I had the privilege of hosting Spark Sessions: A Fashion & Beauty Blogger Conference with a team of 7 bloggers in Toronto the weekend of November 16-17th.
It started as an idea over burgers at Five Guys in the summer. Marissa (of Chic Darling), Rema (of The Burgundy Book), and I met for an indulgence and ended up chatting about the possibilities of a beauty and fashion blogger conference. Just a few days later, Marissa and I met for drinks and three hours later, we had a full conference plan complete with timelines, agenda items and a potential executive committee. After a series of Skype calls and coffee dates, our team was born. With Marissa leading operations and me leading content and programming, we brought on Nicole (of Dainty Girl) to be the Sponsorship Lead, Anum (of SummerxSkin) to be the Social Media Manager, Dee (of My Fash Avenue) and Elaine (of Toronto Beauty Reviews) to handle logistics and blogger outreach, Jenny (of Crazy Style Love) to be the Marketing Lead, and Melissa (of The Domestic Peach) to manage PR for the conference. With the right mix of professional skill sets (this team is stacked!!! – from MBAs to engineers, to entrepreneurs and more), industry contacts, blogging experience, and personal strengths, we worked tirelessly as a team for four straight months to engage speakers, find sponsors, create buzz and prove to potential attendees it would be worth their time.
The exec team!
As an Instructional Designer, I create learning content and programs for a living. This was right up my alley. Those of you who know me, know that learning is so engrained in my being that I am always looking for ways to either connect people, learn from people, or create environments where networking and learning can occur. I was thrilled to be the lead on content and was ecstatic when high profile speakers from diverse blogging, fashion, and beauty backgrounds decided to come on board. Not only did I get to meet some people who I truly adore in the industry, but I also got to work with them to create workshop content that would allow them to shine. Maybe I am sounding like a nerd hear, but seriously when you’ve got the brains of these people all in one room, and the opportunity to ask them ANYTHING related to their success, it’s quite an exciting experience!
Check out who we had on our panels (click here for all speaker bios):
Opening Keynote: Jeanne Beker
Blogging Branding and Social Media: Sheryl Bagga, Nicole Wilson, Crystal Gibson
Everything SEO: Nicki Lamont
Sponsorship – Building a Media Kit and Pitching It: Gloria Chik, Lia Van Eyk, Karyn Johnson
Being a Blogger – Networking, Image & Events: Christie Ressel, Anita Clarke, Rema Gouyez
Multimedia for Bloggers: Ishmil Waterman, Stacey Brennan
The Business of Blogging: Alex Liang, Jessica Desjardin
The PR Perspective: Cheryl Wilberg, Val Stachurski, Kelsey Cole
Getting Published: Jennifer Weatherhead, Sarah Kelsey, Tammy Burns
Closing Keynote: Elaine Lui (Lainey Gossip)
Ummmm, talk about a STACKED lineup of speakers! Not to mention the sponsors who saw the value in what we were doing and came on board to support us:
Title Sponsors: Smart Set, Almay
Gold Sponsors: Tria Beauty
Silver Sponsors: Blossom Lounge, Benefit Cosmetics, Charming Media
Bronze Sponsors: Pure + Simple, Spafinder
And the amazing gift bags full of sponsor swag:
When you are an organizer of a conference, I suppose you never really know what to expect. Being my first shot at something like this, I knew it was going to be great…but did I know it was going to be amazing? Not really. As we started day one, I was absolutely humbled by the number of bloggers who came out, excited and revved up for Spark Sessions to start. Jeanne Beker kicked it off with an inspiring and heart warming speech that set the tone of empowerment and learning for the rest of the day. As we progressed through the panels, I watched the audience take pictures, share laughs, tweet commentary, and ferociously write notes, trying to absorb everything that was going on.
I must mention, #SparkSessions was trending for 3hrs in Canada on Saturday – a true indication of the engagement levels in the room! We had an abundance of food (so much that we need up donating a large portion to a local food bank on Saturday night), and a nice sampling of candy, coffee, tea and drinks throughout the day.
Sponsors had booths set up where attendees could try on products, create their own styles, and network with and get to know brand an PR representatives. We set up a Speed Networking event after the sessions on Saturday where attendees had a chance to chat with select PR representatives for 15 minutes and practice everything they had learned that day. We finished the first day with an after party which included a clothing swap, manicures, cupcakes and drinks.
Day two when just as well – we were prepared to learn, engage, and empower each other through meaningful discussion and conversations. The weekend ended with a Q&A session with Lainey Gossip. The great thing about this was that Lainey’s success all started with her gossip blog – and now look at where she is. The piece that tied everything together was Lainey’s closing statement: “I don’t want to move to LA… I just want to grow my blog” – the sentiment of a true, authentic blogger. I’ll have more to say about that later.
Throughout the weekend we had amazing volunteers who helped us keep things running smoothly. Major shout-out to them for being enthusiastic, positive and super helpful.
We received an overwhelmingly positive response about the conference and landed ourselves a nice little spot in Metro News this week. I have to say, it feels good to know that so many people were excited and and benefitted from an idea that started in a burger joint in the summer.
I want to say THANK YOU to everyone involved: the attendees for trusting us to deliver on a kick-ass conference, the volunteers for putting in hard work to ensure the conference was a success, the speakers who provided amazing insights and inspiration throughout, the lovely sponsors who supported us and gave us the means to run the show, the location staff at the Social Centre for Innovation who helped with set up and tear down, and last but not least… our super smart, super ambitious and hard-working executive team – we turned an idea into a living breathing conference that was a super huge success!
So what’s next for Spark Sessions? After a 10-day break, we had a debrief session this week. All I can say is that Spark Sessions is definitely coming back in 2014, but you may see a few little treats throughout the year as well. Stay tuned!