30 PCMA CONVENE SEPTEMBER 2014 PCMA.ORG
PLENARY ‘Each Year, That Conference Is Different’
Alysone Will, CMP, is coming up on her 20th year as head of her own company, Toronto-based Absolute Conferences &
Events Inc., which offers a full menu of meeting-
planning and association-management services.
Like many industry professionals, she stumbled
into the independent meeting-planning
business — but has been on sure footing since
How did you get your start in meeting planning?
I’m not from this side of the ocean, as you probably can hear.
[Editor’s note: Will has a lovely British accent.] When I first
arrived in Canada in 1976, I was in the retail business. Then,
by chance, I met another lady who is English who had started
a company providing [registration services] for mostly consumer shows at the time.
Then she saw that there was a need to develop a company
that could provide destination-management [services]. We
did tours — Niagara, Toronto, whatever was the need at the
time. This was about 1979–1980. She asked me if I would be
a tour guide on a piece of business where they didn’t have
enough guides. I said I didn’t know enough about Toronto.
She said, “Here are the notes. Read up.” That’s how it started.
So on a part-time basis, I did that.
They were looking for some administrative help, so I
joined the company. Initially I was producing proposals and
then, gradually over time — I was there for 15 years — we
started the conference-planning side. I was working mostly
with the owner on developing conferences. We learned in
those days by the seat of our pants.
And then that business closed. It was now, what am I going
to do? This is how Absolute came about, at the end of 1995.
Before that though, [in 1991,] I had been among the first 500
[professionals] in North America to earn a CMP.
What do you like most about this industry?
I think more than anything, having come from retail, it’s all
about the people. You are in constant contact with people in
this business. And then obviously, it’s the satisfaction at the
end of it — of spending ages on planning and eventually seeing the fulfillment and the success of it, and rolling on to the
next one afterwards.
When I first developed Absolute, I worked from home and
I was going squirrely. Walls don’t talk to you. I went on my
own with Jacqui Sullivan — she and I have worked together
since 1993 almost consistently, with a couple of years’ break
in the middle. Absolute has grown from there. We’ve never
been very big — never more than about six people. Didn’t
want to be any bigger. Didn’t want that responsibility of all
the overhead and so on.
What kind of organizations are your clients?
I’m a bit more selective on what we go for. Most of our business now is in the not-for-profit association market. We’ve
developed that market, and now we’re a little bit into the
association-management side, too. All of our clients are
either Canadian associations or they happen to be Ontario
What do you like best about being an independent planner?
The variety. I could not work on an annual basis knowing that
this time of the year I have to do this, this time of the year I
have to do that, and it’s repetitive year after year. We have a lot
of long-term clients, so I suppose you could say that we do have
repetition. But each year, that conference is different. People
are different. We’re moving on from one to another one.
What kind of “soft” skills do you think independent planners
need to focus on?
I think one of the big things for independents is the fact that
we absolutely do have to listen. Everybody is very prepared ›
about the people.’