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Christian Leadership Alliance's national conference—all 85 workshops, 22 full-day seminars, three one-day forums, four general sessions, and 19 keynote speakers, special guests, and entertainers—is the centerpiece of the association’s many platforms and programs for serving its members throughout the year.
D’Wayne Leatherland, CMP, president and owner of Leatherland Consulting and Management Services, is CLA’s conference manager. Hired in early 2011, he has primary responsibility for event logistics. (Leatherland is also the Religious Conference Management Association’s newest board member, elected at the annual meeting in January.)
With so many educational sessions, the challenge on the logistics side is obvious enough. “The meeting is what the industry would call a ‘space hog,’ and accommodating the various sessions is like putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together,” he says with a laugh. Adding to the challenge is the fact that attendees do not pre-register for sessions so there is a need to adjust on the fly.
“We’re not sure it’s worth the extra hassle and expense of doing pre-registration in terms of whether we’d really get the information we need that way,” he explains. “We compensate by having a staff that has been doing this for years and has a good grasp of the kinds of audience that different topics are likely to attract.”
With so many sessions, the group tries to minimize the number of room resets as much as possible. “It gives us the opportunity to utilize more creative formats in many cases,” he adds.
Another challenge is one many other groups face: finding the budget to get the bandwidth that the association would like to be able to use during the meeting. “It’s frustrating not to be able to provide the kind of [Internet] access attendees are used to. Hopefully, this will change in the industry as bandwidth becomes less of a revenue stream for properties; we are already seeing that trend starting to balance out so we can meet people’s needs. Certainly it will become more and more a part of site negotiations.”
Next year will present a big change: For the first time, CLA’s Christian Nonprofit Leadership Academy, a standalone event typically held in the fall, will be folded into the national conference. The leadership academy is CLA’s “graduate school,” offering in-depth, 10-hour courses in the association’s core leadership disciplines.
Accommodating the additional programming of the academy will be a challenge but not an insurmountable one, Leatherland says. The meeting will be held at the 1,120-room Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion, which has 160,000 square feet of meeting space.
W. Scott Brown adds that a strategy is already in place for how to combine the events and give the Academy its own feel and space within the Hyatt.
“It might be a tight fit but it will also offer a new education track for attendees and will give CLA one major national event,” he says. “And it will be an even greater opportunity to make the annual conference the primary place where we can connect more deeply with members, a place to share all the ways we can serve as a resource year-round.”