Event Cancelled Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference

The 11th Annual Key Conference has been cancelled in accordance with AU policy concerning public health and safe amid the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.

11th Annual Key Conference Cancelled

In light of current ongoing public health concerns due to COVID-19 and in accordance with the updated American University policy, we will not be holding any face-to-face events through the end of the year and the Key Executive Leadership Programs' 11th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference is cancelled.

We thank you so much for your interest and enthusiasm in attending this event. Our conference is our flagship event of the year, bringing together a wide array of agencies and industries. We are grateful for your contributions in helping to make it so successful and meaningful.

On behalf of the Key Team, I want to thank you for your patience and flexibility during this time. We hope you, your families, and friends are all healthy and well.

Theme: Future of Excellence: Service, Leadership, and the Federal Executive
Date & Location: November 9, 2020 at The Mayflower Hotel
Time: 8:00AM - 7:00PM - Registration begins at 8AM
Registration Information
Event Page

Early Bird: $175 - rate available through April 15th
Full Registration: $275 - rate begins on April 16th
AU Community: $75 - includes AU staff and current degree-seeking students (AU and non-AU). For access to this rate, please email bdorsey@american.edu. You will be required to verify your student/staff status with a photo copy of your current, unexpired student or staff ID.

This year's conference was also set to host the Annual Roger W. Jones Award for Executive Leadership to honor four senior executives. The award ceremony will now take place virtually.

The Roger W. Jones Award annually recognizes federal career executives of the Senior Executive Service committed not only to mission success, but also to developing and inspiring those whom they lead, consistent with the career of the extraordinary public servant for whom the Award is named. 

The Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference brings together public servants from across the country for a day of immersive learning, professional development, reflection and exploration.  This event provides participants with the opportunity to delve into industry trends, leadership practices, new and emerging perspectives on leadership and enhance professional skills. Featuring concurrent sessions, plenary speakers, workshops and networking, the Key Conference has spurred nearly 2,000 public servants to become exemplars of excellence in leadership and service since it began in 2010.

There are 2,000+ Key Executive Leadership Conference Alumni

The Key Conference has a 91% overall approval rating from attendees surveyed

Key Conference Ambassadors

Take the opportunity to network with senior leaders in the federal government and public sector, gain insights into trends for the future of the field, and serve an integral role in the premier conference on executive leadership.

Ambassadors will support Key staff with logistical tasks to ensure attendees and speakers' experience is productive and memorable.
Application View Requirements

Why you should apply:

  • Ambassadors receive complimentary registration for the conference, including breakfast, lunch, reception, conference swag and giveaways
  • opportunity to network with senior leaders in federal government, non-profit and private sectors
  • featured highlight on Key's website, social media and email marketing in our network of over 14,000 connections
  • letter of reference for future endeavors 

Session Descriptions

AnchorHere you can read the session descriptions for Session I of the Key Conference, featuring 60 and 75 minute sessions as well as 2-hour workshops. Some session titles are shortened here.

Session I - 9:30AM - 10:30AM

60 minute sessions

Presented by George Reese

Thriving in the Workplace Using Reversal Theory For more than ten years, I regularly provided a one-day self-development workshop, based on Reversal Theory, where a number of exercises and activities were developed that introduced the concept of Reversal Theory to participants and how to use the knowledge to enable them to “thrive in the workplace.” My presentation starts with an exercise in which participants are each asked to create a poster advertising themselves. This poster acts as a point of reference throughout the presentation. Next the idea of motivation is explored, and the way that motivation guides how one sees the world is demonstrated by means of projective tests. Self-inconsistency is introduced with reference to certain interesting historical characters. The basic ideas of Reversal Theory are explained, using a variety of materials, and implications for the workplace are emphasized.

*Recommended for all levels

Presented by Jim Golden

Speaking with Confidence provides you with that next level preparation to get your presentation ‘mojo’ back and turn you into a stunning presenter that will captivate your audience.

*Recommended for all levels

Presented by Macey Cox

Does networking make you cringe? It can be an uncomfortable prospect, but it doesn’t have to be that way! If you consider ways of developing new skills, by offering the skills you already have, you can build a diverse and deep network. Research shows that mastering your craft helps you build connections. Networking at it’s most basic level is simply a trade – perhaps of skills or contacts. A more meaningful approach is to focus on building a real connection to develop alliances, friendships, and (eventually) relationships. In this hands-on interactive session, Macey Cox will lead participants in a Reciprocity Ring exercise to teach the value of giving first when building relationships, developing new skills, or broadening your network. Macey shares practical steps to growing a broader network and shares stories from her career in the Federal government of how she’s seen simple networking techniques truly change outcomes.

*Recommended for Aspiring and Mid-level Leaders

Presented by C. Michelle Bryan, Joshua A. Ederheimer & Cassandra Isbell

Mystery and confusion abound on how people become members of the Federal Senior Executive Service, an elite tier of the Federal government comprised of only .04% of the federal workforce. According to OPM, members of the SES serve in positions just below Presidential appointees. These executives serve regardless of administration affiliation and face a changing political environment. The path to the SES is as individual as the person. In this presentation, two current senior officials who took distinctly different paths to the SES will share their journeys. Michelle Bryan has spent a career in the federal service and rose through the ranks to the SES. Joshua Ederheimer entered the SES directly, with outside experience but no previous federal service. Attendees will hear examples of how the speakers attained their status, dealt with obstacles, and succeeded. Facilitated by Cassandra Isbell of BDO USA’s Public Sector practice, participants will gain insight into the SES role.

*Recommended for Aspiring and Mid-level Leaders

Presented by William Yeager

Just imagine how a regular, consistent, predictable superstar level of performance would enhance your organization’s competitive position. Think of the impact if your organization is in perfect sync. This is the fundamental idea behind using a goals-based mindset to drive performance excellence.

*Recommended for all levels


Session II: 10:45AM - 12:00PM

75 minute sessions

Presented by Robin Camarote

Leading change is essential to successful technology adoption. Unlike many traditional initiatives, however, moving to today's emerging technologies such as DevOps, cloud adoption, and AI is an organizational journey without an end date. Leaders and IT professionals must shift to a continuous improvement mindset and way of working. Navigating and driving change in this environment requires an agile, flexible approach and a team that is confident and comfortable working without clear requirements or deadlines.

*Recommended for Aspiring and Mid-level leaders

Presented by Everett Marshall, Tamberly Conway & Toby Bloom

In this session, participants will gain an understanding of the principles and application of the rapidly emerging practice of nature and forest therapy as a tool for improving the mental, physical and emotional health of individuals, while increasing their level of self-efficacy, self-awareness and heart-centered decision-making. Specific learning objectives will include:

  • Knowledge of how forest therapy provides an innovative, proven approach for increasing individual health and well-being;
  • Knowledge of how forest therapy can be used to support team development, social bonding and effectiveness;
  • Knowledge of how forest bathing can enhance leader effectiveness through increased self-awareness and improved decision-making;
  • Insight into specific applications of forest bathing in the federal sector;
  • A practical experience with a forest bathing activity during the workshop.

*Recommended for Mid-level and SES 

Presented by Chad Clifford, Kyra M. Stewart, Scott Kelberg & Amy Bontrager

For the past five years the White House Leadership Development Program (WHLDP) has cultivated the next generation of career senior executives in the federal government by engaging a diverse annual cohort of GS-15 career leaders to work on the federal government’s highest priority and impact challenges. WHLDP Fellows detail into leadership positions in the “center of government” and help drive implementation of the Cross-Agency Priority Goals under the President’s Management Agenda. This hands-on development opportunity tests Fellows by challenging them to work outside of their comfort zone and requires them to lead, build cross-agency coalitions, and innovate under short timeframes and in new work environments. In this panel discussion, WHLDP alumni and leaders will share their perspectives on how the WHLDP develops enterprise leaders and prepares Fellows for future success leading the most difficult challenges across the government. 

*Recommended for Mid-level and SES

Presented by Alan Heymann

The beginning of a leadership development journey can be simple. You have to start somewhere. Any approach must be simple to follow and quick to deliver results. The change must be noticeable to your stakeholders. And it must be sustainable. In this interactive workshop, Alan Heymann will draw on more than 20 years of experience to deliver five key takeaways to help participants take their work to the next level.

*Recommended for Aspiring Leaders

Presented by Tom Temin

Few skills can aid in the advancement and maintenance of a professional management career than the ability to communicate effectively in the spoken word. Whether describing a new strategy or policy, defending your program to congressional aides, giving interviews to the media, or even making remarks at the retirement gathering of a beloved colleague, speaking with poise, precision and purpose can make all the difference in how your message is received.

You’ll spend an hour packed with useful tips and proven techniques for gaining confidence and skill in effective speaking. Among the lessons you’ll learn:

· How to speak without notes

· Why to never give a speech

· Ways to handle media interviews

· The elements of effective speaking … and what to avoid

· Techniques for gaining confidence … and why nerves are a good thing

· Speech mannerisms to drum right out of your head

Your class instructor, Tom Temin, has 43 years of journalism experience and has been speaking in public regularly for most of that time. He’s interviewed 10,000 people, including nearly 8,000 for broadcast, coaching many of them through their first career interview. This interactive session will have plenty of entertaining sound clips from the great speakers and working career feds.

*Recommended for all levels


Session III: 1:45PM - 4:00PM

120 minute Workshops with intermission

Presented by Tony Chatman

Inclusion. Fair practices. Smart policies. Accountability. What keeps leaders up at night? Fear of getting it wrong. Of not being able to identify the blind spots that allow unconscious bias to creep in and equity to shut down. Bias that goes beyond race and gender. Bias with the potential to permeate every decision leadership makes, often without ever realizing it. That’s where Unconscious Bias Expert and Keynote Speaker Tony Chatman comes in. Federal agencies and corporations keep him on speed dial for his ability to effectively share the brain hacks he discovered which allow leaders to tackle Unconscious Bias without playing the blame game.

Tony will help you uncover the secrets that the most inclusive organizations use to create a culture that attracts the best and the brightest – and keep them.

*Recommended for SES and senior leaders

Presented by Ted Kniker

Nearly everyone has experienced the results bad leaders, fear, or lack of trust during their career. What isn’t always dealt with are the aftereffects of organizational and personal trauma created by toxic leadership or a negative environment. Harmful interactions get dismissed as “personality issues,” “differences in policy,” or “lack of understanding about what we do,” yet when unchecked can leave long-term, debilitating damage that hinders engagement, productivity, innovation and organizational results. In this presentation, Ted Kniker will help participants to recognize, understand, and overcome systemic toxicity issues and cope through periods of long-term disruption and turbulence. Ted will share from personal experience and research how to remove, heal from, and prevent organizational trauma from becoming the cultural norm. The session will provide participants with an action plan for organizational resilience and improving organizational wellness.

*Recommended for all levels

Presented by Bernadette Costello & Jennifer Rogers

Have a difficult and important conversation that you put off or don’t know how to get started?This interactive and experiential workshop will introduce the GROW coaching model that can result in higher levels of leadership effectiveness,trust,&commitment that supports an organization’s objectives.

*Recommended for all levels

Presented by Janet Ioli

Your presence as a leader matters. People pay attention to what you say and what you do. They also respond to your emotional state and assign meaning to your words and actions. 

Your thoughts, words, appearance, and actions create your reputation as a leader, and the story of what it is like to be in your presence.

In this interactive session, you will be introduced to the five portals to a powerful leadership presence. You will spend time assessing your own behavior in each portal, and create concrete actions to enhance the power of your own leadership presence.  

*Recommended for all levels

Presented by Wendy Wagner-Smith

Recent research shows you only have about 3 seconds to catch and keep the attention of any potential reader. That means you’ve got to quickly let that reader know why they should bother, and you’ve got to do it clearly, without technical jargon, legalese, bureaucratese, or any of the other forms of official gobbledygook. Federal leaders have even more reason to learn to write clearly and with a professionally conversational tone, because they’re required by the Plain Writing Act of 2010 to ensure government documents are clear and easy to understand.

In this workshop, you’ll learn the basic principles of writing clearly in plain language. Best of all, you’ll practice hands-on exercises to solidify the concepts in your head. You’ll leave with a new perspective on how to write in a way that holds reader interest and serves the citizens, and you’ll have a valuable set of new skills you can put to work as soon as you return to the office. This class will be the best fit for those who have little or no experience writing in plain English, but all levels are welcome. Come prepared to participate verbally and during written exercises throughout the workshop.

*Recommended for all levels

Lessons for Every Professional Level

The 2020 Key Conference features sessions with topics curated to target the needs of nearly all career and professional levels. From aspiring leaders to those in the senior executive service, there is something for everyone! Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned executive, each session will have something for you.

Andrew Bennett presenting at the 10th Key Conference.

Get to Know the Speakers

Read the profiles for all of our Key Conference speakers. 

Speaker Bios

2018 Roger Jones Awardees and their entourages.

Roger W. Jones Award

The Key Conference will also host the Roger W. Jones Award Ceremony, honoring four public servants who have demonstrated exemplary leadership.

Read about the Award

10th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference Review Leadership & Culture | June 12, 2019 | Washington, DC

Collage from the 10th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference

The Tenth Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference took place at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington, D.C. on June 12, 2019.  Hosting over 250 guests and three sponsors, Eagle Hill Consulting, LLCSenior Executives Association and American University School of Public Affairs’ Justice Programs Office, workers from the public and private sectors, students and curious minds convened to explore the year’s theme: Leadership and Culture.

Opening the conference was Dr. Patrick Malone, Key Programs Director, whose discussion on the culture of kindness in the federal workplace, especially following one of its most tumultuous moments and general times of divisiveness. Malone’s focus on the powerful impact kindness can have in the workplace for facilitating collaboration, creative, innovation and overall happiness energized the audience for the day to come.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to attend four breakout sessions throughout the day that fell under one of the following learning tracks: Vision, Networking, Conscious Collective, Diversity & Inclusion, and Communication.

Each track featured sessions focusing on unique and essentials points to contribute to the attendees’ overall understanding of what it means to lead and became an extraordinary leader regardless of their position in or out of the workplace. 

Michele Perez presenting at the Key Conference

Some of the sessions included: Managing Up: How to Succeed with Any Type of Boss with Mary Abbajay, CEO, Careerstone Group; Authentic Networking: How to Network without Being an A****** with Strother Gaines, Speaker, Trainer and Coach, But I’m a Unicorn, Dammit!; Presenting While Gendered: How Men and Women Can Make the Most Speaking Opportunities and Meetings with Meghan Dotter, CEO, Portico Presentations; Revitalizing the Human Spirit at Work with Andrew Bennett, President, Bennett Performance Group; From the “Outside-In” – How Investing in Women Worldwide Led to Investing in Ourselves with Michele Perez, Vice President, Department of Management and Administration, OPIC. All sessions and descriptions can be viewed here.

Presenters challenged attendees to reflect inward as illustrated by Jacqueline Garrick’s examination of whistleblower retaliation in relation to work culture and its symptoms.  Attendees were also presented with unique leadership tools and techniques that stimulated both mind and body as seen in Dr. Nicole Cutts’ session on yoga and managing change.  In the afternoon, Strother Gaines led a session encouraging everyone to be authentic in bringing out their inner networking genius and making the most of networking opportunities. 

With every session, attendees had the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the unique stories and knowledge of the presenters. Each presented tools and best practices for how to engage in an evolving workplace and overall landscape while remaining true to one’s core values.

President Burwell at the 2019 Conference

Further deepening the experience, AU President Sylvia Burwell took the stage following lunch and addressed the entire conference, reminiscing about her time in the federal government and the transition outside of that field into her current role. As she recounts her own experiences, she encouraged everyone to reach across the aisle, even in hard times, and to always continue to embody the spirit of public service.

The conference ended with a networking reception featuring karaoke, a DJ and flipbook station. To round off the event, Key also featured signature cocktails for the special occasion - Leadership Journey  and #3 in the Nation.

The team at the Key Executive Leadership Programs invites all to attend the 11th Annual Key executive Leadership Conference next year – date to be determined – that will also host the 42nd Annual Roger Jones Award Ceremony for the 2019-2020 cycle.  Be on the lookout for more information coming soon!