Skip navigation
01_Alicia Aebersold_web.jpg

A Fresh Perspective Wins the Day

By reinventing her 127-year-old annual meeting’s general sessions, Changemaker Alicia Aebersold developed programming that impacts and connects attendees year-round.

MeetingsNet’s annual Changemaker list recognizes 15 outstanding meetings professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find all the profiles here.

Alicia Aebersold

Chief Communications Officer
American Psychological Association

For shifting the culture of APA’s 127-year-old annual meeting to focus on experiences and engage with attendees’ emotions


Making Change 

When I came to the association a little more than two years ago, I was struck by how important the convention is to the attendees—members would simply ask each other, “Are you going to APA?” because the acronym was synonymous with the event. So our team started thinking about how we could do more to elevate the feeling that coming to APA was like a proud homecoming.

When we experimented [in 2018] with bringing in a real main-stage event for the first time, we worked carefully on balancing the experience with the science of the topic. But we didn’t think hard enough about the culture shift that was required after doing things the same way for so long. I think our new version of the general session was good even though only about 300 people showed up from a crowd of 12,000. 

But instead of deciding to let it go, we chose to double down because we believe in experimenting, learning, and evolving. For 2019 we crafted not just one main-stage event but three, set the room even bigger, and worked hard on not only the experiential piece for the main room but also the experience of the convention overall [as it related to the general-session topics: gun violence, suicide, and poverty]. The room was set for 1,000 and it ended up being standing room only each day. Our team realized it wasn’t just about the session itself—it was about shifting the culture to be more engaging and more of an experience. People should come to a meeting like ours and feel at home, not only because they can catch up with people and hear from the best in the field but because they are reminded of why they love and are proud of their profession.

What’s Next?

We are pushing harder for new kinds of learning experiences supported by the science of psychology: more engagement, more conversation, more hands-on collaboration. We also want more international engagement and more connection to our work by those who aren’t our traditional attendees. I am excited about how much we will be able to experiment in all of these areas this year as we move APA 2020 to a virtual experience.

For instance, virtual poster sessions can really open up the conversation and engagement around those sessions, remove logistical challenges caused by scheduling and structure, and ensure that more experts can get their science in front of more people. Also, so many attendees hope for a one-on-one conversation with our keynoters, and technology can make that more feasible. This year, people around the globe will hear what psychology has to say about big issues like climate change and pandemics. 

The next question is: How can these innovations carry over into our future
in-person meetings? 

Managing Change

I heard the phrase “Change is inevitable, progress is optional” from my dad. Every day, I try to look at change as an opportunity to make things better, involve more people, and surprise myself. 

Best Business Advice

Listen—not just to what people say but what they mean. Try to hear what really concerns them or what they’re truly aspiring to. Ask questions. It’s the surefire way to get smarter very quickly.

Thinking Differently

I’ve always believed it’s worth taking the shot—throw your hat in the ring by tossing out a weird idea or experimenting with something a little edgy. I think the key is to answer the question “why not?” and see where that takes you.

Spare Hour

With free time I might call my sister, go for a walk with my husband, mess around in the garden, try a new recipe, or play a complicated board game with my kids.



Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.