My Visit to the World Massage Festival: It's All About Connection


ABMP's Advertising Manager Tracy Donley receives a massage from 2015 Massage Therapy Hall of Fame inductee Geary Whiting

Recently, I had the beautiful pleasure of attending the World Massage Festival (WMF) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The location wasn’t the reason for the beautiful experience; it was the people at the conference. I want to share my experience with you, as I have been schlepping to conferences and trade shows for more than 15 years as an advertising executive, and this one blew my mind.

During my advertising and marketing tenure, I’ve attended conferences that served a variety of industries: high-end homes and lifestyles, recycling and green initiatives, investment advisors, insurance brokers, and banking and accounting professions. Each of these conferences and communities had their unique qualities—keynote speakers like Bono and Bill Clinton, popcorn lunch and pen allocation, unlimited cocktails and prime rib sliders, and of course, scantily clad booth babes. (I’ll let you match which quality went with which industry).

The thing that surprised me the most about the WMF was not the lack of celebrities and decadent libations, it was the quality of people, the high level of comradery, and the commitment to the profession of healing. Typically, when attendees come to an exhibit booth at a trade show they say one of two things: “What are you going to do for me?” or “Let me tell you why I’m the best!” But here, each conversation started in a similar fashion—an honest story. 

Attendees began with how or why they became a massage therapist and then followed with stories of family and friends, trials and tribulations. The journeys shared were heartfelt and endearing. Some shared stories about why they chose massage for Parkinson’s or cardiac massage; one told me about becoming a doula as well as a massage therapist. Others shared their need to give back to society, the challenges of becoming a massage therapist and a pastor’s wife, and a tale of 60-year-plus romance and partnership. It seemed as though every one of these attendees felt they received a “gift to nurture” versus “sought a career.”

The atmosphere was one of a family reunion: young and old relatives meeting and coming together to relate as people and learn from one another. It was not a business card swapmeet where participants dressed in suits and starched white shirts met to collect pens and marketing collateral—which was what I knew. These WMF attendees met to experience new things and connect. 

The music played. There were children, dogs, friends, and spouses everywhere and all were fully engaged and participating in the event. I had a wonderful time at the WMF. I think we all could learn a thing or two about the way we approach our career and our networking: It’s all about the connection, not the perception! 

—Tracy Donley is advertising manager for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals

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