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Planning and Executing a Conference in 6 Months: Challenges Faced and Solutions Discovered

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In January 2023, we – the Board of Executive Protection Professionals, gathered to discuss the feasibility of putting on a major conference within a 6-month window. At first glance, it seems simple: you need a venue, speakers, sponsors, and attendees.

But it’s so much more complicated than that. This article outlines some of the biggest challenges and related solutions to consider when you aspire to host a large conference in another state, with over 200 attendees from around the globe, and 12 expert speakers.

Challenge #1: Venue Selection and Logistics

Selecting an appropriate hotel venue that can accommodate the needs of a security conference is crucial. First, we had to decide on the proper city to host the conference. The decision boiled down to what cities are accessible for attendees to travel to and what cities will offer the best conference experience, while limiting outside distractions. This made Kansas City the choice for us. We considered a range of hotels and venues in the Kansas City area.

With the hotel that we selected, we focused on:

  • the ability to accommodate the event’s needs
  • customer service, and
  • estimated costs.

Once we selected the hotel, there was the challenge of ensuring that all of the conference materials, literature, and branded decorations got to the venue in a timely manner. For this, the approach of nominating a local Kansas City BEPP member to receive all conference shipments was best. This approach gave us confidence that everything we needed to be onsite at the venue could easily be transported there one day ahead of the conference starting.

Challenge #2: Budget Management

Organizing a not for profit conference like ours, on a limited and dynamic budget can be daunting. The first challenge was brainstorming with the Board about delivering a conference experience that is a step above what people are accustomed to, then translating that into actionable elements. Next, we moved on to estimating the amount of funds needed to cover the costs of the conference (from venue costs to printed materials). From there, it was necessary to roughly define the number of sponsors and tickets required (along with pricing tiers) to fund all the essential expenses to turn our vision into reality. It cannot be overstated that it was an enormous task to organize all estimates on the expense and revenue side.

A critical component to generating the support from sponsors needed to make the conference possible was board members’ and advisors’ deep professional networks. Without strong connections already existing between potential sponsors, it would have been an uphill battle to sell them on the idea of supporting a conference when it is the first of its kind. On a similar note, developing professional relationships with the leadership at the venue was helpful when it came to negotiating pricing, having alternative conference areas available to us (e.g., what if it rains during the mixer?), and support after the conference.

conference

Challenge #3: Attendee Experience and Engagement

We’ve all been to conferences over the years where we could have been more engaged in the content, or the overall experience may have felt bland and cookie-cutter. Creating an engaging environment and an excellent experience for attendees is multifaceted. Solutions that we found to be useful for building engagement with the content were first to get the conference agenda out to attendees as early as possible. This got the attendees’ minds churning through the topics to be covered weeks in advance. Second, when everyone was seated for the conference and had a hardcopy of the agenda and the speakers’ presentations in their hands, it encouraged them to take notes and ask questions, whether that was in front of the group or privately with the speakers after their presentations.

The highest levels of engagement tended to come from smaller conference sessions such as the “end of conference, conference”. On the conference’s final day, panel discussions covered aspects specific to security business owners, such as legal considerations, financial/tax considerations, and branding. Based on the volume of questions and enthusiasm coming from the audience, these sessions could have easily been expanded.

Additional Insights: It’s All About Details

The more facetime we all got with attendees, the more we consistently heard feedback about how the “small things” about the conference had a significant impact on their experience. They were first impressed with the credentials they received in the mail weeks before the conference. At the mixers, they remarked that having a harpist playing live music was something they never see in our industry. And when it comes to the conference itself, attendees were thrilled to have a copy of the presentations they could take home with them and share with their team members.

As one attendee said, “The level of detail and professionalism that has been put into this event cannot and should not go unnoticed. It was evident before the conference even began. From the credentials being sent via mail, to the location, the content, down to the extremely personable members of the board, the conference was excellent.”

Taken altogether, these each appear as a small gesture. But in the grand scheme, these gestures made attendees feel like they were receiving a level of service they weren’t used to.

Closing Thoughts

Planning and executing a conference within six months presents numerous challenges, but success is achievable with support from a committed team and strategic planning.

The selection of an appropriate venue and effective logistics management are essential for a smooth event. Budget management requires meticulous estimation and leveraging professional networks to secure sponsorships. Creating an engaging and memorable experience for attendees involves early communication, interactive sessions, and attention to detail. Ultimately, the combination of these factors, along with the small gestures that demonstrate a commitment to attendees, contribute to the overall success of a security conference. By tackling each challenge head-on and prioritizing attendee satisfaction, organizers can overcome the hurdles and deliver a remarkable event that exceeds expectations.

About the Conference

From June 7th to 9th, the Board of Executive Protection Professionals hosted 230+ security leaders at their inaugural Executive Security Operations Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

The conference featured 12 esteemed speakers ranging from the Former Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security to Chief Security Officers and beyond. They shared insights from their extensive experience on topics ranging from medical oversight, how to establish a drone program, and the fundamentals such as protective advances.

The speakers, sponsors, and attendees that made the conference possible showed great enthusiasm for the Board’s mission to elevate the executive production industry’s training, quality, and professionalism.

Highlights from conference presentations included the following:

  • Michelle Keeney’s perspective on the application of Protective Intelligence for Executive Security Operations, where she shared lessons from her career with the US Secret Service.
  • Scott Lowther’s (CPP, PCI) in-depth look at Executive Protection Operations from the Client’s Perspective. He shared tactical advice for navigating the inevitable challenges of managing vendors supporting your security mission.
  • Mary Beth Janke’s unique thoughts on Mental Health During Executive Protection Operations, as a former US Secret Service Agent and forensic/clinical psychologist. In this presentation, she gave attendees practical tools and ideas for managing stress and performing at their highest levels.

 

 

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