Inspiring Women Leaders Conference Celebrates and Empowers on International Women’s Day


When you think of the future, what do you envision? Jan Spence and Steve Garguilo see women entrepreneurs, leading with empowerment and action. Spence and Garguilo were the opening and closing keynote speakers, respectively, at the second annual Inspiring Women Leaders Conference. The second of the two-day conference, which was hosted by The Department of Distance and Continuing Education at the University of Florida, fell on International Women’s Day, March 8th.  

Approximately 250 participants attended the women-run event held at the UF Hilton Conference Center. Focused on acquiring and effectively utilizing leadership skills, the event website cited “[giving] participants a greater influence and opportunities to make a positive impact on their community, career, and more,” as the purpose of the conference. There were three tracks that one could opt to follow in order to focus on different aspects of leadership: “Leading with your Strengths,” “Leading at Every Age and Place,” and “Leading to Leverage Diversity and Inclusion.” Nineteen people, seventeen of whom were women, presented throughout the two-day conference, speaking on topics such as “[Breaking] the Glass Ceiling…,” “Maximizing Peace,” and “Living Within Your Legacy.”

Many local business owners attended the conference to gain insights and skills needed to effectively run a company. April Schroeder, owner of the Business Report, attended the conference with her other local business, Liquid Creative. She appreciated the conference’s focus on women in business, and looks forward to returning in 2020. About the conference, Schroeder commented, “I enjoyed coming and bringing some of my female staff with me. The speakers and topics were great and I was able to find takeaways that I can use in my business and life. We will definitely attend again next year!”

The opening keynote speaker, Jan Spence, encouraged the participants to practice “Cheer-Leadership” through anecdotes from her professional football days with the Jacksonville Dixie Blues. Spence was a professional football player in the Women’s Football Alliance and now travels to do motivational speaking. The former-athlete defined Cheer-Leadership as “the intentional lifting-up and encouraging of others both when they’re doing well and when they’re struggling in order to increase morale, productivity, and profitability.” She began her speech by explaining how she got a spot on a professional football team.

According to Spence, she was not the fastest sprinter or the best thrower. She could not make a field goal or a touchdown, but she could encourage everyone on the field, and the coach appreciated the positivity. Spence reminded us that despite our talents, or lack thereof, we can control how we treat others, and encouraging our colleagues or teammates promotes a healthy work, or team, environment. The purpose of the keynote speech was to remind us to lift other women up. When the world continues to knock us down and prevent us from breaking the glass ceiling, as women, we have the opportunity to continue to encourage and inspire others, and to not be another negative force in a fellow woman’s life. While the opening keynote gave conference participants a healthy foundation on which to build their business or life, the closing keynote left them with inspiration to take action on their ideas.

Steve Garguilo, TedX speaker and motivational coach, closed the conference by presenting on the Science of Taking Action. Garguilo has researched progress and has perfected the process of taking action. He says the most efficient way to make progress is to have a surge of action right away. He explained this by giving an example of an entrepreneur who designed flamingo pool floats. When one man realized that a flamingo-shaped pool float did not exist, rather than giving up, he immediately called a manufacturing company and shared his idea. Within a month, these floats were being produced, and he now makes six-figures annually. Garguilo used this as an example to highlight the fact that taking action does not have to be something wildly difficult – sometimes it is something as easy as making a phone call. Garguilo reminded event practitioners that “everything in life that is hard is a series of easy things.” Women were encouraged to partner-up and share their ideas with one another, as well as to “action-storm” for each other. Action-storming is the practice of conjuring up ideas for how to complete a task, and it is often easier to do for someone else, rather than ourselves, according to Garguilo, hence why he had women creating plans for one another.

The opening and closing keynotes tied together nicely, with similar themes of encouragement and positivity, as well as taking immediate action on opportunities. Every action requires energy, and the type of that energy matters, according to Garguilo. Similar to Spence’s talk on the previous day, Garguilo focused on the importance of dedicating positive energy to our actions, whether they are in a business or general life setting. Both keynote speakers also warned about the dangers of not taking action – that the consequences of not doing or saying anything are far greater than accidentally messing up.

The second annual Inspiring Women Leaders Conference aimed to help local female entrepreneurs to become effective leaders by inviting them to spend two days listening to motivational speakers alongside fellow businesswomen. The speakers addressed topics such utilizing individual strengths, leading from where you are, and promoting diversity. Within these three topics there was something new for everyone to learn, despite their personal background or experience in business. The keynote speakers focused on encouragement and action as the two most important factors in any business. These factors can be used more broadly, however. In order to be truly influential in life, we should be intentional about lifting one another up and taking action to promote our ideas.

by Hannah Whitaker

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