From the Executive Director

An inside view of the annual meeting

Tom BurkgrenThe annual meeting is one of the enduring cornerstones of the AASV. The recent meeting in Toronto was no exception. Although our meeting has been in existence for 36 years, the attendees' goal is still the same: increase their knowledge about swine health and production!

If you left Toronto without increasing your knowledge, you must have stayed in your hotel room the entire time. Even if you spent all of your time standing in the hallways talking to other attendees, you still left with more knowledge than you came with. I thank each and every member of the planning committee, the speakers, session chairs, countless volunteers, and all attendees who contributed to the success of the annual meeting.

The planning process for the annual meeting begins in the mind of the AASV president-elect, who serves as the program chair. That thought process begins when that person is elected to be an officer, but it kicks into high gear when reality sets in during the annual meeting right before the one for which he or she is responsible. When you combine that thought process with the many suggestions for topics, sessions, and speakers made by members, either in person or on meeting surveys, it becomes a full-fledged avalanche of good ideas and enthusiasm.

The challenge then becomes, how do we fit it all into 4 days of continuing education? That is the responsibility of the program chair and the Program Planning Committee. The committee typically meets in early June, often in conjunction with the World Pork Expo. Its members are selected by the program chair. We often have more volunteers than needed, but we strive to get everyone involved.

The Program Planning Committee meeting is spent getting all the great ideas out on the table and then assembling a draft program. Plans are made for the pre-convention seminars, the general session, and the various concurrent sessions. Topics and suggested speakers are placed in the appropriate slots. Seminar and session chairs are selected. These chairs are tasked with finalizing the details of their respective seminar or session including contacting and confirming speakers.

The chairs are also instrumental in making sure the proceedings papers get in to the AASV office. Some speakers need more "encouragement" than others when it comes to submitting papers. During the meeting, each chair is responsible for his or her seminar or session. This includes introducing the speakers, helping with presentation hardware, monitoring the meeting room, and moderating questions and comments from the audience.

What I have described so far is the creative portion of the meeting planning process accomplished primarily by AASV members. The other part is the logistical portion handled largely by AASV staff with input and oversight by the board of directors and program chair. It consists of the logistics of finding a meeting site, contracting for meeting rooms and lodging rooms, and the myriad of details that accompany a meeting of our size and educational intensity.

The logistics start 4 to 5 years before the actual meeting. The AASV meeting is too large for many hotels and too small for most convention centers. Typically, a large city will have two or three hotels that have the right combination of lodging rooms, meeting space, and price. The board of directors is responsible for picking a city as a potential meeting site. Potential cities are scrutinized in terms of suitability of hotels, availability of meeting space, lodging cost, airfares, and other factors. In recent years the board has made an effort to consider warm weather sites.

Once the city is selected, negotiations with the hotels begin. The success of the negotiations is dependent on the popularity of the respective city and hotel. Des Moines in early March is definitely a buyer's market. Orlando is more of a seller's market at that time of the year. The quality of the accommodations also affects the price of the lodging rooms. The AASV has acquired some leverage with hotels due to the amount we spend on food and beverages. We also have a very consistent profile of the number of lodging rooms we "pickup" each year. Hotels value consistent meeting histories.

The next phase of logistics starts about 10 months before the meeting and continues right up to the start of the meeting. Meeting rooms are assigned to seminars and sessions as they are finalized. Meeting flow and estimates of attendance are used to assign the various rooms sizes accordingly. Room set-ups are selected for each meeting room and social event. Menus are selected and guarantees are given to the hotel for the number of attendees at each food-and-beverage event.

A flurry of activity takes place in the late summer and early fall prior to the meeting. Student and research topics presenters are selected. Speaker contacts are confirmed and audiovisual requirements are finalized. The program booklet, registration form, and the other various forms are prepared, printed, and mailed. The web site is updated and the online registration is turned on. Proceedings papers flow into the AASV office.

One of the largest tasks is the gathering of the proceedings papers. Many speakers are prompt in meeting the deadlines, but unfortunately, many others are not. Dr Sue Schulteis is the driving force behind the effort to acquire each and every one of the proceedings papers, both for the large proceedings book and for each of the pre-convention seminars. In any given year this often exceeds 170 individual papers. One of the most common complaints we receive from members is that a paper is missing from the proceedings. I have always felt that the scofflaws should be punished by having to gather the papers for a proceedings book. They would soon see just how difficult it can be.

As the papers arrive, Tina Smith, AASV graphic designer, formats them into a standard format. Once they have all arrived, she finishes the time-consuming task of assembling the proceedings book. Once assembled, the book is printed and bound. From the printer the books are shipped to the AASV office or directly to the meeting venue. Tina has made a great improvement in the appearance of the proceedings and in the format of the papers.

The last phase before we arrive at the meeting is the processing of the flood of registrations that reach the office beginning around the first of the year and carrying on right up to the minute we leave for the meeting. Once again, Sue does an outstanding job on this phase. She is organized and precise in her processing and tracking of registrations. Even more importantly, she is amazingly patient in dealing with last-minute requests by members, speakers, and session chairs. The final act before the meeting is the packing of the registration packets for each attendee. And then it is off to the meeting.

There is no way I can say enough in praise of Sue Schulteis for her hard work and commitment to the AASV. Not only is she responsible for a great majority of the annual meeting, but she is truly the glue that holds together the entire year-round operation of the AASV. I have never worked with a more honest, talented, and dedicated colleague. In 1997, one of the first actions I took as the new AASV executive director was hiring her on the spot during her interview. I cannot think of a better action that I have taken since then or one I might take in the future. If you know Sue then I don’t have to explain any further!

-- Tom Burkgren