Last night’s casual closing networking dinner at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia put the finishing touch on what many of the 163 attendees are describing as the best PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference so far.

PPAI Chair Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS, CEO of CE Competitive Edge, Inc., sums up what she heard over the past few days from first-timers and long-time attendees alike. “I think this conference was amazing,” she says. “Everyone who was here really wanted to be here. They are like-minded, genuine and want to support each other. I really like the relationships that are formed here. And our speakers knocked it out of the park.”

The conference opened Monday evening with an opening session, welcome reception and dinner featuring the presentation of PPAI’s Woman of Achievement award to this year’s recipient Teresa Moisant, MAS.

Two full days of education sessions followed on Tuesday and Wednesday with interactive presentations by professional speakers teaching skills in leadership, time management, finding the big ideas and reaching your full potential. Industry leaders also led sessions and panel discussions focused on a variety of topics including negotiation preparations, building brands, using industry research, communication, favorite apps and breathing techniques for better health. Back by popular demand were roundtable discussions where attendees could share lessons learned, exchange ideas and tap into the expertise of others at the table.

For 67 attendees, it was a first-time experience. Among those was Cassandra Hayes, owner of Bodacious Promotions, who won attendance to the program through a WLC grant given annually. The grant is supported by funds raised during the conference. “Attending this conference means meeting women who are in the same profession I’m in, so they understand what I’m going through,” she says. “This is a group of assertive women who clearly have leaned in and are making the most of their own employment and taking real charge of their lives—and that’s what leadership is about.”

Another first-timer, Sandra Lumpkin, owner of Southwest Suburban Showcase, also attended the conference on a scholarship she won from PPA Chicago. On the first day of the program, she was looking forward to meeting others. “It’s important to me to be around people who know my language because I’m an independent worker; I’m in my office by myself. There’s no one who knows what the heck I’m talking about when an order goes wrong,” she says.

Other first-timers sought out the conference on their own. Jane Sparks, vice president of pre-press at Gill Studios, says, “I have not had women mentors at Gill, so I felt like I had to go find my own. This conference has been the most amazing experience. The people are the best and I’ve made so many connections that I feel will last for years.”

Melissa Cantor, sales and business development manager at Poly-Pak Industries, Inc., wishes she had found WLC years ago. “This is a wonderful experience—I only regret it took me so long to get here. I’ve been in the industry way too long and I waited too long to come here. All of my friends who coerced me to come this year—I wish they had coerced me to come earlier. I’ve gained so much knowledge, especially considering I’ve been in the industry for so long. I’ve made wonderful new friendships and renewed wonderful old friendships. I highly recommend it.”

Julie Fritsch, director of marketing at Starline, says, “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to connect with such an amazing group of women leaders. I’ve always heard wonderful things about the conference and I’m excited I got the opportunity to participate this year.”

Lauri Moore, operations manager at PromoCorner, explains what brought her to WLC. "I recently got back into the industry and felt that WLC would be a wonderful way to connect with other women and meet face-to-face with people I’ve established relationships with already.”

Top Left: Members of the WLC Work Group, including Suzan Bolski, Lisa Parker, Ashlee Duerr, Dawn Ruler and Leslie Roark, thank PPAI’s Stacy Riddler. Top Right: Attendees network during Wednesday’s closing dinner. Bottom Left: Roundtable discussions let participants share their ideas. Bottom Right: WLC featured more than 15 sessions designed to teach, challenge and inspire.

Long-time attendee and local distributor Suzan Bolski, MAS, CEO of Anything Goes Promotions, Inc., was involved in development of the conference. “I love this program and it’s been great to watch it grow over the years,” she says. “I think one of the reasons it’s so successful is because of word of mouth. Women go home, go back to their businesses and talk about how great it is, how nurturing it is, and all of the good things that come out of it. That’s one of the reasons that it keeps growing. I have to say ‘thank you’ to the PPAI staff for all they do to make this work.”

Another long-time fan is Shari Garvalia, CAS, strategic account manager at Showdown Displays, who explains what keeps her coming back. “ I enjoy the PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference because it’s a great way to see old friends, meet up with new people, really get to know more about people who are inspirational in the industry and meet successful business leaders. There’s a lot of great content in the education sessions, in fact, it’s really hard to choose which ones to go to because they are all fabulous. This is my fourth time here and I look forward to coming back to continue to grow and learn more about what I can do to be the best I can be.”

Kelly Denes, large account sales at Raining Rose, came out of the Wednesday morning opening session impressed with speaker Vanessa Shaw’s message on shattering your own glass ceiling. “I just loved her,” she says. “I felt like she told us what we needed to hear. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves, and take the jobs that we are afraid to take, and not be afraid to admit it. She was fabulous.”

Wrapping up her eighth WLC, Jacque Martin, sales at Brown and Bigelow, sums up her overall take away: “I’m inspired by the wonderful, successful women who are here so much so that I know I can soar and reach anything that I want.”

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s closing session, it was announced that next year’s WLC will be held at the Turnberry Isle resort in Miami Beach, Florida, June 25-27, 2018.