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OMG, I’ve Been at This for 20 Years!

Why I continue to love covering this crazy meetings industry after all these years.

I’m not sure which made me feel older, realizing my stepson is now older than I was when I met his dad, or getting LinkedIn messages congratulating me on my 20-year work anniversary here at MeetingsNet. Yowza, I’ve been covering the meetings industry for two decades?! It reminds me of a recent press conference where another long-time editor who shall remain nameless and I traded “uh oh” glances as the speaker mentioned something about the person in the room who has been covering the industry the longest. (It wasn’t either of us, but not by much.)

I remember my first project for MeetingsNet, a guide to small meetings. I was tasked with putting it together as a test before I got the for-real offer to be editor of Religious Conference Manager magazine, which at the time we published on behalf of the Religious Conference Management Association. What did I, with my vast experience in working with environmental chemistry, asbestos abatement, underground storage tanks, and environmental career publications, know about small meetings? You got it—just about nil. 

Today it would be easy to just Google around to find some experts to tap. But Google was just a behemoth-to-be back in March 1998—its creators Larry Page and Sergey Brin were still PhD students at Stanford University; they wouldn’t incorporate Google as a private company until September that year. I remember scouring our publications at the time to find some people to talk with for the lead story, and I did score a few, but not enough. So I also ended up interviewing my dad, Quincy Abbot, who as a former corporate exec and at that time an association leader who had run more than his fair share of small meetings. I don’t know if I ever did tell my boss he was my father!

In the years since, I’ve worked on every one of our print publications in some capacity or another, and since we’ve gone digital, I’ve had the opportunity to dig into the few niches I hadn’t yet explored in detail. (Hello, travel incentives! Where have you been all my professional life?) I’ve met people and seen places that I could only have dreamed about in my prior professional life (ahem, the Serengeti? Tahiti? New Zealand?

It hasn’t all been great. I remember losing my mind more than a little after September 11, 2001 (17 years ago? Not possible!) when, not knowing what else I could possibly do and feeling helpless, I did nothing but write about safety, security, risk management, disaster preparedness, etc., creating a microsite that for months I obsessively filled with article after resource after checklist in the hope that it might help someone, somewhere down the line should the unthinkable happen again. Which of course, it continues to do, though not on that scale here in the U.S., at least, not yet.

I do find it frustrating that meeting professionals are still beating their heads against some of the same issues we had back in 1998, such as a lackadaisical mindset toward safety and security, difficulty in making meetings accessible and welcoming to all constituents, and an unwillingness to adapt meetings to what we now know about adult learning. But we are slowly seeing movement on each of these persistent issues, and I have hope that we’re close to hitting critical mass on at least some of them.

For the most part, I tend to be a restless worker, someone who gets bored when things get too routine, and while our group’s name and corporate overlords have changed several times over lo these many years, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the opportunity to keep growing, changing, evolving, finding new challenges to tackle, new topic areas to explore, new experts to meet, and always, always, being encouraged to find ways to help you make meetings better, more productive, more fulfilling, and more human. 

The ever-changing nature of this industry—the amazing people (yes, it’s still and will always be a relationship-centered industry, thankfully!), the continuing challenges, and the prospect of growth and change—energize me and keep me champing at the bit to get to work each day. 

So, thanks for 20 great years, meetings peeps! I can’t wait to see what the next 20 have in store.

Your Turn:
To my fellow long-timers: What has changed the most, and the least, in the business since you planned your first meeting?

For those newer to the industry: What do you think you’ll be saying about your job and the industry 20 years from now? 

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