What Goes into Planning The Signature CEO Conference – With or Without A Pandemic

To say that I “plan” The Signature CEO Conference is truly an understatement that modestly characterizes what I do. “Plan”, that 4-letter word, is not big enough to encapsulate the heart and soul of this endeavor. Every morning I rise with my mind intrinsically intertwined with ways to meet the needs of business leaders across echelons. I take the best ideas and methodically and artistically pare off chips from around the edges, sand the surface, blow away the dust, then polish, shine and refine – until this platform takes the shape of a pathway for those that passionately pursue success.

The concept for The Signature CEO Conference rose from the dispirited ashes that fell away from me each time I walked away from educational forums with empty pages in my notebook and an unnourished creative soul. Each time, the despair was accompanied by a tiny nagging that gradually began to consume my mind with a sense of urgency and a strong inclination. Inspiration’s magnetic pull sprang me into action and in that moment, I dreamt of The Signature CEO Conference, as more than an educational forum; it would be a thriving, educational ecosystem.

That was five years ago (2015), and since then, welcoming creatives into this brave new world has become my specialty; one that inspires them to be their best selves in every aspect of their lives.

Planning The Signature CEO Conference (with or without a pandemic) is a passion pursuit that requires all-consuming drive and dedication, as well as a sprinkle of magic and a bit of wand-waving wizardry.  And guess what, Dorothy? I am pulling back the luxe, custom designed drapery to give you a behind-the-scenes peek into what it takes to “plan” The Signature CEO Conference.

If you have ever wanted the opportunity to pick my brain and dip into my bag of conference planning tips, tools, and techniques, this is for you!

Now let’s get into it!

(2015) The Signature CEO Conference | Jon Fleming Photography

 Organization & Systems

Benjamin Franklin said, for every minute you spend organizing you gain an hour. I second that sentiment – and can attest to its validity. Organization is the key to ensuring that I maximize my time, and my event runs effectively and smoothly.

The most important tools I use in this process are Microsoft Planner and HubSpot:

  • Microsoft Planner allows me to organize and prioritize tasks in categories.
  • HubSpot allows me to track email conversations and streamlines the pipeline of speakers and sponsors as they funnel through various stages similar to a sales funnel process.

Both platforms are ideal systems for checks and balances and prevents things from slipping through the cracks.

Profits and Losses

The Signature CEO Conference is an undertaking of purpose – not profit. With this labor of love, there are really no profits, as 100% of the funds are poured into crafting an unforgettable, high-yielding experience for attendees.

In the spirit of full transparency, here is a Cost Breakdown. The annual conference cost ranges from $25K-30K (with all expenses accounted for):

  • 50%: allocated for speaker expenses (speaker fees, travel, hotel accommodations)
  • 35%: allocated for fare and refreshments
  • 15%: allocated for miscellaneous expenses
  • In 2020, due to COVID-19 precautions, The Signature CEO Conference pivoted to a virtual experience, therefore we incurred an unexpected expense of $2000 in shipping costs. The shipping costs was associated with shipping our complimentary SWAG packages to each attendee’s home across the United States.

(2016) The Signature CEO Conference | Speaker, Myleik Teele | Memories of Bliss Photography

Partnerships/Sponsorships

Would you believe it if I told you that 90% of the tangible products such as décor – and services such as photography and live entertainment are in-kind donations? This is important to note because without strong relationships with various vendors that I cultivated throughout the years, this would not be possible.

Because of its stellar reputation and ability to ignite brands, The Signature CEO Conference averages approximately $60K in-kind sponsorships from our professional vendors, $5K in monetary sponsorships.  This, on its own, is a tremendous feat!

The Curriculum

High-quality, cornerstone content is what makes The Signature CEO Conference a leading contender for creative professionals. How do I choose topics? By always keeping my fingers on the pulse of the creative community. I listen to understand what type of content will meet the most pressing needs of the industry and I stay in tune with “the buzz”. This is the wellspring of ideas from which I draw inspiration – then I fashion that inspiration into the topics that will provide the most value.

Talent Selection

The Signature CEO Conference is often praised for both its diversity of speakers and high-caliber content; neither of which can commonly be found on other conference platforms. To ensure a diverse representation of talent, that extends beyond the wedding and events industry, I take pleasure in personally selecting all speakers. My hands-on approach not only guarantees that speakers are not repetitive, but it also guarantees fresh, timely content year after year.

Fresh content and leading talent are fundamental keys to the success of any conference. Who wants to spend time and money on a conference with regurgitated content delivered by speakers who frequently appear on the conference circuit?

Social Media Strategy

Social media is a powerful marketing tool that has become an essential part of my promotional playbook. FB, Twitter, IG and LinkedIn empowers me to engage with, and energize, attendees in creative ways that boosts attendance and builds community.

Here is a short list of ways I effectively use social media to capture and captivate the attention of conference-goers.

  1. I showcase speakers & topics
  2. I thank and show love to sponsors
  3. I create shareable content that helps spread the word
  4. I highlight speaker/attendee testimonials
  5. I intrigue attendees with video promos and teasers
  6. I share relevant info regarding sales and promotions
  7. I address frequently asked questions
  8. I host giveaways/contests and present scholarship opportunities
  9. I share fun flashbacks and mic dropping moments from past conferences
  10. I go all in with the conference hashtag and annual theme
  11. I share behind-the-scenes moments in Stories

I also have a conference day social media plan in place to consistently populate social media with live insights.

Past attendees are invited to join the Private FB Alumni Group. This is where we continue our conversations throughout the year with exclusive content. We also use the group to continue to network and encourage one another to put the insights we have learned into action.

Networking 

Many conference-goers seek out events in their industry to develop relationships and create opportunities to advance their career. The Signature CEO Conference is an ideal destination for connecting with a wide variety of professionals across industries and verticals.

I offer a unique value-added proposition by creating an environment where attendees have the opportunity to closely engage and network with speakers during breaks, planned activities, breakout sessions, a welcome party, and a black-tie gala. This opportunity extends over the course of 3-three days. This is unlike typical conferences where a speaker’s interaction with attendees is limited to on stage Q&A’s. I place speakers on the stage as well as in the seat right next to you!

Crisis Management & Contingency Plans

This is all about proactively preparing for the “what ifs” as opposed to being caught off guard if unforeseen circumstances arise.

2020 was the first year to have COVID contingency plans. I am accustomed to having bad weather contingency plans in place, but a pandemic plan? That was a first! And it turned out to be a valuable, teachable moment! Now, having successfully overcome planning a virtual conference during a pandemic, what once seemed like a novel plan has become a proven tool for me to employ moving forward, if needed.

Staffing 

Staffing is one of the most important functions of any successful event, as a talented, top notch team ensures efficient facilitation of every essential conference component. But more importantly, having a team that is as enthusiastic, capable, and dedicated as I am, takes it to a whole new level!

      • For The Signature CEO Conference 2020 – Virtual Experience, 5-five people (including myself) were behind the scenes producing the event and monitoring activity, throughout each 12-hour day. I also enlisted the services of a social media manager and 2-two emcees to keep up the energy.
      • For in-person experiences, 6-six people (including myself) are behind the scenes producing the event and monitoring activity, throughout the 12-hour day. I also enlist the services of a social media manager, audio visual tech, and 2-two emcees to keep up the energy.
      • The extended production team ranges from 20 to 30 individuals who include photography, videography, floral designers, entertainment, rental companies, etc.

I am fortunate that so many talented professionals are willing to volunteer their time to work with me, simply because they believe in me and support the mission. Otherwise, on average, the price of staffing for an event of this magnitude, would range from $1500 to $3000.

Having the Proper Platform (if hosting Virtually)

From filming to moderating and so on, planning a virtual event required me to use more extensive skills in dealing with technology – in brand new ways.

These are the solutions that worked for me, hopefully for they will work for you too!

      • Zoom had all the features I needed to host the event, including networking activities. The cost of service for 3-days was approximately $150. If you are looking for more innovative options, prices range from $6K to $100K.
      • AllSeated is one of the vendor partners that I utilize not only for the conference but in my business on a daily basis. It is an easy-to-use digital platform that allows event professionals to plan events and work with clients remotely. It has an interactive virtual platform called Exvo; prices start at $6500.

Keep in mind, the cost of hosting virtually depends on your scale and what it will take to effectively meet your needs.

Audio Visual (in-person events)

The Signature CEO Conference requires on-site tech, a projection screen, projectors, splitters (a device that takes one signal from a video source and replicates it over multiple monitors), sound, stage lighting etc.

      • Audio visual is one of those things that I receive a sponsorship for, but it does not cover 100% of the associated cost.
      • If I did not have a sponsorship, AV costs would start at $10K; we average around $2K for audio visual.

As you can see it takes an extremely comprehensive plan coupled with an enormous, collaborative effort to host The Signature CEO Conference – even without having to contend with a pandemic.

But it takes more than this.

It calls for an unmatched level of care.

I care because I have experienced firsthand what it feels like to seek resources within my industry and not be able to find what I needed to succeed.

My “plan” does not exist simply to sell seats. My plan is the gravity that creates a transformative tide known as The Signature CEO Conference.  And, when that tide rises, we are all lifted!

(View recaps of previous conferences)


TSCEO 2020 Virtual Experience (Part 2): Commencement Day 2 – LEAD!, July 28th

DAY TWO: LEAD:  “To bravely trailblaze a path forward as a shining example for others to follow.”

With the energy still running high from day one, attendees leapt into day two – and were met with the thrill of two exciting announcements, as I shared my bright, new vision for the future of The Signature CEO Conference:

  1. In 2021, The Signature CEO Conference platform will be designed to continuously educate creative entrepreneurs throughout the year, versus once a year, by hosting the annual signature event, The Signature CEO Conference, in conjunction with a new educational series, “Elevate in the Boardroom”
  2. #TSECO2021 dates are: March 15, 16, and 17th, and will be held at The River View at Occoquan 

We embarked into day two, in rousing style; with an entirely new cavalcade of captivating speakers awaiting.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM DAY TWO SPEAKERS:

Speaker, Britney Jeanine Canidate, Founder of Britney Jeanine & Co. | Topic: “Building a Plan Based Business & Brand”

⇨Key Takeaway: “Get clear about your business. Confusion causes customers NOT TO BUY!”

In order for you to have a better business and brand, it takes a PLAN! A plan is your “roadmap” that guides you step by step, through each aspect of your business.

Britney outlined how to craft a plan for your business in 3 focus areas:

  • Business (Clarity before design. Be strategic. Don’t put design ahead of the plan)
  • Branding 
  • Marketing

Britney’s mic-dropping gem, “Visually branding for my business has nothing to do with me – everything to do with my people. How am I going to attract them?”

Speaker, Nadia Anderson, C.P.A and Founder of Virginia Grace Events | Topic: “All About The Benjamins” – Financial Statement, Ratio and Tax Tip Review

⇨Key Takeaway: Having a regular practice of looking at your numbers will make you feel empowered as a business leader who is on-top-of-things.”

Nadia cleared up fuzziness around finances and boosted confidence by clarifying technical accounting in simple terms.

She delved into the following areas of business finance:

  • Financial Statement Review
  • Ratio Explanations
  • Taw Law
  • Tax Preparation Process

During the first break, we were thoroughly entertained by the Perfekt Blend Band. The band did not fail to surprise once again by performing chart topping hits, ranging from the legendary Stevie Wonder’s, Superstition to ‘A lil east coast swing’ from boy band Boyz to Men.

Speaker, Fabiola Hesslein, Founder of Tryon Entertainment | Topic: “Turn Up Your Creative Greatness…What Entrepreneurs can Learn from Entertainers”

⇨Key Takeaway:Shift Happens. 2020 is a special year with a specific message. Old ways won’t open new doors.

Fabiola’s words encompassed a healing appeal that reminded us that it is time to let go of operating on autopilot, and not be motivated by competition, greed and running the “rat race”.

Now is the time to transition from survival mode toward “alignment mode; that is how we tap into our creative greatness. How do we manifest ideas and opportunities that serve us?

Fabiola explained alignment as a belief system that offers:

  • A seamless cohesive boundless process
  • Ideas, encounters and relationships that best serve us and our creativity
  • Rewards that expand our imagination  

Speaker, Lauren Constantine, Founder of Three Hellos Creative Co. | Topic: “Pinning for Profit with Pinterest”

⇨Key Takeaway: “The truth about Pinterest… Pinterest is not a social platform; it is a search and discovery platform.”

Benefits of Pinterest:

  • It is a search engine that holds ideas
  • Pinterest content is Evergreen
  • It levels the playing field with major brands
  • Pinterest is a path to purchase

According to Lauren, you should approach content by doing the following:

  • Set a realistic schedule
  • Research Keywords
  • Image Creation

What is your clear and concise end goal? What steps do you want them to take as they click through and evaluate your strategy

After a round of awards and special recognitions, attendees were ready for the afternoon “turnup”; that offered break out sessions to get better acquainted with industry peers and colleagues, through networking and engaging in lively discussions.

The afternoon networking activity was followed by a compelling, in-depth and very timely interview with Speaker, Bree Clarke of the Iman Project. Fireside Chat Topic: ”Diversity with Inclusion…the Culture of Business” 

We had the opportunity to get to know Bree Clarke on a more intimate level; as the bridge builder and a connector who creates welcoming spaces for anyone and everyone, no matter background, ideas or opinions.

Bree achieves this by way of designing events and workshops that are focused on diversity, community, and bringing people to the table through crafts and art – “because whenever you use your hands and heart, you create something magical.” 

⇨Bree shared a few action steps for creating more diverse and inclusive work environment, community and society:

“Don’t make diversity and inclusion a ‘token’, or reduce it to a hot topic or a trend. Diversity and inclusion is more than a black box, hashtag, or a committee – and more than just getting a group together to talk about something that’s going on right now.”

  • It is an ongoing conversation.
  • It’s not just a moment, or a movement; it’s a lifestyle
  • Brands cannot live without diversity

Speaker, Brian Green, Founder of By Brian Green | Topic: “Navigating the Dynamics of Change”

⇨Key Takeaway: The only constant thing in life is change. Change is something that happens all the time. This time, with the Coronavirus, we were hit in a visceral way. But navigating the dynamics of change are always the same. Change is an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t view change as a hindrance.”

Brian’s mic-dropping gems:

  • When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”  
  • You should not be an entrepreneur if you are afraid of change

In order to choose focus over fear, we must:

  • Manage our state of mind
  • Stay grounded in reality
  • Remain flexible
  • Stay positive
  • Put things into a rational perspective
  • Identify a plan to respond to change
  • Ground yourself in your core values

Speaker, Alex Cheng, Founder of Boutique Websites  | Topic: “The Holy Grail of Websites…What to look for in YOUR Website and What You can do to Improve Your Bottom Line”

⇨Key Takeaways: “What is a supercharged website?”

  • It’s ranking for highly relevant keywords for your business. 
  • Love at first sight, for customers to book now
  • High conversions
  • Easy and Intuitive for users

If you better manage your own website, build a new website or improve the performance of your website, do so in a manner that attracts higher quality leads. Start with: 

  • SEO
  • User experience
  •  CTA’s

At the end of Day Two, attendees were brought on screen to smile, wave to one another, and share. We compared notes and reflected on our favorite key facts, points, or ideas that emerged from the comprehensive sessions and discussions to LEAD us forward.

The day was wonderfully topped off with evening music from DJ Derron of Washington Talent Agency.

(View full photo gallery, here.  Photography by Ana Isabel Photography | Video by Capital Films DC |  Day One Recap )


TSCEO 2020 Virtual Experience (Part 1): Commencement Day One, July 27th

If you were one of the numerous attendees of The Signature CEO Conference 2020 – Virtual Experience, you were a part of history in the making! Although I was faced with the challenge of re-aligning to a virtual event in the midst of a global pandemic that gripped the event industry, the “socially distant” world we currently live in did not discourage me. While I missed connecting face-to-face with industry colleagues, I am pleased to share, the 5th annual event was a resounding success!

The 3-day, content-rich agenda was packed with a plethora of multifaceted topics. From marketing best practices to the latest in technology, and health and wellness, there were insights, strategies, and inspiration for everyone to accelerate their business’ impact – with ample opportunities to create long-lasting connections.

The 2020 theme “Mission Possible” not only set the tone – it raised the stakes!

Attendees radically shifted their mindsets toward reaching their highest potential, by shedding limiting beliefs and re-imagining what is possible for their personal and professional lives.

The slogan: “Aspire. Lead. Impact.” encapsulated the conference’s guiding ideals. These three concepts reminded attendees to always consider the impact of their work in terms of the legacy it leaves behind and the positive implications it will have on their sphere of influence.

If you are like most of our conference attendees, you were too engrossed in the experience to fully take notes. With all the game-changing gems that were dropping, who had time? You were immersed in the sessions, live-chatting, sharing on social, catching up with old friends, networking to make new connections – and maybe even presenting? With 18+ hours of game-changing content, and over 20 fascinating speakers, sessions and activities, there was a great deal of information to absorb.

We created a 3-part blog series, to fully explore memorable moments from each day, and enable you to further ruminate, contemplate and process the multitude of ideas and concepts still buzzing in your head.

Enjoy re-living the experience! Reflect and Reminisce!

DAY ONE – ASPIRE:  To direct one’s hopes and ambitions toward achieving a transformative goal for their lives, in the highest pursuit.

 

With a full agenda of energizing topics awaiting attendees on Monday morning, I kicked off day one to the tune of the iconic theme music from the movie, Mission                Impossible. I can still hear each sharp percussive blast of brass and woodwind sounding like a charging step to get everyone pumped up!

Emcee DJ Derron of Washington Talent Agency and co-host, Marilyn Patterson of Joyous Events welcomed everyone with bright smiles and cheerful greetings.

Marilyn’s opening remarks invigorated the audience, “If you have vision, passion and hope, you are in the right place today! We are here to stimulate, elevate and activate our professional posture. We experienced a shift in the venue, but not the VISION!”

Next, I shared a heartfelt yet energizing opening keynote. I stood poised behind a sleek, acrylic podium within my home; elegantly transformed for the momentous occasion with luxe drapery and stylish balloons furnished by Fabrication Events and Anelia Rose.

The behind-the-scenes tech team, Jazmine Peaters of Jazmine Karess Events and Christina Galloway of Galloway Event Services ensured we were ready to launch without a hitch. And, the media team, Ana Isabel Photography and Capital Films DC, were in position to capture every exciting moment along the way!

“We finally made it!” my face beamed, full of enthusiasm, joy and gratitude. My next remark, “Every next level of your business demands a different you,” was the perfect motivation for what was in store for the 3 riveting days that lay ahead.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM DAY ONE SPEAKERS:

Speaker, Beny Blaq, Founder of Rebel Fit USA

Topic: “Be the CEO of Your Own Body”

⇨Key Takeaway: “Mindset is the Key to success! You can’t pour from an empty cup. When you are living a healthier lifestyle, you’ll have more energy and focus to do your best work.”

Beny Blaq’s whole-body plan inspired attendees to be more proactive and take greater charge of their lives.

He motivated attendees to set and achieve their goals, whether they were focused on losing weight, becoming physically fit, or simply living their best life possible!

Speaker, Tara McMullin, Founder of What Works and YellowHouse Media  Topic: “Manually Managing Projects, Goals and Tasks to Create Habit & Take Ownership”

⇨Key Takeaway: “What is Ownership? Ownership is taking responsibility for how you show up, how you spend your time, and how you lead.”

Tara’s mic-dropping gem,“Vision is a filter for decision-making.” Those words resonated with our attendees, through two overarching questions that were explored:

  • What is the vision for your business/life?
  • Who are you becoming?

Next up was an electrifying live performance by Perfekt Blend Band. They raised the roof – and the energy in the room during our first break. They entertained attendees with a wide range of upbeat covers of popular music across genres. Attendees rocked in their seats, as they filled the chat box with great reviews, such as: “Whooo!” “Yes! They are great!” “The music is great!”

Speaker, Chip Dizard – Founder of Chip Dizard Weddings

Topic: “Effective Social Media Advertising (FB & IG) to Transform Prospective Customers into Loyal Ones”

⇨Key Takeaway: “Content is King but engagement is Queen and she rules the house.”

Chip demystified digital marketing by illustrating a variety of proven tactics and targeting methods.  His techniques showed attendees how to transform prospects into a “team” of loyal customers.

Speaker, Jacquette Timmons, CEO of Jacquette M. Timmons & Sterling Investment Management Inc.

Topic: “The Hidden Impact of Pricing You…How to Price Your Genius”

⇨Key Takeaway: “Your business’ financial success should translate down – and have a positive impact on the health of your personal finance as well.”

Jacquette’s insights helped attendees understand how to make the right connection between our business and personal finances, by using pricing as the mechanism to do that.

She revealed how many entrepreneurs and small business owners are confined by industry pricing and market misconceptions.

Key Question: “What should I Charge for This?” The question is ubiquitous. The answer was not, as she shared her pricing framework.

Speaker, Myrna Daramy, Founder of Myrna & Co.

Topic: “Optimize Your DMO (Digital Marketing Optimization) & Build Traction for Your Business with Blogging”

 ⇨Key Takeaway: The Question, “Why Blog?”

Myrna delved deep into the following answer, outlined as bullet points below:

  • It creates dynamic content
  • Establish Expertise
  • Creates Authority
  • Builds Trust
  • Improves On-Page SEO
  • Optimizes Your Footprint

She successfully delivered not so easy to comprehend tech information in a way that was relatable, digestible, and easy to implement.

Speaker, Darnyelle Harmon, Founder of Incredible One Enterprises LLC

Topic: “Sales is Not a Dirty Word”

⇨Key Takeaway:  “The idea of selling should not seem distasteful. It’s not about selling products, it’s about helping people become the best versions of themselves – filling someone else’s need, providing real benefits or services, or doing something useful by helping your customers. There is nothing dirty about that.”

Darnyelle’s mic-dropping gems:

  • “Nothing happens until somebody “serves” someone!
  • Think like a CEO not an entrepreneur
  • Success requires a posture change

Here’s a glimpse into Darnyelle’s  Sales Success System:

  • Realize it is as honorable to sell, as it is to buy
  • Create Your Sales Management System
  • Kick Your Competition to the Curb (Rise Above the Noise and Stand Out)

At the conclusion of Day One, our creative community was challenged to fully take in their newfound knowledge. We ASPIRED to implement our new skills, to grow and evolve personally – and take our businesses to higher plateaus.

Washington Talent Agency placed the perfect musical punctuation at the end of a magnificent first day.

(additional photos of TSCEO 2020 virtual conference, click here)