An article on meetings at the Washington Hilton Hotel that appeared Sunday in The Washington Post Magazine incorrectly identified Douglas McCabe. He is an associate professor of business at Georgetown University.
It is 10 a.m. in one of three International Ballrooms at the Washington Hilton, one of the city's largest hotels. At the podium is Dr. William Farrar, a featured speaker at the fifth biennial Symposium on Occlusal Studies. Here dentists from around the world who believe misaligned jaws are a major cause of human unhappiness have gathered to share their views. Farrar is a frail bearded man, and he pauses occasionally to suck through a mask at pure oxygen. But his voice gains strength when he talks about his life's work.
"Twenty five percent of the people in this room have an internal derangement," he says, surveying the hushed crowd of several hundred. " . . . millions of people are suffering from it. We need to define it and describe it and recognize it for what it is. Then we can proceed with ideology and treatment."
On a screen on stage, Farrar shows slides of internal derangement -- images reminiscent of close-ups of the Carlsbad Caverns. Dr. Jack Summer, an Oregon dentist, leans across a table in the darkened room and says, "Some of these will really make you sick."
The 200 dentists gathered in this ballroom -- some having traveled 16 hours by jet from Chile -- are part of a phenomenon on which the very hotel business in this city rests: meetings, the cash crop of Washington.
Austin Kenny, executive vice president of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association, has the figures: about "a million delegates . . . attendees, call it any name you want," visit Washington every year, including garden-variety tourists. They stay an average of 4.1 days and leave about $600 each.
Kenny says the visitors industry is considered second only to the federal government payroll as a source of income for the city. Given the role meetings play in the lives of federal employes, it is possible that without meetings, Washington would cease to exist as an economic and psychological entity.
The federal government serves several purposes in making Washington an appealing city to come to for a meeting. By example it inspires people to sit in rooms, look at a lot of paper and listen to other people. The proximity to powerful people also is cited as a reason to hold a meeting in Washington. If a group gets a high-ranking speaker and pays him a high-ranking honorarium, it provides the satisfying feeling that someone cares about the group.
The ultimate speaker is the president, and some meetings manage to hook him. "There have been days at the Washington Hilton when the president has been here twice," says Renee Subrin, director of public relations. (Mentioning that the president was shot outside the hotel after speaking to the National Conference of the Building and Construction Trades is a Hilton no- no.)
On the day the dentists were in town, thousands of others -- at the Washington Hilton alone -- were also ensuring Washington's role as a city of meetings. They included 2,300 Marine officers and their spouses celebrating the 209th anniversary of the corps; 375 members of the International Society for Crime Prevention Practitioners; 200 Dutch travel agents being persuaded to send Dutch tourists to Washington; 176 lawyers taking a course called "Civil Practice and Litigation in Federal and State Courts"; 115 Nurses of the Veterans Administration discussing "Politics, Economics and Nursing Care"; 15 high-level female appointees of the Carter administration having a reunion; and three microbiologists being trained by Abbott Laboratories to detect gram negative bacilli.
To fill the basic human needs of these groups for food, water and audiovisual equipment, 790 hotel employes were slicing, serving, setting up, soothing and sweeping, in addition to attending meetings of their own.
IT MIGHT SEEM that in an age of satellite vdeo-conferencing and telephone commercials showing the advantages of meeting from the comfort of your own extension that hotels would be worried about the withering of their cash crop. They needn't be, say meetingologists. Meetings, it appears, are popular for reasons that have nothing to do with what the meetings are supposed to be about. These other reasons include overcoming a sense of loneliness, feeling important, getting ahead and good old-fashioned gossip.
*Loneliness. Meetings, say some who study group behavior, have come to resemble the family as a social structure that gives the individual a sense of belonging. "Every organization is dealing with issues of intimacy and closeness . . . the psychological need for all of us to have association with others," says Gordon Lippitt, professor of behavioral sciences at the George Washington University School of Government and Business Administration. "In the world there's a great deal of alienation and loneliness. (Meetings) meet a real need."
*Importance. Once having gotten a sense of belonging, people then want to feel they belong to something special. Meetings "reinforce corporate culture," says Douglas McCabe, associate professor of business at George Washington. "At bar and medical associations people speak the lingo. They talk to one another, and in essence you're talking to yourself."
*Getting ahead. Aglow with those feelings of belonging and specialness, it's time to start jockeying for position. Meetings are where one can "press the flesh and become acquainted with people in the field on a personal level," says McCabe. "That's why I go."
*Gossip. Well, why go to a meeting if you can't have some fun? The most important part of meetings, says Lippitt, "goes on in the hallways: 'What are you folks doing about this? Who is where?' That is far more important to people than the formal session . . . It's adult share and tell."
THERE WAS A LOT of share and tell at the Society for Occlusal Studies, where, during coffee breaks, hundreds of dentists stood in little gatherings and gestured pointedly at each other's jaws. They also visited the booths of about a dozen dental supply manufacturers whose wares were lined up in a hallway near the ballrooms. At one booth John Lavicka painted false teeth to match others in hypothetical mouths. Lavicka, of Dental Ceramics, Inc. in Garfield Heights, Ohio, chose his colors from a kit that looked like nail polish in various shades of yellow.
A half-dozen dentists were gathered around the booth of European Orthodontics Products from St. Paul, Minn., which featured some nasty-looking wire cutters and something called e.o.p. alginate in flavors such as pina colada, strawberry, cherry and cola. The alginate, a seaweed derivative, is typically used by orthodontists to make a rubbery mold of a patients' teeth for reference later, after things have een moved around. Dick Greenam of the Denar Corporation of Anaheim smeared the face of Dona Meicher-Werwie of Sheboygan with gel and rubbed it with a device that looked like a telephone receiver. "This is ultrasound. We are treating her TMJ with deep heat," Greenam explained. Meicher-Werwie's husband, Dr. James Werwie, said that his wife's problem was due to a jaw with "a little deviation to the right."
Like the dentists who must constantly explain themselves to a world that doesn't understand the importance of jaw alignment, the members of the International Society of Crime Prevention Practitioners found legitimacy in each other's company.
"This is like dreamland," said Don Wactor, a sergeant on the Orange, N.J., police force. "I find guys whose emphasis is crime prevention, and we rap."
Lunch for the crime prevention practitioners began impressively when an announcement came over the loudspeakers asking an attendee to "please cal the attorney general of Michigan." Lunch , at $18 a practitioner, was consomm,e, chicken breast (yes!), carrots, rice, fruit tarts and coffee.
The speaker was Dr. Peter Lejins, a retired professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of Maryland. He wasted no time in tackling a deep philosophical dilemma that plagues prevention practitioners: "If a preventive program or a preventive intervention is a success, then there is no criminal act. Then the question is asked, 'What do you have to show? The only thing you can say is there is no crime. This is not very convincing when the only evidence you have is the absence of something."
Not all of the practitioners' time was spent in such contemplation. For instance, in their own exhibit hall there were robots to talk to, including McGruff (a dog dressed in a trench coat), P.C. (a miniature police car) and Huggy (a small animal of nonspecific genus). Police use such robots when they speak to elementary school students about crime. McGruff, which retails for $2,500, was purchased off the convention floor by the Charlottsville, Va., police department.
Don Fenn is director of marketing and sales for Robotronics, of Spanish Fork, Utah, which makes the $3,500 P.C. He brought his son Mark, 22, with him. Mark, who sat in a corner of the exhibit hall with a headset, provided the banter for P.C. The police car is a new addition to the company's line, which already includes a talking fire hydrant used by firefighters.
For all of this and more -- numerous lectures, field trips titled "Bombing of the United States Capitol Building" and "Washington Monument Takeover," films on child molestation and shoplifting -- the practitioners paid $130 each, which did not include the cost of what the Hilton really cares about: $90-a-night rooms.
ONE OF THE inescapable facts about meetings is that a big meeting requires a lot of little meetings first.
In an underground level below the basement kitchen of the Hilton, about 15 employes have gathered for a meeting of their own, called Priority One. Priority One around the Hilton is making guests happy, and the title of this meeting is "What Guests Guests." Nancie Bowes, employment training manager, stands in front of an easel on which rests a large pad of paper. "Here's a chance to use your imagination," she says as she asks employes to think of situations that might upset guests.
"There could be a long line at the registration desk," offers one person. "The room might not be available," says another.
"A bellman could drop a suitcase on a guest's toe and break it. That really happened . . . the bellman didn't even say he was sorry. Oh, it was awful," says another employe.
Bowes writes these calamities on the pad of paper, and gives the group a hand-out with some tips on improving guest relations. On one page is a drawing of a Metro bus with a flat tire. The caption reads, "Guests who have gone through a frustrating travel experience often arrive in a bad mood!!"
Another page details "Common clues to guests' state of mind." Some clues are: "Glancing at watch -- impatient, in a hurry"; "Arms crossed over chest -- angry"; "Smile -- good mood"; "Frown -- angry or trying to understand something."
Learning what it means when a guest looks at his watch is not the only kind of self-improvement meeting employes must attend. They are required to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation, for which the Hilton brings in a life-size blond dummy known as Recording ResusciAnne. As the employes perform CPR, a piece of graph paper shoots out of ResusciAnne's side showing whether or not she made it.
There are also meetings between employes and guests. On the day the Marines, the dentists, the crime prevention practitioners, etc., were at the Hilton, 26 high- level mployes, ranging from the director of food and beverage service to the chief engineer, sat around a table in the Military Room having a premeeting meeting with the head of the Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc., a trade association whose convention would begin in two days.
THE PURPOSE of the meeting run by Abbott Laboratories in the small Hamilton room was quite straight- forward, with little gossip, getting ahead and the like. Three technicians from local hospital labs sat swabbing substances onto petri dishes as Kathy De Santi-Paulini, a technical marketing specialist with Abbott Laboratories, instructed them in the use of the Quantum Microbiology System, which looks something like a sophisticated cash register but which identifies bacteria that cause urinary-tract infections.
"Did everyone wash their hands?" asks De Santi- Paulini as she puts the petri dishes in an incubator in the back of the room, near the Danish.
"We're doing a dummy run. We're doing it with inactive bugs. Nothing here's alive," says Richard Hughen, a product specialist with Abbott, calming the worry of a visitor that bubonic plague might be crawling onto the Danish.
ONE MEETING at the Hilton that day was typically Washington. It was a gathering of people whose names one once saw regularly in the newspapers, whose introductions at parties now include the word "former."
The group was a few of the 50 or so top-ranked women appointees to the Carter administration. Once or twice a year they get together.
Because this gathering occured shortly after the election, political, not personal talk, dominated the conversation.
"Meetings such as this are so important," says Sarah Weddington, former chairman of Carter's interdepartmental task force on women, who now heads the state of Texas' Washington office. "People say, 'Who have you heard about who's going to run the state party?' Your ideas for a month or so have to ferment."
She said she was not surprised by the high spirits of the women at the meeting. "It's nice to be in a group who really understands. A wake can be a happy thing."
GORDON LIPPITT of George Washington says that "there is a certain amount of ritual and cultural celebration" to many meetings. Perhaps he was thinking of the 209th anniversary of the Marine Corps. To accommodate the 2,300 revelers, the Hilton opened up all three ballrooms to the full 36,000 square feet.
A Marine Corps birthday party is a combination nightclub dance, sound and light show and buttering-up of the secretary of defense.
The dance floor was a show in itself, full of Marines in their dress blues with gold and red piping and spouses displaying yards of chiffon, spangles and skin.
The sound and light show began when the 48-member drum and bugle corps ascended from a platform below the stage to a spotlight in front of a 20-by-38-foot American flag. Then Marines dressed in costumes from eight generations of wars paraded onto the stage.
Then commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. P.X. Kelley, marched onto the stage with the tuxedoed Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. "We are blessed with a man who will go down in the annals of this country as one of the finest, if not the finest, secretary of defense we've ever had. He is a friend of the military, he is a tenacious fighter. Also I am pleased to say I consider him a personal friend," said Kelley.
In the Marine birthday tradition, the first pieces of cake were given to the oldest and youngest Marines present. When 2nd Lt. Dennis Patrick Garvey walked onto the stage, the crowd gasped at his date of birth -- Oct. 6, 1962.
According to Brig. Gen. D.E.P. Miller, the event was a success. "It was the biggest party we've ever had." There had been only one small hitch. As the general found out, the only matter more powerful than the Marines is a hotel schedule. The celebration was held a day early because the evening of the actual birthday the 36,000 feet of Hilton ballrooms had been booked for a fund-raising dinner dance for Holy Cross Hospital.