Thursday, January 12, 2012

Closing General Session

Photo courtesy NeilsPhotography

After the Beatles broke up, George Harrison's first solo album was titled, appropriately enough, All Things Must Pass.  True enough.  In the same vein, it's with regret that I — Convene Senior Editor Hunter R. Slaton — must now say the same: For the time being, at least, I'm calling my last general session to a close, and signing off from PCMA, Convene, and the meetings industry.

It's been a good run for me.  I joined the meetings industry four and half years ago, when I started working at a competitor magazine of Convene's.  When I started, I was given my "beats" — journalist slang for areas of coverage — one of which was an acronym I'd never heard of before: PCMA.  Little did I know that in the coming years PCMA would become an even bigger part of my life.

One of the first calls I made on behalf of the magazine was to a major hotel chain, requesting an interview with one of its senior executives.  I had assumed that the PR person I'd called to help arrange the interview would be dismissive of me and my relatively low-circulation (at least when compared to a consumer publication like People, or Time) trade magazine.

I couldn't have been more wrong: The PR person was thrilled to hear from me, and quickly arranged for me to speak with the hotel executive, the first of hundreds of interviews that I would conduct.  I guess I had just never considered how important group business and the meetings and convention industry is to hotels and municipalities — but now I began to understand.

About six months later, I attended my first PCMA annual meeting, in Seattle. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least: So many people, so much networking and education, so many elaborate evening events!  And I got to hear for the first time, in person at least, from PCMA President and CEO Deborah Sexton, a truly singular and impressive presence in the meetings industry.

From that point on, I have been thoroughly impressed with PCMA.  It just seemed to have a professionalism and sharpness that other industry organizations couldn't quite match.  The following year's annual meeting, in New Orleans, only reinforced that point of view in my mind.

So it was with eagerness that in late 2009 I applied to, and subsequently landed, a senior editor job at PCMA Convene magazine.  I interviewed with Editor in Chief Michelle Russell and Executive Editor Chris Durso on my 30th birthday — no kidding — then also met with Senior Editor Barbara Palmer, and officially joined the team on Jan. 4, 2010.  Two days later I got on a plane to Convening Leaders in Dallas — and I actually met my girlfriend of two years now on the plane ride down there (hi, Kim!).

Suffice it to say, PCMA and Convene have been very good to me.

And I'm happy to have continued the learning process that began with that first call to the hotel executive, and to have discovered this vibrant world of meetings and conventions that underpins business, travel, medicine, manufacturing, and science — pretty much everything under the sun.

Another thing that struck me, a couple of years ago, when the meetings-industry backlash was in full swing in the media: People were lambasting meetings and events left and right ... and yet it turns out that virtually everyone attends meetings and conventions as part of their own personal career, and finds them edifying.  It was a real, "Well, the meetings I attend are valuable, but the rest are just junkets" mentality.

Perhaps that's a good take-away for meeting professionals, whenever you hear someone going off on your industry.  Maybe just take a minute to ask them what meetings or trade shows they attend, and what they get out of them.  My hunch is that, if you approach folks in this way, you'll get a positive response.

So much important work and innovations and connections take place at meetings and conventions, that it would a terrible loss for them to ever fall by the wayside.  I'm always reminded of this when I read the New Yorker magazine, where it seems that the basis for pretty much every article is — you guessed it — some sort of meeting.

Keep up the great and important work, meeting professionals.  I've thoroughly enjoyed being a part of your industry for the last four and a half years — and my ears will forever perk up when, in the future, I hear about a proposal for a new convention center.

All my best,

PCMA Convene Senior Editor Hunter R. Slaton

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