Some drove for nine hours! Others had a mere (cough,
cough) seven, or five-hour pilgrimage to Kalispell, Montana, to attend the
fourth annual Montana Young Professionals Summit. The more than 150 attendees
at the three-day event traversed from all corners of the Treasure State to
network, learn and be inspired.
The event kicked off with a boat cruise on
Flathead Lake. The stunning views, live music and low-key dinner offered the
group a chance to rub elbows and relax. After hours on the road, everyone was
grateful for a slow introduction to a busy conference.
Day two of the summit kicked off early with energy
and gusto from keynote speaker Justin Schenck, the founder of the Growth Now
Movement. Schenck asked the capacity audience what they do to ensure success.
He challenged attendees to take stock of friendships and business relationships
– the five people you spend the most time with will reflect who you are,
Schenck cautioned. He also encouraged the room to never stop learning, no
matter your age.
At lunch, professional athlete Sam Kavanagh shared
his incredible story of surviving an avalanche, losing his leg, and eventually
riding his bike to a Paralympic bronze medal. Kavanagh said each major
challenge in his life made him doubtful and uncertain of the path forward. But
he always asked himself, “What if I can?” He challenged the room to ask
themselves the same thing when faced with insurmountable challenges: “What if I
Schenck and Kavanagh’s speeches were followed by
breakout sessions about organizational psychology, nonprofits in Montana,
running for political office, investing basics, SEO best practices, and
community building. Professionals from the area and around the United States
led each breakout session. The resounding feedback after each session was, “I
didn’t expect that to be so good!” The secret sauce to each workshop was the
interactive nature of the session. Though the professionals shared insights from
their fields of expertise, they encouraged input, participation, real time
After the breakout sessions, attendees returned to
the main banquet hall to find the space totally transformed. At every table sat
treasure boxes of varying sizes, pirate flags, spy glasses, and notes penned on
scrolls. Pirates roamed the room, ready to give instructions. The drab
conference room had been transformed into a massive escape room. Young
professionals arranged themselves evenly at tables and started to work solving
their way through various puzzles and games. The twist in the fun came when
quick teams had to wait for slower teams to continue solving the pirate puzzles.
It was the most fun way to demonstrate the power of teamwork.
After the escape room and closing remarks,
attendees were released to decompress and get ready for the local Blue Moon
rodeo. Or, for those that had work to catch up on, hunker in their hotel rooms.
The final day of the conference started at 7 a.m.
with optional yoga and mimosas. After a brief introduction, young professionals
again scattered to breakout sessions to learn about whole brain thinking, board
leadership, dealing with conflict creatively, the power of words, fundraising
ideas, the basics of podcasting, and making a smooth transition to leadership. At
lunch, U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) took the podium and thanked the
audience for showing up for the conference and showing up to work in
communities across Montana. He told the young professionals that he looks
forward to the day they take the reigns as leaders of economy, nonprofits,
government, small and large businesses, and everything in between.
After final applause, the conference adjourned.
Participants quickly scattered around the room, exchanging telephone numbers
and social media handles. They made promises to follow up with new friends and
business allies. One woman from the remote town of Sidney, Montana said it
best, “Coming to this summit helps me find people to share resources with across
this state. It makes me feel less alone to know there are all these people who
will help me if they can.”
The summit for young professionals is the only
event like it in the state. Turnout from distant parts of the state proved just
how hungry Montana’s bright young employees and entrepreneurs are for
connection and professional development. The summit offered no shortage of