Commentary by ASE Journalist Bronwen Largier
Meetings and Events Australia’s 2018 Accelerate Conference was my first experience of an events industry conference as a delegate. It was both a polished affair and one in which I felt a few minor improvements could have had a significant impact on my conference experience.
Full disclosure: while I know a lot about events, having been intimately intertwined with them for the past three years through marketing and as a journalist for the industry, I am not an events manager and therefore I imagine I sit somewhat apart from some of the content dealing with the practicalities and nuances of executing superb events.
Now that we’ve got that little declaration out the way, here’s the nuts and bolts of my experience at a MEA newbie, a first-timer, a novice. Whatever you want to call it.
The first-timers session on Sunday was extremely helpful in terms of meeting new people who didn’t already have enduring friendships in the MEA community. Ice-breaker games may be slightly naff, but they work. They indoctrinated us into the event app early which turned out to be extremely useful throughout the conference – the real time polls were particularly interesting and effective in some sessions as were the questions for presenters sent through the app.
The one assumption that shouldn’t be made about MEA first-timers is that they are young, which also seems to be what the rebranding of YMEA is about, although those at the helm of the new Future Leaders haven’t quite managed to wash the perception from their own consciousness yet.
In my time in the events industry, I’ve met a couple of people with Science degrees, including one who wanted to be a doctor and now sees great parallels between running a hotel and running a hospital, someone with a PhD in Behavioural Science and at least one former lawyer. My point is, with cross-pollination of industries becoming more common as divergent thinking gains value, one should not jump to conclusions that first time delegates are either young or inexperienced career-wise.
As a side note, MEA Board Member Ian Whitworth’s video on ROI from attending a MEA Conference (shown at the first timers session and available for viewing below) was hilarious and brilliant and addresses an increasingly needed justification for taking time (and money) out of the office to attend a conference. The conference could have benefited from more quirky moments like these.
I continued to be impressed by Adelaide Convention Centre’s positioning at the conference, touting their city as a conference destination designed around their burgeoning knowledge economy and compact size. Indeed the whole organisation of the city supports this position and gives them an enduring credibility and substance which is not simply pinned to the addition of new hotel rooms or “world-class” venues.
I felt the conference overall was particularly verbose, which I think, considering this is an event for the events industry, was somewhat of a faux-pas, but I’m not sure exactly how one goes about remedying this, particularly with limited resources and budget which I know is often the most severe impediment to putting on something out-of-this-world, particularly for an industry which I feel is consistently undervalued by everyone outside of it.
In terms of conference content, there were some brilliant sessions – Hugh Forrest from South by Southwest was fascinating and his incentive to keep people listening and interactive – an all-access pass to SXSW 2019 – worked. Amanda Stevens from ICMI Speakers Bureau speaking about turning clients into advocates was a highlight while the sessions on events and economics and event legacies were both informative and relevant.
One area where I felt there were missed opportunities was with some of the speakers from outside the industry which didn’t tailor their presentations to the audience. One example was the plenary on decision making. The session was interesting in its own right, in terms of how to help delegates make decisions faster and better, but the gap between interesting and outstanding was highlighted by a question during the Q and A which asked about how delegates could apply the psychology of decision making to getting clients to make decisions. If the session had addressed this point, it would have elevated the presentation to near perfection.
I got the sense that some of the sessions had been pulled from the catalogues of speaker bureaux, which probably would have been more than acceptable in any other conference except one for the events industry. Although, having said that, you never know how a speaker is going to turn out and how they will be received by the audience until the proverbial curtain goes down on their presentation. However, this should not stop conferences for our industry from taking risks, particularly within the safety of our own ranks. We’re all friends here.
The social events were excellent. The Welcome Function at the National Wine Centre was luxurious, delicious and plentiful. The volume and temperature control, simple things which can tip an event from ideal to uncomfortable, were absolutely on-point. The same can be said for the Casual Night at Adelaide Oval on Day 2. I was expecting the ClubMEA events to be more raucous, but that’s another story (although Ian’s video above certainly proves their worth).
The Awards which wrapped up the conference fell victim, in my opinion, to volume control issues during the breaks which were prime networking territory but during which I could not hear myself think. Some variety in entertainment would also have been welcome, but again, I know these things often come down to budget and other resources.
The pressure on delivering an event for events industry peers is immense. Added to this, much of the guidance for the Conference and Awards is given on a voluntary basis by industry people already being pushed and pulled by their own deadlines and resources. Overall, as a first time delegate, the ideas, the networking and the ambiance made it well worth attending.