Time to Upgrade from 3-Ring Binders

All meeting and event planners have horror stories about how they manage their events, from 3-ring binders to elaborate spreadsheets. Heaven forbid, if you lose the binder or can’t get online to access the spreadsheets, there are so many things that can go wrong. Here are organization tips for highly effective event and meeting planners to keep pace in the industry.

  1. Bye Bye Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets were initially used for mathematical or financial tasks, and even though event planners have to track hundreds of deliverables (due dates, costs and assignments), there are better solutions for event planners. These include project management tools with mobile apps that can be used before the event begins and to access information while on-site. These apps are like your notebook, but better; they sync back to the cloud so nothing gets lost. They also allow you to keep in touch with your peers at the office in real time.
  1. The Cloud is your Best Friend. The problem with notebooks is it’s out of date as soon as you put it in the book. A cloud-based system creates a central location for all information associated with an event or meeting. It’s a place where files, decisions, contracts and conversations can be assessed and reviewed. That means fewer meetings and less time spent disseminating new information to team members.
  1. Delegate, delegate and delegate more. Event and meeting planners often exhaust themselves as they try to do everything themselves. You can delegate work effectively, while still monitoring the progress in real time. Collaborative work management software lets you assign work to members of your team and monitor the status of every task. Members of the team will appreciate the organization as much as you appreciate the transparency.
  1. Automate Deadlines. Events and meetings rotate around a variety of deadlines, from short term to years out.  These deadlines usually create a domino effect; one change affects the rest down the line. There are tools that help you automate these calculations so you can manage unexpected schedule changes with confidence, knowing the event is staying on track. Stuff happens. When you utilize automation, you can change one date and the computer will do the dirty work of figuring out the rest.
  1. Templates Create Success. If your event was successful, you want to duplicate that in every way possible. The problem with a notebook is that you can’t just photocopy it and start over again. Tools in the cloud allow you to access learnings from previous events or meetings and replicate your results, while reviewing areas for improvement. As the volume and costs of your events grow, this will help optimize your work, not just manage it.

If you’re a high-speed and high-volume event planner, it’s time to ditch the 3-ring binder and embrace modern conveniences, like cloud software, that will help you improve event planning from start to finish.

Source:  BizBash, https://www.bizbash.com/guest-column-when-to-throw-out-the-three-ring-binder/boston/story/36098#.W5u_gPlReUl

Summer Camp Is Here

Reinvigorate your team’s creativity and productivity with an exciting retreat to The National. With our beautiful, 65-acre campus by the Potomac River, The National offers out-of-the-box solutions for indoor and outdoor venues that celebrate summertime. Take your program into the great outdoors, or completely reimagine what it means to be indoors with innovative set-ups and themed décor ideas from our creative planning experts. Top it all off with innovative teambuilding and networking programs that will leave your team reminiscing like school kids after summer camp. Our team can provide you with such memorable experiences as:

  • Themed Refreshment Breaks: Menu planning, props and activities during scheduled breaks
  • Outdoor Socials: Food, wine and more by the Pergola, Terrace, Courtyard or expansive West Lawn
  • Ice Breakers: Engaging sessions designed to break down barriers and get teams comfortable with one another
  • Team Building: Challenge Course, Black Olive Bar, and custom programs from wine tastings to offsite brewery tours
  • Food & Wine Pairings: Pairings in the Park with Executive Chef Frank Estremera and Chief Wine Officer Mary Watson DeLauder

Enjoy savings of up to 18% when you schedule your program during the weeks of July 8, August 9 or September 16. Special savings are available for two-, three-, and four-day programs.

Call us today for more information: 703.724.5111.

Put A Little Weekend In Your Meeting

Let The National team put the “weekend” in your weekend meeting or event. With 1.2 million square feet of space on a lush, 65-acre campus, The National has everything you want readily available – from 900 guest rooms to our award-winning Challenge Course to an expansive ballroom that seats 1,500. Choose from our Day or Complete Meeting Packages and our expert team of planners will work with you to select engaging teambuilding programs and craft your ideal learning environment, providing your group with an unforgettable experience that’s worthy of their weekend.

Day Meeting Package:

• Fully equipped conference room, break-out room and meeting setups
• Standard audiovisual package (some audio visual aids may be subject to additional fee)
• Lunch in the Dining Room
• Continuous refreshment breaks (coffee, soft drinks, snacks)
• Dedicated conference planner
• Use of fitness center
• Complimentary parking
• GSA Package priced per person, per day

Complete Meeting Package:

• Overnight accommodations
• Professional conference planning manager
• Fully equipped conference rooms, large meeting spaces and break-out room
• Standard audiovisual package
• Three meals daily in our 800-seat Dining Room
• Continuous refreshments and snacks
• Complimentary Wi-Fi in the meeting rooms and guest rooms
• Use of fitness center and jogging trails
• Complimentary parking
• GSA Package priced per person, per day

Enjoy savings of up to 35% when you schedule your program on select weekends.
Call us today for more information: 703.724.5111.

The National is Surrounded by Summer FUN

1. Fridays in Leesburg

Historic downtown/King Street
The first Friday of every month is a celebration. Art galleries and shops stay open later and feature wine and food tastings, and live music. On other Fridays, enjoy the historic setting and many options for dining and nightlife.

2. One Loudoun

The One Loudoun complex
Dubbed Loudoun County’s new Downtown, this complex of restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment can fill an hour – or an evening. Go for free outdoor summer concerts, dinner under the stars, or the farmer’s market on Saturdays.

3. Solace Brewery

2615 Trade West Dr. Suite 100, Dulles, VA
Find your Solace at this local production brewery. The large tasting room is open all week. Look for Solace in the Black Olive Bar too!

4. Topgolf

20356 Commonwealth Center Dr, Ashburn, VA
Topgolf Dulles features 102 bays over 3 floors with a golf game concept that anyone can play and enjoy – from pros to zeros. It’s competitive, fun, and always better with a big group. Lively bars, a rooftop terrace, and food and drink options available.

5. Catoctin Creek Distillery

120 W Main St, Purcellville, VA
Learn how this award-winning whiskey is made during a tour, then sample a flight of spirits, whiskey, brandy, or cocktails. Reservations recommended.

6. The Appalachian Trail

18393 Blue Ridge Mountain Rd, Bluemont, VA
You don’t need expedition gear to enjoy a little piece of the famed trail. Catch a sunset across the Shenandoah Valley at Bear’s Den, just half-a-mile from a nearby parking lot or stroll the trail for an afternoon.

7. MacDowell Brew Kitchen

202 B. Harrison St. SE, Leesburg
This brewpub’s beachy backyard, complete with a sandy underfoot, is the perfect way to kick back after a long day. Ask about daily drink specials.

Hot from the Kitchen: Dinner for 1,350!

The granddaddy of them all – and the largest event hosted in the West Belmont Ballroom in 2017 – was the Marine Corps University Ball. Combining equal parts formal ceremony and birthday bash, planning for this event was months in the making. Our Executive Chef, then Todd Goldian, and members of the staff served 1,350 meals simultaneously. Here’s how the magic happened:

August: Our War Plan for the Marine Corps Ball

On a giant white board wall, the National’s event team mapped out a plan for the evening. We knew the event would be big but we needed to see just how many plates, how much cutlery, how many servers we would need. The War Plan became a giant chart with numbers and quantities so I could start thinking about hot boxes to transport food from the kitchen, suppliers for the food and additional specialized training for the front-line servers for that evening.

October: Order’s In

We hosted a tasting for 30 of the Marines planning this event and they approved the final menu and my presentation, so I’ve now placed food orders with select vendors. It’s a process to make sure we have consistent, top-quality filets and chicken for a thousand people. We also have ordered food for special dietary needs and allergies.

Week of the event: Consuming details

The food has arrived and we’ve prepped some of the ingredients. In the ballroom, the tables are set and we’ve detailed a system with the servers to silence the room. One person will stand on a step ladder, visible from every corner of the room. When she holds up a green flag, we can move and serve discretely. When she holds up a red flag, all noise and movement stop, to allow for the ceremonial parts of the evening to go on without distraction.

Day of the Ball: It’s go time

We start cooking a few hours before the ball. Serving a thousand perfectly cooked medium filets is all about precision timing. I have eight cooks, 15 stewards and 165 servers ready to go. We run through each element of the meal to make sure we’re fully ready. Then I make the first plate while two lines of cooks look on. At that point, that place erupts into a frenzy of action. We use that first plate to compare all others.

The cooking and plating process takes more than two hours but each dinner is artfully arranged, covered and loaded into a labeled hotbox for serving.

The journey from the kitchen to the ballroom is 1,000 steps, so it takes an army to move the Marines’ food. The dinner is served and as I greet those sitting at the head table, I receive compliments on the food and even a few challenge coins, a sign of service well rendered!

The pinnacle of the evening for me was the cake ceremony, where a huge layered cake is carried out by a Marine formation and cut with their sabers. It’s spectacular and historic and our cake, the piece de résistance, looks awesome!

Once the dinner service is complete and the party and dancing started, I returned to the kitchen, grabbed one last plate of the dinner and savored my meal alone, in my office. Our largest event of the year had gone off without a hitch.

Go Big: West Belmont events max the space

Loudoun County thinks big. Big businesses. Big communities. Big dreams. The National, with our own 65-acre campus on the banks of the Potomac River, lives large too. We’ve hosted some of the area’s biggest events in our ballroom, the largest in Northern Virginia at more than 16,552 square feet!

We fill our ballrooms, meeting spaces, gardens and terraces time and again with some of the year’s most exciting (and elaborate) events. Take a look at the big picture:

  • Our ballroom has room to serve 1,500 for dinner – 1,350 if we add a dance floor and stage
  • The adjoining, additional space tops out at more than 55,000 square feet in ballrooms and other reception spaces
  • Outside, we can host 1,000 people on the West Lawn, 500 on the Ballroom Terrace, and 800 on the Loudoun Terrace – that’s a lot of anniversary events, weddings, and company picnic guests!
  • We’ve also hosted food and wine tastings, art and music festivals, cultural food festival with live bands, food trucks and many local wineries, breweries and distilleries
  • The National can not only hold all these guests – but park them too! Arrival and departure logistics make it easy for everyone to come and go at the same time quickly and efficiently—and at no charge for parking!

Planning for large-scale events requires big talent. The National’s event staff includes certified planners with more than 30 years’ experience in the business, so Hindu weddings for 700 proceed just as smoothly as Easter Brunch for 900, and esteemed Military balls for 1,300.

The key to big events lies in the small moments. We ask our big-event clients to describe what their guests will see, hear and smell when they arrive at the event to give us an overall vision. Then we spend months drilling down the details: Where will they pick up drinks? Will flowers make an impact on tables or in the lobby? What temperature should the ballroom be set at for a crowd in gowns and suits? We’re often rehearsing service and timing until just before showtime to ensure the night goes off without a hitch!

Big events at the National make every guest feel special, pampered, well served, whether it’s a holiday brunch with families or an appreciation dinner with a national sales force. Our biggest events in the past year have included:

  • The Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards banquet for 600, which consistently impresses the county’s top business leaders.
  • Loudoun County Public Schools Partnership Breakfast for 800 and Excellence in Education Awards for 600 making certain all attendees feel respected and rewarded for the work they do.
  • The ADAMS Center, one of the largest mosques in the US, hosted more than 1,000 guests and benefactors for prayers and a meal.
  • And every year Worldstrides brings together 2,000 high school students from around the country at The National. Yes, we even park all 35 motor coach buses in the West Parking Lot.

Big Foodie News

Part of what makes an experience at The National so memorable is our food, whether you’re grabbing a snack in the Black Olive or experiencing a beautiful banquet in West Belmont Place, or eating meals in the Dining Room during a workshop week. From planning to the plate, that experience is largely due to the hard work and vision of Todd Goldian.

Todd’s progression, from an innovative Executive Chef and leader in our kitchens to Food and Beverage Director, has brought The National forward in the culinary world. Going far beyond what’s come to be expected from conference venues, Todd makes sure every presentation or food experience is exceptional and unique. For our farm-to-table concept, for example, he had farmers literally working with the culinary team, meeting with the sales team, and coming into the kitchen as part of the chef table experience.

Todd’s approach changed the food focus at The National from serving meals to dining, with an emphasis on the experience. His organization of the culinary team allows The National to serve diverse audiences, each with expectations, special requests and dietarian concerns, every day. We are excited to see what Todd will do next and congratulate him on a well-deserved promotion!

Todd is very pleased to share the limelight with our new Executive Chef, Frank Estremera, whom we are welcoming back to Loudoun as he debuts in Dulles Chambers DISHED Chef Showdown. More about Executive Chef Frank Estremera in our next newsletter.

BBQ Secret

Smoky, kicky and a little bit sweet! The secret to spring grilling isn’t in the sauce – it’s in the rub! The National’s Kitchen secret is out.

1 T Kosher Salt
2 t. Guajillo Chile powder
1 t. Smoke Powder (optional but a great addition)
2 t. Ground Coriander
2 t. Smoked Paprika
2 t. Cumin
1 t. Ground Thyme
pinch Ground Ancho Chile Powder
2 t. Ground Chipotle Powder
1 t. Ground Anaheim Chile Powder
2 t. Garlic Powder
1 t. Ground Mustard
1 t. Marjoram
1 t. Dark Brown Sugar

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store in an air-tight container. To prep ribs, beef, chicken or pork, coat meat with rub 20-40 minutes before grilling. Because this rub contains salt, don’t apply to meat for longer than an hour before cooking.

Letting you in on a National Secret

Just the name lends an air of mystery: The National Secret. The only real secret here is how many ways we’ve transformed this luxurious private room into something special during a training week, for a wedding after party, or as the setting for a very special client dinner.

Rumor has it that the National Secret was a nickname first. Tucked behind the Black Olive Bar & Grill, the space was designed to be a quieter, living room option for guests. When a speak-easy window, requiring a password, was added for a Prohibition Era theme party, the National Secret concept stuck.

Recently the room played host to a meeting of directors who were expecting their usual room following lunch. Instead, they were delivered invitations to the National Secret where members sank into the deep sofas and set aside their formal agenda. What followed was a productive brainstorming session about future direction – aided by the private and relaxed seating instead of a formal boardroom setting.

Bullseye! Hitting the mark for today’s L&D challenges

If you could change one thing about your organization that would increase employee productivity by 200 percent, would you do it? There’s not a manager out there who wouldn’t be interested! That X-factor is training and development and the latest research indicates it’s not only attracting employees but retaining them. This isn’t news to us here at The National.

We focus on learning and development in all we do, from our 65-acre campus to our state-of-the-art IT services and support that enables high tech, interactive learning experiences. Working with many diverse learning organizations, we are able to stay on top of what’s hot today while anticipating and offering innovative options that keep us at the forefront year over year.

Let’s go behind the scenes to see what innovative learning and development looks like at The National.

Learning comes first

Attendees who are here for a week or even two quickly bore with classroom-style lectures. For an organization that brought in managers from across the county, we helped change things up daily – several times a day, in fact. The room that was set up as pods in the morning with people seated around tables for small group discussions, became a theater for a multimedia presentation after lunch. They also wanted more relaxed breakout sessions, so the room was set with comfy sofas and chairs.

Another client requested 24 flip charts for the front of a room. This got us thinking. Could a game, played by groups at tables, achieve the same goals with more energy and audience engagement? Turns out the answer was yes and the feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive.

An intensive training session for another client drove home the idea that out-of-the-box thinking was needed. To help participants apply their creativity, and identify who takes charge and who holds back, we suggested a challenge course activity. Employees had to get everyone in their group over a high wall using only a few tools for help. The hour-long activity not only got everyone actively involved in problem-solving but was a welcomed break in the day.

Everybody eats

With more than 900 guests staying for a week, mealtimes are of the utmost importance. Our focus on locally-sourced foods and the creativity and skill of our staff and Chef offers new menus and exciting options for every meal, every day.

Just last night, dinner included a carving station and a choice of four different entrées, while a giant salad bar featuring creative toppings and protein choices provided even more options.

Downtime works harder

Looking out the window during break times, you might mistake The National for a college campus, with students crossing our courtyards and stopping to catch up with passing colleagues.

We keep that feeling going in the evenings. After dinner, groups wander out to the fire pits, enjoy a casual game of darts, or join in a karaoke session in the Black Olive Bar & Grill.

The National isn’t like other facilities that hold meetings and conferences. We’re designed different so we can meet L&D needs in ways that engage everyone, from millennial to boomer, soldier to CEO, with equal parts of innovation and attentiveness.

Six Trends Observed in Experiential Learning

The National Conference Center – one of the nation’s largest conference centers and the largest on the East Coast – with its partner The Browne Center, has observed six trends in experiential learning.

Team Building at NCC


Experiential learning presents a highly unique growth opportunity for participants, and a tool that planners can use to achieve a specific outcome.  Differentiated from the more traditional teambuilding, experiential learning uses a blended approach to learning, integrating activities, exercises, adventure elements, quiet time and ongoing post-event coaching to create powerful programs of leadership development, strategic planning, mentoring and coaching, communication, feedback & observation and enhancement of behavior styles.



Team Building with Chef


Six Trends Observed in Experiential Learning:

  1. Barrier Free Learning … Take away the white classroom tables. Barrier free learning is hands-on training in a lab-like setting verses the traditional meeting room or classroom. For example, The National has created an entire workroom and lab for simulation or scenario training for a top major client to deliver new skills, taking away the barrier of the ‘white table’ with attendees learning in a lab or open space area.
  2. Learning by Choice … Mixing classroom training with outdoor activities. The Challenge Course at The National has high and low rope elements, and increasingly facilitators are using a Challenge-by-Choice approach.  Learning Programs are designed to meet the variety of goals unique to each client, whether conferees make use of the elements of the high or low course, or none at all. There is a role for everyone in the training, even if individuals choose not to physically participate.
  3. Learning by Shared Experiences … Creating ‘shared experiences’, such as a building project, where everyone is involved collectively – from C-level executives to assistant managers – taking each participant out of their comfort zone and into a creative problem solving task to construct the future.
  4. Learning by Silence … Groups are increasingly exploring the power of silence in a high-speed, technically dependent world. Facilitators are allowing more time for conferees’ solo quests, reflection, meditation time and movements like yoga that can provide powerful reconnection with the natural world, and the true inner self, opening new channels of connection and learning.
  5. Learning by Doing… Learners participate in carefully chosen experiences that are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis. It engages the learners to be in direct experience, to be doing something that connects to an area they hope to improve or develop.  The learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experiment-ting, being curious, and solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  6. Learning through Application … While debriefing is a structured process facilitated by a skilled professional throughout the process of a program, it has been in place for some time.  Today a post program application assists participants over time with how learning translates back at the office. There are a number of strategies that can be arranged to help facilitate this continued learning process. These include, self-directed debrief meetings, professional coaching sessions by phone or in person, or follow up, mini sessions at the one, two or three month intervals. These sessions can be highly productive and fun, assisting the participants in real time learning application issues. They can be on the participants work site or scheduled as an offsite.




The National Conference Center installed a state-of-the-art challenge course last year to provide additional training and learning opportunities for their clients. The National Challenge Course consists of five low elements plus many portable options, which are weight bearing problem solving activities that can accommodate 15 or more people at any one time. Also six high elements can be done with two or more solo, or with many other climbers simultaneously. All high elements are dynamic relays where participants hold the rope for one another.

For more information about experiential learning at The National, call 800-640-2684.