LOS ANGELES How do you accommodate a record crowd of 14,000 women for a fast-growing, sold-out conference at the Long Beach Convention Center? For one thing, open access to the men's bathrooms. But organizers behind Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver's annual Women's Conference had plenty of bigger ideas than that for this year's event, which drew the biggest crowd in its history—with tickets selling out immediately after going on sale.
In addition to the full day of conference programming—which included a varied list of more than 70 speakers, including hosts Schwarzenegger and Shriver, plus Warren Buffett, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, Jennifer Lopez, and Gloria Steinem—organizers added an evening-before event called Night at the Village. On Tuesday night, attendees could browse the vendors on the exhibit floor and stay for book signings, entertainment, food, and a conversation with Rachael Ray. (The show floor was also open throughout the day of the conference.) In addition, the conference extended the outreach for its extensive live Webcasting offerings, with the goal to reach 1 million additional viewers in the U.S. and internationally online.
With so many moving parts—including a web of greenrooms, makeup and dressing areas, and a holding area for the Secret Service not visible to ordinary attendees—the conference used four executive producers. Conference executive director Erin Mulcahy Stein worked with Alexandra Gleysteen (for the TV production element), Julia Paige (for the Night at the Village), Karen Skelton at Dewey Square (for speaker coordination), and Carl Bendix at Ambrosia, who handled the overall production and coordination, and who has worked on events for the Schwarzenegger-Shriver family for 25 years. The Women’s Conference is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization led by Shriver.
“This year there was a much higher level of production,” said Bendix. “We expanded the exhibit hall enormously with theatrical lighting and video.”
Stein added, “We went international with the speakers—in years past, we were really at the California level, and now our message is global. A few years ago, we said we were trying to break through the walls of the convention center, and we think we've delivered on the promise to continue our work beyond this [building and] this day.”
Among the conference's other production feats was a luncheon session in which CNN anchor Campell Brown moderated a discussion between Secretary of State Rice and PepsiCo chairman and C.E.O. Indra Nooyi, which packed the arena; 3,500 guests sat at a sea of round tables on the venue floor for boxed lunches with menus designed by the La Brea Bakery's Nancy Silverton, and thousands of others filled the arena seats above.
The Minerva Awards—named for the Roman goddess of wisdom on the California state seal—closed the evening, with Shriver presenting, remarks from Bono, and a performance by Bonnie Raitt.