AIPAC Policy Conference - Student Volunteers from Precision Meetings & Events were Amazing

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PCMA June 2013

AIPAC Policy Conference: A Teachable Meeting

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

The multilevel security and 100-percent koshered convention center were par for the course. What really set this year's AIPAC Policy Conference apart were the 130 meeting and hospitality students who were recruited to staff it.

"We decided last year we needed to bring more firepower to this operation and build a much larger event-management team,"' said Jeff Shulman, AIPAC's director of national events, sitting in one of the many conversation areas arranged throughout the sprawling AIPAC Village space on the second day of AIPAC 2013. "… We've been able to mobilize an events team that is on every corner around the convention center, every corner inside the convention center, that's greeting delegates, that's well-trained, and that want to be here. Particularly [for] these PCMA students that are pursuing this line of their career, I think it's been a great experience for them. It's been a great experience for us to have them with us.… Read More.

A lot goes on behind the scenes to make that security feel as seamless as possible — an effect that was smoothed along this year by those ever-present red- and blue-shirted staffers. Peggy Marilley, CEO of Alexandria, Va.-based Precision Meetings & Events, whose work on AIPAC 2013 included recruiting, prepping, and overseeing them, developed a training manual for each staff role and conducted training sessions on site, pulling in Shulman and Noa Rabinowitz, AIPAC's associate director of national events, as needed. "We did the 'this is where you need to be and what you need to do," Marilley said, "while [Shulman and Rabinowitz] gave the insight into the organization." She added: "Security was so amazing that you didn't feel the security. You knew they were there. You could see the uniformed officers. There was a suite for the Secret Service, because the vice president was there. But you didn't feel intimidated. You just felt that they were doing theirjob."

The AIPAC Policy Conference one of the largest kosher events in the country
With so much going on behind the scenes, AIPAC couldn't afford to neglect the front of the house — a space that's grown increasingly boisterous and complicated over the last 10 years. More people means more programs means greater potential for confusion. "We started looking at staff assignments and job descriptions and so forth," Shulman said. "We realized, if we're going to handle this size of crowd, we need a big team." Marilley had a suggestion: students. "I have a real passion for young people," she said, "and trying to help them and open up opportunities for them in their career."

At Marilley's urging, Shulman and his team attended PCMA's Convening Leaders annual meeting for the first time this year, and while they were there, they spoke at the PCMA Student Union, making a pitch for meeting professionals in training to staff a conference with upwards of 10,000 attendees in Washington, D.C. "It was right over our spring break, so it was perfect," said Emma Jack, a volunteer in Marilley's "Precision army" who last month graduated from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., with a degree in hospitality and tourism management. "We jumped at the opportunity to gain more experience and a free trip."

All told, about 130 students — from Grand Valley, James Madison University, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, the University of New Haven, and the University of Central Florida answered the call. They did a little bit of everything at AIPAC 2013 — checking room sets, working donor receptions, and directing attendees around the convention center and on Capitol Hill. "It was really interesting to see Precision work with [AIPAC]," Jack said, "because sometimes it can be difficult to work under a company, but they worked really well as a team."

And then there was the fact that she was staffing a high-profile conference with a significant lobbying component on Capitol Hill. "For students to be able to go out and not only see Washington, D.C., but be a part of an important issue — we didn't have an opinion on the issue one way or the other," Jack said, "but to see how many people are really passionate about the cause and what they're working towardˆ It was amazing to watch all these people come together and work toward it."

For Shulman, the student-heavy Precision army was "a game changer. An absolute game changer." He added: "This conference sets the tone for this organization, for everything we do throughout the year. The success of this conference is critical for our development campaign, for our legislative efforts, for our political activity, and so forthˆ Read More.