NAPO 2024: Tales From Behind the Table

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A photo of Denslow Brown and Sara Skillen at the Coach Approach Training table at the 2024 NAPO Summit. Display includes posters with the headings "Coaching Skills! Don't Go Organizing Without Them", "Conference Drawings!", "Two Essential Tools for Organizing & Productivity Professionals by Denslow Brown", and "Coaching skills support powerful communication. They have a profound impact on all kinds of conversations."I truly appreciate all my guest bloggers, but it means even more to me when one of my clients offers to share an experience with my readers. Even though I’ve been working with Sara Skillen for a few years, I learned a lot about her after reading her post. If you’ve never been to a NAPO Conference, it will give you a good idea of what to expect, and if you have, it will probably bring back a lot of memories.

Janet

I went to my first NAPO Conference in Phoenix back in 2014, when I was what you might call a baby organizer. No, not that I organized babies – what I mean is I was still pretty green. OK, not green like Kermit, but you know… newish to the profession. Wide-eyed. Somewhat naive, even for someone who started a brand-new business at 45. Anyway, at my first foray into a NAPO conference experience, I was blown away by all the learning, networking, and fresh ideas on offer. Of course, I had no earthly idea where my journey would take me.

Since that more innocent time, I’ve attended nine events in total – whether they went by “conference,” “retreat,” or “summit.” Virtual (once) and in-person (eight times). I’ve been a regular-old attendee, a national committee chair, a session host, and a two-time presenter – and I’ve enjoyed all of it. But this year, for the first time, I had the opportunity to see the Summit from a different perspective, as an exhibitor for Coach Approach Training.

NAPO has had a variety of Expo offerings over the years, from massive to non-existent. Most of us in attendance were happy to see more exhibitors coming back, and the area was a just-right size with plenty of variety and no overwhelm. My involvement with Coach Approach is intimately tied to my overall NAPO experience (I’m pretty confident it was the first table I stopped at in the Expo in 2014), but that’s not the story here. The real news is how shifting into a new way of experiencing an event can re-energize your engagement.

Still, a bit of background may be in order. Not too long after that first table visit, I went through the Coach Approach program and received my first credential in 2018. I’ve been teaching in the program since 2019, and I’m currently poised (and deeply grateful) to step into founder Denslow Brown’s very spacious shoes as she moves toward retirement. Her support has been invaluable, and this year’s NAPO Summit in Long Beach, CA was the first official event of this transition.

Anyway, some serious energy kicked in when I set up our table – the supplies had beaten me there, and my mentor/friend/table partner Denslow was on the way. I’ve done tons of setting up in other venues with other kinds of events, and I enjoy arranging, tweaking, and messing with the different marketing materials. Almost immediately, early-arriving colleagues stopped by to chat. The curious queued up to start asking questions. Denslow soon joined me, and we were off to the races.

So how was this NAPO Summit experience different for me?

  1. I don’t know when I’ve ever talked so much in my life! I mean, I’m a serious extrovert, but rarely do my cheeks and jaws feel numb by the end of a conference day. It was enormous fun for me to engage with so many people, have meaningful conversations with Denslow, reconnect with old friends, and share about a program I so strongly believe in. Still, I was delighted every night to return to my quiet, calm room and decompress.
  2. Have you ever attended a conference where you felt like you had to walk five miles just to find the coffee, and another two to your first session? Not a problem with NAPO2024 – the layout of the rooms, Expo, and eating area had a super easy flow. Compact, but not cramped. I had a direct sightline to the buffet line (interesting, and handy!). When the crowd at our table lulled a bit, I had a great opportunity to simply sit back and watch others engage and network. Seeing new people connect, old friends reconnect, and how everyone encouraged and supported one another was really uplifting.
  3. Something new this year – the Backend Business Labs. These were shorter, concentrated sessions with an expert on a specific tool or subject matter (everything from ChatGPT to Canva to Quickbooks). They got serious rave reviews. True confession time: I ended up in so many conversations I missed all of them, so I sure hope they bring them back for next year.
  4. Puppies!! Well, dogs, really – but they were there! An organization called Pet Partners brought therapy dogs for attendees to love on. And I did.

There’s likely more I’m forgetting, but those are the highlights.

And how was it the same?

Well, no event can literally be the same – but here’s what felt familiar and comforting:

  1. One-off conversations. All those little sidebars unique to a conference experience where you’re with your tribe provide almost as much (if not more) education than the sessions. I had several apart from being at our table, ranging from the serious and introspective to the surprising and hilarious. All fabulous.
  2. Taking care of myself. Pacing was the name of the game, and there were a few times I almost felt dizzy from the action, eating erratically, and forgetting to fill my water bottle. We had little packets of Emergen-C at our table (Denslow’s clever idea), and I may or may not have grabbed a few to keep the immunity boosted. Sleep, fortunately, was pretty easy.
  3. A bit of (good) information overload. I attended fewer sessions overall, and I had to be selective. But they were all packed with ideas, tools, and immediately useful concepts. My friend Ellen Faye’s discussion of productivity tools, Barry Izsak’s panel discussion on succession planning, and an insightful presentation on AI rounded out my experience nicely.
  4. Seeing all the lovely folks I can only see in person roughly 1-2 times a year. Sure, video calls have made it easier to stay connected, but nothing beats a good NAPO hug.

Will I do this again? It seems so, and I’m not mad about it at all. I hope I’ll see many of you joining us in Chicago next year!

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Sara Skillen, PCC, COLC, CPO®, is the founder of SkillSet Coaching, in Nashville, TN. With a varied background in music, education, and the legal world, Sara has always been intrigued by how environments (both exterior and interior) affect work, productivity, and life. As a result, she was inspired to start her company in 2012, helping creative and neurodiverse people from all walks of life manage their stuff, time, and tasks.

In addition to her coaching, Sara is a certified Interfaith Spiritual Director, a member of the holistic health practice The Lotus Center in Nashville TN, and has been assisting with training student coaches through Coach Approach since 2019. Specializing in working with adults with ADHD, she is a co-facilitator of the long running ADDNashville support group. Sara is a member of NAPO and has served in a variety of leadership positions in that organization. In July of 2023, she joined the board of directors of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization as Director of Subscriber Relations.

Sara’s writing has appeared in numerous publications including Unconditionally Her magazine, the ”Human Amplified” blog, and her own blog, “The Stuff Behind the Stuff™.” She published her first book, Organizing and Big Scary Goals in December of 2019. Sara is a recent empty-nester, living in Franklin, TN with her husband and her focused and productive Labrador Retriever, Sunshine.

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11 Comments

  1. Avatar Seana Turner on May 9, 2024 at 11:19 am

    Sorry to have missed it this year! Congratulations on taking over for Denslow – you will be amazing!

    The backend labs sound really great. I think that is so helpful for us as we navigate a lot of small details as entrepreneurs. And dogs – the best! I hope they will do that again next year. 🙂

    • Sara Skillen Sara Skillen on May 13, 2024 at 2:23 pm

      Hi Seana – missed see you this year! Thanks for the kind words, and yes, I’m looking forward to making room for the backend labs next time around!

  2. Avatar Ellen Faye on May 9, 2024 at 11:28 am

    I love your writing Sara. It made me feel like I was back in Long Beach re-experienceing all the wonderfulness of conference all over again. What a great experience regardless of where you are in your career. Looking forward to seeing you and our other dear colleagues next year in Chicago.

    • Sara Skillen Sara Skillen on May 13, 2024 at 2:23 pm

      Aw, thanks, Ellen. I can’t wait for Chicago – LOVE that city!

  3. Avatar Barry Jay Izsak on May 9, 2024 at 3:41 pm

    Ditto everything that Ellen Faye said. I don’t usually read things on LinkedIn that much, but by doing so today led me to your blog post. So glad that I read it and get to know you even better! See you in Chicago….if not before!

    • Sara Skillen Sara Skillen on May 13, 2024 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks so much, Barry. And yes, when are you going to come to Nashville??

  4. Julie Bestry Julie Bestry on May 11, 2024 at 1:01 am

    Thank you so much for writing this, Sara! Although I attended 19 NAPO conferences in a row (plus the virtual one in 2021), I’ve missed attending since the pandemic. You made the whole experience come alive, and I’m especially excited about the return of the EXPO, which was always one of my favorite parts of conference. I love how you shared such a meaningful first-person experience, and I’m so excited about your path in leading Coach Approach through its forthcoming years!

    • Sara Skillen Sara Skillen on May 13, 2024 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks so much, Julie. And wow, 19!! I hope you’ll consider coming this next year – I miss seeing you there!

  5. Linda Samuels Linda Samuels on May 13, 2024 at 11:13 am

    First of all, congratulations for continuing Denslow’s amazing legacy and work with Coach Approach. I can’t think of a better person to do this vital work! You will do an incredible job in this role, and I know Denslow will continue to provide the support and guidance you need.

    I loved hearing about your NAPO conference experience—from petting the pups and connecting deeply with colleagues to learning new things. There is nothing quite as wonderful as being face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, with our peeps. It’s truly special.

    I’ll think of you as you help Coach Approach transition to this new stage. I wish you all the best of success!

    • Sara Skillen Sara Skillen on May 13, 2024 at 2:27 pm

      Hi Linda – thanks so much for the comments and kind words. Yes, Denslow has been a huge support, and I’m lucky to have support in lots of areas with this transition! Hoping maybe I’ll see you at an upcoming conference sooner rather than later!

  6. Avatar Janet Schiesl on May 15, 2024 at 6:39 pm

    Great read Sara, I loved hearing about your experience.

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