When NAFCU picked the site for this year's Annual Conference & Exhibition at the Gaylord National on the Potomac in National Harbor, Md., the facility hadn't even been built yet.
NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker and his staff chose the site after walking the construction grounds and looking at models. Becker also said he had been impressed with other Gaylord properties.
"Because of our size, we can only go to tier-one cities, and we have to lock in a place three years out," Becker said. "While we were taking something of a chance, we weren't going to be holding it during the facility's first year and we weren't guinea pigs."
In putting together such an event, the organization's first annual meeting in the Washington area, NAFCU attempted to leave nothing to chance.
About a month after last year's meeting in San Diego, NAFCU Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Pat Morris, Director of Events and Education Alyssa Kolat and other staff members did the first of many walk-throughs in the rooms that will house the exhibition hall and the main sessions and breakouts. The association is expecting about 1,300 attendees, guests and exhibitors.
"We start visualizing how the empty room will look as an exhibition hall, and what it will take to transform some of the meeting rooms quickly. You might have very little time to change the set up from accommodating a meeting, and then soon after that, a reception," said Morris.
Kolat has a core planning staff of seven, although almost all NAFCU staff members become involved in the conference in some way on tasks ranging from helping to recruit speakers to packing up the conference on the final day.
She said the planning, including making contingency arrangements in case speakers are late or electronic equipment fails, involves thousands of moving parts and staff members who are often doing several tasks simultaneously. "There's a lot that keeps me up at times because the process is so complicated," said Kolat, a certified meeting professional who has planned events during much of her 20-year career.
During the first walk-through and in subsequent sessions, NAFCU officials met with Gaylord officials and contractors for lighting and set-up in the exhibit hall.
At that time, the NAFCU staff begins in earnest to focus on the selection of speakers. While some of the big names, such as singer Kenny Rogers, who is scheduled to perform Friday night, are well-known and picked more than a year before the conference, the process for choosing others is more complicated.
Morris, Kolat and members of her core team watch DVDs of prospective speakers and determine whose presentations would be most relevant. For those who make the first cut, NAFCU's staff will call other trade associations and find out how effective the presentations were and whether the speaker interacted well with the audience.
Once the speakers are picked, the NAFCU staff will talk to them about the conference and tell them what subjects attendees are most interested in and will make suggestions on how to tailor the presentation to the audience.
"We work with them to be sure that attendees don't hear a canned speech that they have heard before," Morris said.
And that goes for NAFCU staffers as well.
Becker writes his own speech but practices it several times in front of staff members. When asked what it's like to evaluate the work of the man who signs his paycheck, Morris replied diplomatically, "We don't critique it-we're contributing to it."