Monday, July 6, 2009

Ever run a meeting?

I have never held the official title of Meeting Planner. However, I have over 7 years experience with non profits who put on small to large shows. I can still remember my first job and my first Annual Meeting at AUSA where I made lots of great friends.

Each year, AUSA hosts their Annual Meeting in Washington DC. The first year that I worked there was the last year we hosted at the Marriott Wardman Park & Omni Shorham hotels. The meeting started at the Marriott 50 years prior to my start date and outgrew that hotel quickly. The existing convention center was too small for a meeting of our size so we did overflow and additional exhibits at the Omni. At my first Annual Meeting there were 40,000 military and industry professionals at the show.

The Annual Meeting's show size requires a lot of the 100 person staff to attend the meeting and stay in the hotel and provide 24/7 support. It means long hours and lots of socializing and entertaining. My department had me check into the hotel the Friday before the show, and I was running exhibitor registration. We used fax forms for the registration and the badge program that we used did not alphabetize the badges. I had to proof, print and alphabetize approximately 8000 badges. As I was preparing to leave for the hotel, I locked my keys in my car, while it was running. I didn't have a spare set, but luckily I did have AAA. They arrived and got me into my car.

As soon as I stepped foot on site at the Marriott, I knew what they had told me was true. I was as prepared as I could be but nothing really does prepare you for the onslaught. We had a lot of good times, and fun stories. My very first boss has become one of my dearest friends and he still works there today. Each October, the meeting is held the weekend of my birthday and I still celebrate it with him downtown while he's at the meeting.

The following year, the new convention center opened up and it changed the way that the meeting was run. We were able to accomodate more exhibitors. I hear from my buddy in the year 2012 they will occupy the entire convention center. The first convention center year, I lost 10 lbs while working the show. The size of the center is huge! I highly recommend it for large and small meetings. AUSA puts on an amazing meeting and in my years of experience since, I haven't seen a show of it calibre.

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