Home' micenet eMag : micenet December 2016 Contents W
hen you’re a working mum
you know how to get
things done. And that goes
double when you’re single.
There’s no time to pull any punches, which
is probably why neck-deep in a pathology
conference in Broome she talked her way out
of the big bill for unwatched porn movies and
the fact that she hadn’t watched Bill Murray’s
Groundhog Day six times.
Her young son, who she’d just asked her
very recent ex-boyfriend who was minding him
at the time to put on a plane to Perth, may
have had something to do with the mysterious
movies. No matter. It was time to start planning
the next conference, son now firmly part of the
Margaret Reid PCO package deal.
From the age of eight, Lucas helped
Margaret in the meeting planning game,
doing everything from running to the bank
with cheques, packing satchels, posting
letters and faxing documents. Today, at age
33, he continues to help out on her bigger
events, albeit with added responsibilities.
Her start as a professional conference
organiser began well before Lucas arrived on
the scene. It was 1966. Margaret was
working at the University of NSW and had to
have her appendix out. The doctor she saw
said he was helping organise The XIth
Congress of the International Society of
Blood Transfusion and wanted Margaret to
run it for him.
Just 20, she said that she’d do it if they paid her a senior wage which meant that she was
supposed to be 21. The doctor agreed.
“The man above me was a retired bank manager and they employed him, obviously, because he
had the financial background, and they thought that he would be able to run the event,” she recalls.
“After two weeks he went to the committee and said that he would do the finances and I
would be better doing everything else. So I got promoted and became a PCO before anybody
knew what one was.”
That meeting was held at Sydney University from August 24 to 29 in 1966.
It was a different time. With no computers, everything had to be done manually. Everything
was logged in a book.
Someone would register as a delegate – by mail - which would be logged in. Their registration
payment would also be tabled (in another book); and the conference sessions they were
attending would be logged in another. Everything, Margaret said had to be cross-referenced,
checked, placed in alphabetical order, and re-checked.
“Everybody paid by cheque or international money order (for those from overseas) which we had
to take down to the bank to get processed. If I receive a cheque today I feel like pulling my hair out.
“Then replying, we’d have a confirmation letter – done on a typewriter – which was sent to
the delegate. I can’t even remember whether we used airmail because in those days airmail was
“We were hardly ever allowed to make phone calls because they were too costly. We could
NEVER make international phone calls. Communication with invited speakers was done through
telegrams.” (Google that to find out what one was if you don’t know.)
“I had books as high as me covering every minute aspect of the meeting.
“In those days the scientists and doctors would enlist the help of their wives who would run
the social side of the programs. They would come to me and say who’s going to this dinner?
Who’s going to this cocktail party? All this would be somewhere in my stack of books.”
Part of her role on that first conference was also to be the welcoming committee at the
airport. She would wait at a small desk with a sign and welcome the delegates as they arrived,
providing them with details on how to get to their accommodation.
“Those early days taught me so much about how precise you had to be with your record keeping.
“Later, in the 1980s, I would regularly meet with Trevor Gardiner (now EventsAir) who was
developing a software program for managing meetings and we’d talk about the kinds of reports
that I needed.
From an exorbitant bill for porn movies in a hotel in Broome that she never
watched to running meetings for The World Bank in PNG, Margaret Reid’s
life as a PCO has been anything but Groundhog Day.
YEARS AS A PCO
NEWS | BRAD FOSTER
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