The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) will hold its 2014 Board Leadership Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Oct. 12–14. The annual meeting is expected to draw about 1,400 board directors, the majority from Fortune 1000 companies, although directors from private companies, nonprofits, and smaller startups will also be in attendance, according to Donna Vaught, CMP, NACD’s director of meetings.
NACD’s biggest challenge is a good one to have: major growth. “When we entered into a three-year agreement with Gaylord, our goal was to accommodate 850 directors in the space we have,” Vaught said. “Last year, we were at 1,100. This year, we’re looking at 1,400.”
To accommodate the increased headcount, Vaught and her team have had to get creative, and think “beyond simply adding more chairs,” she said. One strategy is to move programming into alternative spaces. At last year’s meeting, NACD introduced a Social Media Lab, which featured an “Innovation Stage” and short, expert-led presentations on topics related to social media and emerging technology. “That helped us alleviate some of the tightness in the breakout rooms,” Vaught said.
The Social Media Lab — which also included knowledge bars where attendees could get tech questions answered and self-guided stations that allowed them to explore devices and social-media sites at their own pace — was so popular that NACD is expanding both its footprint and programming for 2014.
This year, NACD will introduce a Global Village, a 3,400-square-foot-space designed for networking with leaders in international business development as well as for educational sessions on emerging trends in global business. “We’re hearing from our directors that they’re doing more business abroad and they’d like more global programming,” Vaught said. NACD is reaching out to select foreign embassies, inviting them to reserve booth space in the Global Village. Participation is free; Vaught is simply asking for speakers who can discuss the ins-and-outs of doing business and investing in their respective countries. As of press time, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Ireland, and Canada were confirmed participants.
Because networking is a top priority for attendees, NACD is also introducing a peer-exchange roundtable to close out the meeting. “That came from a number of comments saying, ‘We love having the experts speak to us, but we want to speak with someone who has the same challenges with executive compensation or the lead-director issues that I have,’” Vaught said.
To accommodate that request, NACD has designated the last hour of the conference for small-group peer exchange. Attendees will split into groups based on board focus. (Typically, boards are divided into three key committees: governance, compensation, and audits.) Those groups will be further broken down to focus on specific areas of interest, such as cyber risk or technology. “We’ll be looking to our partners for help identifying the small-group topics,” Vaught said.
Another good challenge to have: match-making for the expected 800 to 1,000 participants.