and light all the time.  Not even close despite what you might think from our social media accounts or our blogs or even meeting us.  We all have wicked tempers and sharp tongues.  We are three very different personalities but we are all equally passionate about FBC and with passion comes emotion.  It would scare me if we agreed all the time and probably mean we’re doing this wrong.

As we got closer to the date we had even shorter fuses and wandered around in a state of exhaustion and queasy stomachs.

And then it was the week of.  And things started falling apart.  Yes, you heard me right.  It felt like everything that could go wrong did.  Ethan called me two nights before our departure at 10pm to say he was completely and utterly defeated and was going to bed.  I knew exactly how he felt.

ethan at FBC

a pretty worn out Ethan

The next night we checked in on-line for our flight only to discover that the aisle and middle seat we had chosen together so we could work on the way to Toronto, were, in fact, two middle seats 6 rows apart.  I’m hugely claustrophobic on planes and the thought of being squashed between two people I don’t know literally sends me into a massive irrational waves of panic and anger.  I started to cry and couldn’t stop until I fell asleep. Everything was going wrong and I couldn’t even sit next to Ethan on the damn plane.  It was a small silly thing but it felt like the last straw.

That was, until I was driving to the airport at 5:15 the next morning only to see my phone lighting up with long distance numbers I didn’t know and twitter notifications.  Flights into Toronto were being cancelled and delayed all over the place because of an ice storm.  Half our volunteer team, most of whom we were going to pick up at the airport when we landed, was going to be late… Of equal concern was the fact that our flight was still on time!

On time it was and it wasn’t until we started our descent into Pearson airport that things got a bit dicey and we had an aborted landing in the midst of hail and ice we could actually hear hitting the plane and snow we could see.  I’ve never had an aborted landing before.  It’s pretty scary.  Your stomach does things it shouldn’t.

swag bags

On the ground things got better.  Janice had manged to get on a different airline and made it in time to meet us.  Deb got herself to the airport from Markham.  Michelle was delayed in Edmonton until 1am that morning.  Kathy was finally en route from Halifax.  Kathryne was stuck somewhere in northern Manitoba trying to get home from another trip she had been on.  But, the roads were clear and there was no ice, snow or rain coming from the sky.

We made it to Hockley Valley, where we met the incredible team we had been working with for the last 12 months.  They are as much a part of making the conference a success as we were – they actually knew what they were doing and made sure we looked like we did too!

Our team continued to trickle in.  Aimee and Danny drove in from Montreal, Calantha had a white knuckle drive from Elora late that night.  We stuffed SWAG until 11 and then sent them all to bed while Ethan and I sorted out seating charts  till 1am.

The next morning we woke up to a fairyland of ice and snow with rain.  The roads were frightening and the rain froze as the day went on.  But Michelle had arrived and then Tiffany and finally Kathryne.  We stuffed SWAG and lanyards and prepped signage and centerpieces.

lunch

And then… then the power went out.  Not for 5 minutes.  For 3. 5 hours.  We had 120 guests arriving for a sponsor cocktail party, a sit down dinner, a keynote address and a movie night demoing KitchenAid blenders and making milkshakes.

It was one of those moments where Ethan and I told everyone it would be fine, no problem, it’s all under control. And then we yanked each other out into the hall and said to each other “what the hell are we going to do???”

But, you know what? It all worked out.  As things tend to do.  The Hockley staff were stars.  After speaking to them our fears dissipated and we were as calm as they were.  It wasn’t the end of the world.  People would understand.  We had options.

The power came back just in time for cocktails with our fabulous sponsors and Mardi made it in from Toronto after having to work all day.  The music turned on, people poured in and munched and sipped and started to laugh and have fun… the noise level rose and suddenly, I knew we could breathe.

The weekend is still a blur to me.  I can’t wait to see the recordings of the sessions when they arrive next week.  Maybe that will make it seem real because right now, it doesn’t.  I can’t believe we trended worldwide on twitter.  Not just in Canada, but worldwide.  Huh.  Weird, eh?

our volunteers hard at work

These are the only pictures I had the opportunity to take all weekend – behind the scenes on Friday!

So, in the spirit of a good post conference list… here’s my ten things that stood out:

  1. The incredible staff who worked with us Hockley Valley Resort.  They couldn’t have made it easier.  Amanda was a rock star but I also know she will modestly say it was the entire team.  And it absolutely was.  But she was still a rock star.
  2. The Hockley Valley Beds.  Trust me.  The current “business class” hotel I’m staying in as I write this doesn’t come close to comparing!  I wish I could’ve lounged in one all day!
  3. The graciousness of all our speakers who agreed to not only speak, but to participate -  many for the entire weekend.  A treat for all of us to be sure.
  4. The hard work of our team from CCR Solutions who gave us AV/Multi-Media/Tech/Camera support.  As one tech geek to another, I know how often the tech team gets overlooked at these events and how hard they work behind the scenes when everyone else is… ummm… eating! haha.  They only ever get noticed when something goes wrong.
  5. My awesome presenting partner, Dave Zille.  Seriously.  Thanks dude.
  6. Our volunteer team… ummm… YEAH!! What to say here… I don’t have words.  David Leite and Dianne Jacob will be shaking their heads.  What a privilege to finally meet you all in person and I admit to being a little bit awestruck by how smart, strong, independent and motivated you all are.  Being surrounded by people like you is what gets ME all pumped up and inspired.  Thank you for all your help, Michelle, Kathryne, Calantha, Deb, Tiffany, Janice, Aimee, Danny and Kathy during FBC2013 and throughout the  year.
  7. Our sponsors who were so excited to be there and who contributed so much to the event.  Who says Canadian brands aren’t wanting to work with bloggers???  I think they proved that theory to be completely off track!
  8. Meeting all of YOU! It was so exciting.  I’m only sorry I didn’t get to meet all of you, what with running around like a madwoman all weekend.  An event is only as good as it’s attendees.  What a fun bunch you all are!
  9. The food.  Enough said.
  10. Mardi and Ethan.  Again, I don’t have words – none that will come out without tears coming out too.  Oh dear… they already are.  I know it’s been rough at times but it has been so worth it.  You aren’t friends anymore – you’re family – with all the bad AND the good.  And there’s been lots and lots of good.  I love you both THISMUCH!!! xo

Will we do it again? Time will tell.   We have full-time jobs that need our attention and family and friends who have been badly neglected and need to have us back for a little while.  And we have other FBC things up our sleeves that we want to have happen first. We still have 860 members who DIDN’T come to the conference who need some attention.

But first and foremost?  The three of us would just like to sit down and have a beer together – we haven’t had a chance to do that yet.  And I think we earned it. :)

 

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22 Responses to FBC2013 – An Honest Glimpse Behind the Scenes

  1. Helene Meurer April 20, 2013 at 12:45 AM #

    There are tears on both sides of the screen Melissa.

    Pros are the ones who can take a hard thing and make it look easy and that’s what you three did. Some of us where so wrapped up in our own personal adventures of “Getting to Hockley During the Ice Storm of 2013″ that we might have missed out on what truly went on behind the scenes, had you not shared this candid perspective.

    The FBC team not only pulled off an exceptional conference, but did so with heroic aptitude and humility. Wanna see a real rock star? Just check the mirror of that “business class hotel” you’re staying in tonight.

    I for one hope that when you three get together for that beer you will be talking about … well, you know… the next one ;-)

  2. Jeanine - the Baking Beauties April 20, 2013 at 5:49 AM #

    Great to see it from your aspect, Melissa. Know that we all think YOU GUYS are the rock stars! You pulled off, what to all of us, seemed like the impossible. This was my first ever conference, and I am so happy that it was this one. I really don’t think any other one could be as good as this one. The venue. The swag (wow!). The friendly Canadian bloggers & brands. But one thing that truly sticks with me, is that the speakers were all available to us all weekend. They ate with us, learned with us, and were just part of the group, even though they left many of us star struck. “Thank you” is just not enough, but that’s all I can offer right now. THANK YOU!!

  3. Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) April 20, 2013 at 6:19 AM #

    Hey you, I thought you had #nowords but instead here I come and here are #allthewords. You. I still don’t have the words and this past week has still felt like a complete blur. Thank YOU for writing this. When can we have that beer?

  4. Aimee @ Simple Bites April 20, 2013 at 8:14 AM #

    Amazing post! Thanks for giving us a glimpse of the grit and guts that it took to pull this even off. I’m still processing everything I took in and conversions I had.

  5. Meg @ Sweet Twist April 20, 2013 at 8:37 AM #

    So cool to see your side. I can’t imagine what you guys had to do to make it all come together but we could certainly see a glimpse of all your hard work and time you put into it, It was an amazing weekend.

  6. Amy @ Family feedbag April 20, 2013 at 9:10 AM #

    This is a great read, Melissa. My stomach knotted when I read “then the power went out,” and I even know how that turned out! Thanks for all the heart and sweat you guys put into the event. I think you could add ‘fabulous event organizer’ to your About Melissa blurb below.

  7. robyn April 20, 2013 at 9:17 AM #

    congratulations on a huge success melissa! i assumed when i heard we were trending on twitter on saturday that it was for canada – had so idea it was worldwide. that is just incredible!

  8. Redawna April 20, 2013 at 9:45 AM #

    A neat look at behind the scenes. I know each and everyone one of us thank you for all your hard work putting it together over the past year. Who knew the weather would play such a roll in the beginning of the weekend.

    Every moment of it was very enjoyable, the people were amazing! What a fantastic community we are.

    You all should be very proud. It was a world class event! And you all made it look like you have been doing it forever.

    So pleased I was able to be a part of it.
    Thank you.

  9. Heather April 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM #

    You know how I feel, because I keep telling it to you all over and over, but this post made me want to give you the largest hug ever. You did fabulously and you most definitely deserve that beer!

  10. Sondi April 21, 2013 at 11:58 AM #

    Oh my god! What craziness. That is a truly honest glimpse of what happened behind the scenes. Despite all the glitches, it sounds like it was an amazing conference. Congratulations on a job well done. Next year on the West coast? ;)

  11. Renee April 21, 2013 at 12:12 PM #

    Great behind the scenes post, Melissa. Thank YOU so much for all of the hard work involved in getting FBC2013 off the ground, and making it a roaring success. You, Ethan and Mardi pretty much blow my mind. Well done. Hope you had a chance to catch your breath a bit before your next adventure.

  12. Natalie April 22, 2013 at 7:02 AM #

    Hi Melissa, it was an well put together event. Your hard work was appreciated and paid off. Cookin’ Greens was very happy to be part of this year’s conference and hopefully we will be there again next year.

  13. Stephanie April 22, 2013 at 1:20 PM #

    You three certainly made it seem like you were cool, calm and collected. If I hadn’t read this I might have assumed that conference planning was something that magically came naturally to you.

    The conference was really amazing, I loved how there were *so* many people to meet and learn from yet it felt so cozy and friendly like we all knew each other already. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and the inspiration that I felt during the presentations is still strong. You deserve a beer!
    ..and a new notebook or two ;)

  14. Kathy April 22, 2013 at 7:32 PM #

    My mind is still buzzing with inspiration and I have you to thank.

    I still feel blessed to have just been there.

    You passion has infected us all!

  15. A Canadian Foodie April 23, 2013 at 8:36 AM #

    I read this the day you posted it and have had it starred to comment on since. It is a busy month. What an honest, open, vulnerable piece of writing. Right there with you. Understand completely and appreciate every fiber of your being that went into this ground breaking event. Your “behind the scenes” persona was not missed for a second. To take on all of that preconference organizing and find the energy to continue was only miraculous. Your session was a definite favourite of mine.
    Big tight hug.
    Melissa: She Who Moves Mountains.
    :)
    Valerie

  16. Neysa April 23, 2013 at 1:48 PM #

    You’re makin’ me proud

    xo

  17. Paula April 24, 2013 at 11:33 AM #

    Your behind the scenes look was so honest, enlightening and quite refreshing to read. Planning and holding a conference is one (major and intensive) thing but doing so as beautifully and as smoothly as you three did amidst all the challenges that were thrown at you, especially on *opening* is *stand-up and cheer* commendable.

    You have set the bar for Canadian Food Conferences…one that will be hard to surpass.

  18. Cristina April 26, 2013 at 8:35 PM #

    I almost couldn’t breathe through some of your journey describing the challenges that kept falling in front of you. I’m glad it all worked out – it sounds like it was a roaring success and that you, Mardi and Ethan organized a memorable and educating (for both the organizers and attendees) experience. Can’t wait to read what you’re planning for next year? :)

    Have a relaxing weekend, Melissa!

  19. Carly May 28, 2013 at 3:45 PM #

    Melissa on both a personal and professional note you have pulled off an incredible venue and I am very proud to have been a part of the fruits of your labour. I recall our conversation a year before this event ever happened where you alluded to the fact that the goal was to have a conference maybe in the next couple of years, not sure, see how FBC develops etc. This was when there was just shy of 300 members. You accomplished your goal, FBC has developed incredibly and you shoudl be very proud.

    I have a very small understanding of what it would take to organize an event of this stature. I know what it took for me to pull our 29 brands together to participate and that was just a mere glimpse into what the three of you had to organize.

    On behalf of Tree of Life and the brands we brought to this incredible event, thank you. I have been to many, and I mean many shows throughout my career and this was a chart topper in my humble opinion. The people, the food, wine, speakers, venue, all of it, just amazing. Let me tell you for me this weekend was not work, it was a sheer pleasure.

    Nobody would have ever guessed that you three had never pulled this off before. Congratulations to you, and I do hope there are many more to come.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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