When conference attendees arrive in Pittsburgh for #OCON2017, their first stop will most likely be Attendee Services. One of the smiling faces there to greet them will be Matthew Morgen, development account manager at the Ayn Rand Institute. “I’m one of the staff behind the scenes giving people a great experience,” says Morgen.

Morgen has been working at OCON since 2010 and he’s “had all sorts of odd jobs — customer service, working with volunteers, setting up rooms, everything but giving a lecture,” he jokes. As a fundraiser at ARI, Morgen says: I spend my day at the office, emailing and phoning donors, but this is an opportunity to sit down together, thank them in person and share our new programs and campaigns, like the work we are doing on free speech.”

This year the conference will include a livestreamed free-speech panel featuring Steve Simpson, director of Legal Studies at ARI; Flemming Rose, author of The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech and former editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten; and Dave Rubin, creator and host of The Rubin Report. ARI has sponsored and participated in a number of such panels on campuses throughout the United States this year (see here, here, here and here).

Morgen is especially looking forward to meeting those new to Ayn Rand’s ideas. “ARI has a unique mission and the fate of the world rests on us completing it,” says Morgen. “Personally, Ayn Rand’s books changed my life. Being able to work for an organization that does that for others makes me really happy.”

We caught up with Matthew Morgen to ask him about his experiences working at OCON.

How do you prepare for OCON?

There is a two- to three-week period where the OCON team is in packing mode. We have a really long checklist to make sure everything we need arrives at the conference location. There are badges, bags, books, programs, posters, signs and printing equipment. So far we have 106 boxes ready to ship out to Pittsburgh. And of course, anything mission critical travels with me in my suitcase.

What happens when you arrive at OCON?

When we arrive, there is a 24-hour scramble to unpack, sort and build OCON for everyone. It is the most stressful day, but it is also the most fulfilling because it means that five hundred people will have a great week if we do the job right.

Best OCON moment?

Every year I get to experience my favorite moment — that first day when people start to walk through the doors. I get to share handshakes and hugs. I love seeing friends, making new ones and finding time to enjoy the content. I usually smuggle myself into one lecture a day.

Most memorable OCON?

I drove a U-Haul from the Irvine office to Las Vegas with my two friends and colleagues David Gulbraa and Simon Federman. It was three men in a crammed truck driving all day through the Mojave Desert in the middle of summer. But getting to know them better and sharing stories and laughs about past OCONs on that drive is one of my fondest memories. 

Who do you meet at OCON?

I meet people from all over the earth: Germany, Israel, South Africa, Australia, and places across the United States. And I’ve travelled to many places myself both at OCON itself and by visiting the friends I’ve made.

What happens after OCON?

We pack everything back up and prepare it for shipping back to Irvine. It’s a game of Tetris to get all the boxes back on the pallets. Then, most of us on the OCON team take a vacation. After we all return to the office, we unpack and start planning for the next year.

You can find Matthew Morgen in Attendee Services, which will open Friday, June 9, at noon. See you there!