ADRENALINE. This word best describes my feelings in the weeks leading up to the 2016 National FFA Convention and Expo. Sleep was not something on my mind as we finalized scripts, practiced speeches and counted down the days until we welcomed 60,000 FFA members and supporters to Indianapolis, Ind. This convention would mark the emotional end of my seven-year journey in the blue jacket and I wanted everything to go perfectly.
From 2015-2016, I represented Ohio as our state’s most recent national FFA officer. During the year, I traveled to 30 states to speak with students, teachers and sponsors of the National FFA Organization. The experience was unbelievably exciting, but the most adrenaline-filled part of my entire year was easily the weeks of preparation that went into hosting the 89th National FFA Convention and Expo alongside my fellow national officer teammates.
From the perspective of a student watching in the crowd, National FFA Convention looks like a well-oiled machine running smoothly and without a problem. After experiencing a behind the scenes look at convention, I can say with certain that it is well planned and executed! Upon returning home from my national FFA officer year, a question I often heard was, “So what actually happens ‘behind the scenes’ to make the National FFA Convention a success?”
The planning process for each National FFA Convention begins a few years in advance, but the bulk of the work begins in the months leading up to convention. Speakers must be chosen, a theme established and sessions need to be planned and timed out down to the very second — and I literally mean the very second. Time management is crucial for convention sessions to run smoothly! With a steady dose of caffeine in hand, my teammates and I spent weeks practicing how to efficiently move people across stage, hand out awards and give speeches without running over time.
While on stage during the event, national officers still have constant contact with the staff backstage. Officers wear earpieces to allow the staff to communicate any last minute changes, if an officer needs to move out of the camera view or pick up the pace to keep on schedule. Last year, as I was on stage shaking hands with Honorary Degree Recipients during session four when a voice came through my earpiece telling me to, “shake hands at a quicker pace.”
Backstage is a lot calmer than one might expect, mostly due to the many weeks of preparation. (There is even a space filled with comfy couches and beanbags for staff and officers to take a quick break when needed!) Everything backstage is lined out perfectly with signs and arrows for people to follow as they enter and exit the convention stage. Volunteers help ensure students and awards are in the correct order and that any additional needs are met. These volunteers, usually past FFA members, can be found helping to bring props and pedestals on and off the stage, explaining to students what they will do once on stage and keeping track of any guest speakers or attendees. Given that this year the convention will celebrate its 90th year, it’s no surprise that the majority of convention details have been ironed out with precision.
The National FFA Convention will be held in Indianapolis until 2024. Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home to the Indiana Pacers basketball team, holds the majority of convention sessions. The only exception is the American Degree Ceremony, which has outgrown the Fieldhouse and is now held in Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indiana Colts.
The 90th National FFA Convention and Expo will be held on October 25 to 28, 2017. Ohio FFA members will be well represented by 25 proficiency award finalists, 25 agriscience fair team/individual finalists and several CDE teams. Ohio also has two American Star Finalists. Shaun Wenrick, a member of the Anna FFA Chapter, is an American Star in Agribusiness Finalist. Chrysta Beck, of the Pettisville FFA Chapter, will be competing as an American Star in Agriscience Finalist.
If you’re unable to attend convention, you can still be a part of the excitement by watching it live on RFDTV. To find session times, visit www.ffa.org/events/convention/schedule.