Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2013

The Meeting That Spans Nearly Every Time Zone at Once

By Molly Brennan
audiovisual, communication equipment, and security; a copy of the final floor plan; and any special considerations, such as hiring a parking attendant or opening a specific lunch kiosk within the convention center.

The ESG is the staff’s bible, critical to a glitch-free exam day, but it’s a fluid document, requiring ongoing review and updating. “We have to always be looking ahead,” Guilford said. “We are always contingency-planning for the what-ifs.”

That nimble mindset helped CFA event specialists respond to the rapidly evolving situation in Istanbul back in May. The staff first tuned in to the possibility of a problem on May 26, when a small group of protesters gathered in Taksim Square to voice their opposition to the government’s plan to develop the area around the square. Over the next few days, as police tried to empty the park, tensions escalated and the protest grew. By May 31, CFA staff were wary but still hopeful. At 2:45 p.m. EST that day, @CFAInstitute tweeted: “Istanbul CFA candidates: your June exam will be held as scheduled.”

By day’s end, however, the situation had deteriorated. Turkish police had fired tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators, dozens of people were injured, and anti-government protests had erupted across the country. CFA Institute’s test- center planning team made a no-go decision, and at 6:20 p.m. EST, just a few hours before the test was scheduled to begin in Istanbul, a follow-up tweet went out: “Update: We can no longer administer CFA exam in Istanbul on 1 June.”

“As things developed in Istanbul, we created contingency plans so that we could act quickly if need be,” Winters said. “We made candidate and testing-personnel safety a priority, and determined that we could not test. At that point, we put our contingency plans into action. This happened quite quickly, because the events in Istanbul escalated in a very short amount of time just before the exam.”

While the ESG for Istanbul didn’t specifically spell out how to deal with violent clashes in a nearby park, experience and overall preparedness helped the staff adjust to the situation. “There is no set guide that we follow [in the event of political instability], because each situation is unique,” Winters said. “We closely monitor world events leading into exam day, and especially the few weeks prior. In any event that we are monitoring, we also remain in close contact with our on-ground team in order to understand the local perspective.”

CFA faced a similar situation in Cairo in December 2011 when violent clashes between protesters and Egyptian security forces led the organization to relocate the exam just five days before the test. “We began looking for alternative venue space at this point,” Winters said, “and our event specialists were having to re-do everything they did over the past six to eight months in just a few days.”

While the accelerated pace of the Cairo reschedule and the intensity of the last-minute postponement in Istanbul (registrants were given the option to test on June 15) were unique, the tasks involved with those decisions were not, Guilford said. CFA approaches its 250-site, multiple-time-zone event just as any other meeting professional would. “This is a large global event, and anyone who is a global event planner knows you have to get it right and you have to meet deadlines,” Guilford said. “In many ways, it’s no different from any large meeting — you’re dealing with real people and with real deadlines, and it has to get done and it has to get done properly.”

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