John Phillips Vice President of Professional Development and Programming National Association of Life Underwriters Washington, DC

"I guess the biggest source of stress in my job is that nothing is ever predictable. I have to make a lot of quick decisions. Imagine this: At a recent convention, we have the candidates for office waiting backstage, nervous as cats, because they're about to deliver their election speeches to an audience of 3,400. I find out that their speeches are not in the correct order in the TelePrompTer. Well, they refuse to go in a different order for political reasons, and they're going absolutely bonkers.

"With three minutes to go, I have to arrange a way for the director to bring up the correct speeches in the correct order, and try to make everybody feel good. Talk about stress!

"Another example: Recently we had Dan Quayle lined up as our speaker for the John Newton Russell Memorial Award dinner. Around noon I got the call you don't want to get: The speaker is ill. His people asked us to flip-flop the program, and allow him to speak while people were eating so that he could get out as soon as possible to go to his next engagement. (Later, I found out that he had been at a press conference promoting his new book.)"

Charlotte Stott Vice President, Marketing London Pacific Life & Annuity Co. Sacramento, CA

"One of the biggest stresses is the time frame we have to work in. I am responsible for one large meeting per year, and the site is very important. Our agents are independent, and the product within the annuity market is similar, so their determining question is, 'Where is their trip?' It has to be good.

"I will go out and make a commitment sometimes two years out. But the markets change over that period of time. This year, we have a lower number of qualifiers, and costs have gone up. These are issues that are out of my control; for instance, taxes have just been added back into airfares. And my challenge is to give my chairman an explanation of why the cost of our upcoming trip on the CostaClassica may be as high as $3,400 per person instead of $2,750 as originally budgeted."

Peggy Polick, CMP Conference Manager Allstate Insurance Co. Northbrook, IL

"Little changes can be pretty stressful. For example, we just finished a major conference on an Alaskan cruise. We had scheduled the recognition program toward the end of the week. Some people wanted the recognition earlier in the conference, and so we had to scramble, run through many scenarios in order to try to reschedule it. We ended up keeping it where it was originally, but in the meantime, we had to jump through a lot of hoops."

J.R. Schmidt, CMP Director, Corporate Communications Trust Mark Insurance Lake Forest, IL

"The transitions within the hotel industry continue. Years ago, it used to be that a sales person would contact you, sell a product, and then go away, and you would work exclusively with one representative from convention services.

"But now sometimes I am not even contacted by convention services-sales people remain on the account, and I have to deal with them while they are still trying to sell their product to someone else. I will have given a $50,000 or a $100,000 deposit to some person who doesn't even know who I am and doesn't give a damn about my company.

"Here's a perfect example: Recently I needed one extension for one night for two rooms. I went to the sales person who was in charge of the room block, and she said it couldn't be done. I mentioned this to the concierge manager, and she lifted the house phone and took care of it in 30 seconds."

Barbara Giesbrecht Asst. Manager, Conference and Travel Services Great-West Life Assurance Co. Winnipeg, Manitoba

"It's the number of conferences I have to plan in a short time-like three in a single month. September is a bad meeting month; we had one conference with 120 people, one with 50, and one with 380. We have several divisions that plan meetings, but I am the only full-time conference planner for Great-West. I do everything from making hotel reservations to advising on air and ground transportation. I just have to keep plugging away. I have deadlines, and I make sure I meet them."