Home' micenet eMag : micenet AUSTRALIA August September 2014 Contents Alot’s changed since 1974 when Ruth Lilian entered the
industry as a medical secretary, organising medical
“I’ve always been an organised person,” Ms Lilian says.
“I used to organise a lot of community activities so I’ve always
enjoyed being involved and helping others. I’ve adored watching
the industry evolve and having the opportunity to be a part of it.
One of my great loves and passions is meeting the people.
“When I started, there were very few opportunities for
university. I began as a medical secretary, organising five
specialists in a practice and running every part of their lives. I
also worked in hospitals across London and when I came back I
did a locum for a rheumatologist who said there was a job going
for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. “You’d be
perfect for it,” he said. “It’s to run their meetings”.
“Three interviews. $35-a -week job. 1974.”
Ms Lilian spent 20 years at the college, managing five
societies and running their meetings.
“We had typewriters, we had to mail everything, and I wasn’t
even allowed to make an interstate phone call. In the case of
emergency I sent a telegram.
“For presentations, people were using 35mm slides with a
carousel, and I had to ensure speakers sent off slides at least
three weeks prior. Back then Kodak produced the slides and
they came back in a little box, there was no real AV operator,
someone put up a projector and even I could manage that in
those days. We’d put on the carousel, it would overheat, and
the slides would burn and melt... so things have changed.
“And then there was the exhibition component – what was
that? Back then it was table-tops with a cloth.
“It wasn’t until 1988, when the Sydney Convention and
Exhibition Centre was built, that we [the meetings industry] really
started to come alive.”
But typewriters and telegrams aren’t the only things that have
left the building. According to Ms Lilian, our constant
engagement with technology has quashed the creative process.
“I fear for the generations to come,” she says. “Back in the
70’s and 80’s, we had very little, but we managed. Now we have
everything at our fingertips and a lot of the thought process is lost.
Research and vision - just Google it - but planning and inspiration
should come from everywhere.”
As well as running L&R Contract Business Services, a project
management and consultancy company, Ms Lilian also lectures
at the International College of Management Sydney and mentors
young up-and-comers in the industry.
She often tells her students to look beyond the internet and
gain inspiration from the world around them.
“In our industry, there are such creative people, people who are
visionary... we need to keep stretching this vision.
“This is where we as mentors come in. MEA’s Mentoring
Program has provided experience and support to many younger
people in the industry and we need to spend time coaching
these young people in the real needs of the industry – that is,
what it takes to create a great event, doing research, and
understanding the teams they work with.”
Are we professionals?
“We were called PCOs,” Ms Lilian says, “but there’s very few
“So we’ve become a meetings and events industry, but we
should be meetings and events managers.
“And we now have industry accreditation, which I’m thrilled
about, but we need more event coordinators and managers to
work to acheive this.
“A lot of people come out of tourism, hospitality and even
event management courses and still don’t understand the extent
of the industry.
“We are not yet a profession and we really need to be.
Corporates, government, associations, they’re all entrusting us
with huge amounts of money to put on fantastic events, so we
have huge responsibility, but we’re not called a profession.
“We need to have a bigger voice, a unified voice. We need to
have more involvement with government and we ought to be
doing more research in order to build better relationships, both
nationally and internationally.”
To ensure the longevity and ongoing ‘professionalisation’ of the
industry, Ms Lilian says education is vital.
“We need to ensure our workforce hasn’t closed the doors on
continuing their education. Every profession must continue to
learn and train, to grow and broaden horizons.
Industry pioneer Ruth Lilian celebrates
40 years working in meetings, events and
association management this August and
she’s still as passionate as ever. BY LAUREN ARENA
Ruth Lilian with her Award for
Outstanding Contribution to the
industry at this year’s MEA conference.
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