The meeting draws academics and scientists to present the latest research into psychic experience (psi) and also serves a wider purpose in bringing together the international parapsychological community. Last year’s convention, attended by 104 professionals, volunteers, and speakers, was held at the Millennium Hotel in Durham, N.C.; PA’s most recent European convention, held in Paris in 2010, drew 98 attendees from 16 different countries on four different continents, and PA Executive Director Annalisa Ventola expects about the same number this year.
The PA convention is held in a different international location each year, and although it’s not a huge event — usually drawing 80 to 110 people, including 20 to 30 speakers and presenters and the same number of volunteers — one of the bigger challenges, according to Ventola, is the fact that the presenters and volunteers are completely different each convention. “After putting together a team,” Ventola said, “it takes time to get to know each other’s communication and working styles.”
Because the PA convention is held in different countries and draws attendees from all over the world, language is sometimes an organizational barrier. In addition to using a special forum through Google Groups to exchange information with members of PA’s volunteer-staffed Convention Committee, Ventola often uses Google Translate to help her communicate with non-English-speaking attendees and volunteers.
The convention is generally hosted by smaller, alternative venues, including universities, hotels, and, one year, a former convent, which means the committee has to work with the different expectations of each host. “Our efforts in the last six years [since she has been in an organizing role with the PA] have spanned three continents,” Ventola said, “so while preparing for conventions, it becomes necessary for me to learn about customs and traditions of our hosting countries as well.”
This year’s venue, the Ora Domus La Quercia hotel, has been “especially flexible and accommodating,” Ventola said. But with the property a two-hour train ride from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, she expects some travel-weary attendees on the first day of the meeting.
At press time, there was still nearly a month before PA’s call-for-papers deadline, so the programming schedule hadn’t been set. There likely will be about 10 paper sessions, each with three to four presentations. Each session will also include a question-and-answer period on the latest research into psi and related phenomena, such as extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, psychic healing, altered states of consciousness, mediumship, and possible survival of bodily death.
One of the highlights of the event is expected to be a gala dinner with invited speaker Simon Thorpe, who is the research director of the Brain and Cognitive Research Center at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Toulouse, France. Thorpe will speak about the possible implications for psi of cognitive neuroscience and thinking about the nature of mind and consciousness.
Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.