Finally, life felt normal again. No video conferences. No remote meetings. Just a smattering of masks. This year for the Workers’ Compensation Institute in Orlando, their behemoth of an educational conference rose like a Phoenix from the desolate ashes of a detested pandemic. And not only did they manage to pull off a successful in-person event; they appear to have assembled what was probably the best WCI conference held to date. 

WCI took a calculated risk with this conference. Normally held in Florida in August, managers made the decision to push the 2021 Conference back to December, in what can best be described as an attempt to get as far away from Covid as they could while still conducting a worthwhile in-person event. It was a gamble that paid off. Even though they reported slightly fewer exhibitors and about 200 less registrants than the last in-person conference in 2019 (2020 was postponed and then went virtual), you couldn’t tell by walking the floors of the massive Orlando World Marriott Convention facility. 

The exhibit hall buzzed with traffic and commerce. Over 500 speakers presented across numerous educational tracks. And the legendary Marriott World Center Lobby Bar reflected life normality better than any virtual happy hour ever could have hoped to do.  

Even WCI’s renowned charitable endeavors thrived more than ever before. The annual Give Kids The World Gala was an outdoor event held at the namesake village, where attendees were treated to an amazing display of more than a million lights in a Disney-inspired display. The conference raised a whopping $125,000 for the village this weekend – the largest donation amount to date from WCI. The annual golf tournament also turned out to be the most successful one ever held. This year it was produced by Kids’ Chance of Florida (KCFL) and sold-out weeks in advance. It was the first fundraiser that KCFL had ever taken on, and the comments of participants told us it was a great event for all. While the final numbers have not yet been tabulated, KCFL will net a profit somewhere near $40,000 from the tournament.

Still, life wasn’t just normal this week. It was better than normal. A world away from the “normal” we’ve been forced to endure in the last year and a half.

But it wasn’t just the fact that we could all be present in the same place that made this conference such a positive one. This year’s agenda had a healthy number of sessions geared toward discussing what has become known as advocacy-based claims modeling. There wasn’t just technical jargon and endless statistics in all these sessions. There was a pleasing amount of discussion surrounding the importance of humanity in workers’ comp, and recognition of the significance of bio-psycho-social factors in claims management. What was considered “fringe thinking” by many just a few years ago seemed to have become more mainstream thought in this year’s gathering, and that made for a very positive experience. 

Kudos to the Workers’ Compensation Institute. They took what many considered to be a big chance, and it paid off. It took some courage to make that call, and leadership to see it through. Hopefully, you had a chance to attend and took that opportunity. If not, the conference returns next August, in its normally scheduled time. 

And if WCI in Orlando in August doesn’t return us to normal, I don’t know what will. 


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