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With change coming to the California governor's office after next week's election, this year's Women's Conference was the last in its current incarnation for hosts Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was also the conference's largest showing, with more than 140 top speakers and participants, including Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, Oprah Winfrey, and many more, who drew a sold-out crowd to the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. In response to the high demand—tickets sold out in one hour, beating last year's record of two—organizers grew the event to three full days, with an additional health- and wellness-focused day on Monday, and Shriver’s March on Alzheimer’s and Broadway-style show for 900 on Sunday, increasing attendee capacity by 7,000, bringing the total conference attendance to more than 30,000.
Conference executive director Erin Mulcahy Stein worked with executive producers Alexandra Gleysteen, Karen Skelton at Dewey Square, and Carl Bendix at Ambrosia; Bendix handled the overall production and coordination, and has worked on events for the Schwarzenegger-Shriver family for more than 25 years. “The size and scope and scale [is appropriate to mark the] last year of the administration,” he said. “Everything has grown in size, stature, and production enormously.” The conference was in existence 17 years before the current gubernatorial administration, and Shriver hinted (to much applause) that she is considering continuing to host a women's conference in some capacity.
Obama's presence at the morning session necessitated a strong Secret Service presence throughout the venue and surrounding areas. This meant guests were encouraged to arrive significantly before the 8 a.m. scheduled start time to navigate the security and crowds. With many guests arriving before 6:30 a.m., producers added a 45-minute preshow to entertain them.
Other security measures for the first lady's arrival included a sweep on Monday afternoon. “The security sweep was minor in its impact to our install or operation,” said Jason Wanderer, whose Precision Event Group worked on an interactive consumer experience for Flip. “We had to leave the building from 2 to 3:30 p.m. while the entire venue was searched by bomb-sniffing dogs. From an event production standpoint, we were well informed by organizers in writing, and the process was painless.”
Bendix said, “When you're dealing with the president or first lady, Secret Service is much more extreme [than with other political attendees]. But it went very smoothly.” (It turned out what drew the most coverage on the evening news was a lunchtime panel with Matt Lauer, Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown, and Meg Whitman. The candidates' equivocation about pulling their nasty advertisements drew considerable booing and spirited audience participation.)
While most of the speaker action took place on a draped, color-changing main stage in the arena, the expo floor in the adjacent convention center hosted booths from sponsors and other exhibitors. Show-floor manicures, plus a yoga and meditation sanctuary beneath a Raj tent added feminine touches. Nancy Silverton of the La Brea Bakery designed a box-lunch menu, intended to be healthy and served in eco-friendly packaging, which the venue's caterer produced for 14,000. “No detail is too big or too small,” Bendix said, “from the centerpieces to the green room food to the satellite truck and all of our content.”
Since production began in January, Bendix said the success of the massive production staff of about 800, exclusive of catering, required a clear separation and compartmentalization of roles within each event happening over the course of the programming. “It's great teamwork and a lot of preproduction. We are great believers in 'write it down,' which is Maria's motto.”