Like many new meeting planners, Melody Aldrich had to grow with the job. Fortunately, the job also grew with her.
Aldrich was working as an accountant in 1989 when 12 people formed the Philadelphia Church of God. After her day job, Aldrich would work on church business in her Oklahoma home. “Someone had to do the convention planning,” Aldrich says. “I volunteered and was volunteered.”
From a small start, the church grew “exponentially,” she says. Its first convention included 231 people; the second year 500 attended and there was a convention in Australia; the third year saw 900 attendees and several other locations. Current church membership is 7,000 worldwide.
Aldrich's only previous experience involved planning small meetings for the Petroleum Accountants Society, of which she was a member. She learned her job with the church as a “matter of necessity. I had no mentor to go to; I didn't take classes. You just do it because it has to be done,” she says.
Today, she plans 15 to 20 annual worldwide conventions: in Edmond, Okla., home of church offices; San Diego and Greenville, S.C.; two in Canada; and others around the world, where regional offices handle the details. Attendance varies from a high in Greenville of 1,100 to a couple of hundred people at international sites. The nine-day conventions occur simultaneously around the world, in the fall.
Besides worship services twice a day, the conventions include entertainment and outings for all age groups. People stay 10 nights in the convention hotels.
“Because of all the activities and having meeting space, when we go into a city we try to look for a minimum of a three-year commitment,” Aldrich says. “It's a big project. Being a small organization staff-wise, we can't reinvent the wheel. It helps us not to be looking three years down the line when planning this year. Plus, it gives us more bargaining power having a longer commitment, and we have very good attendance rates.”
Often they will go back if everything is a good fit. “We'll stay until it becomes old or the prices go up,” Aldrich says.
She chooses three different hotels based on price, and often books an extended-stay type hotel for families and others who prefer to eat some meals in their rooms.
Because of the simultaneous conventions, the church uses technology to bring sites together. All locations are linked via satellite two to three times during the convention, and other speakers or programs are available to be downloaded from the Internet. Sometimes a speaker will fly between sites, but usually speakers are scheduled for one location.
The church ships most of its own AV equipment to locations, and Aldrich and her staff of two handle renting of staging, pianos, copiers, computers, printers, and whatever else is required.
Aldrich herself is counting on technology for her meeting planning. She relocated to Minnesota from Oklahoma in July, after her wedding to Dan Aldrich. Between e-mail, courier and telephone, she expects that she will be able to do her job efficiently enough to limit visits to the home office to twice yearly. She believes it will be successful, thanks to her two assistants in Oklahoma, as well as the fact that she has had the job since day one of the church's organization.
She also believes that her perseverance, organizational skills, and flexibility allow her to do her job well from Oklahoma or wherever she lives. When she attends RCMA conventions, she is armed with a stack of RFPs that she hands out to selected vendors. “I get the comment all the time: ‘I've never seen anybody as organized,’” Aldrich says. “I have too much to do to not be organized. Being organized and self-motivated is critical.
“I tend to be a positive person. No matter what comes up, you can get over, under or around the obstacle. Don't let anything prevent you from your plan.”
The key to problem-solving, she says, is to “make it flow so those in attendance don't know what happened,” whether it be a dinner party, a wedding, or a large convention.
GETTING TO KNOW
Born: Breckinridge, Minn., but has spent much of her life in Oklahoma
College: Associate's degree in accounting from Oklahoma Community College, also completed courses at Central State University
Family: husband Dan Aldrich
Hobbies: travel, especially to foreign countries for the cultural experiences, and scuba diving. “Some of God's most beautiful creation is under the sea.”