By Brad Foster

That was the theme of the Professional Conference Organisers Association annual “gatho” in December and many elements did just that, as Brad Foster discovered.

It’s hard being completely different at a conference. There are so many different stakeholders who expect some return on investment that you just can’t do away with everything.

For those that have an exhibition element – most conferences now do to help with costs – there is a real need for an adequate event space for booths and enough opportunity in-between sessions for delegates and exhibitors to mingle.

Some may say that doing away with the exhibition may allow the conference to be completely different but practicalities are that unless you’re a big corporation you just don’t have the budget to allow it.

Which is why those who created the 2019 Professional Conference Organisers Association Conference in Sydney, focused on other areas in keeping with its “anything is possible” theme. And they did well.

This 11th conference of the association was held at the ICC Sydney and, while a traditional venue for all intents and purposes, helped the PCOA deliver on its 2019 branded promise of doing things a little bit differently.

The clear winner in this was the decision to feature what the PCOA described as its “silent session” workshops that saw attendees wearing noise-cancelling headphones and having the ability to switch between two speakers talking simultaneously on the same stage.

Only the speakers may have found this system a little disconcerting, with their fellow speaker talking about five metres away.

It did appear to work but this delegate wonders what the point really was other than to maybe save a little money in the number of conference rooms you were using. Then again, using this technology would have a cost as well.

I have always been a little vocal on break-out sessions generally. Often – and I doubt this is just me – there are times when two speakers who I would like to listen to are speaking at the same time. These new “silent session” workshops may alleviate that a little because you have the ability to switch between speakers but you still can’t listen to both completely.

And what about the poor speakers? It could be a bit demoralising if you were up on stage and more than half the people in the room were laughing at something your co-speaker was saying. Then again, that’s competition isn’t it.

Whatever I think about it, up there for trying something different PCOA.

They also had for the first time two emcees. And not just any emcees either: two of the most accomplished in the business, Amanda Stevens and Andrew Klein.

Amanda and Andrew also delivered their keynote presentations during the three days, with Andrew’s Life’s a Pitch and Amanda’s The Power of Epic both extremely well received.

Andrew also facilitated the popular PCOA Think Tank session – “Anything is Possible”.  In this session the PCOA threw out the PowerPoint and the speaker, with the collaborative session based around the concept of crowdsourcing and rely on “user-generated content” to design a presentation. It was an opportunity for discussion around the many burning industry issues that continue to plague our sector.

A worthy welcome

The conference kicked off in high spirits with what some delegates described as the best “Acknowledgement to Country” they had seen. The Kari Group presented two thought-provoking Aboriginal songs that really touched delegates.

Opening keynote Amna Karra-Hassan presented “The Lived Experience” – Amna’s inspirational story of overcoming adversity, maintaining hope and achieving the “impossible”.

Tahira Endean, head of events at Site Global shared her findings on The Future of Incentives – Trends and research from SITE Global, and one of Australia’s most recognisable media figures, Osher Gunsberg shared his journey of overcoming significant challenges around addiction and mental health during his presentation, Anything is Possible – The Inspirational – Back after a break.

The exhibition floor saw the introduction of the Speakers Corner, an area within the exhibition floor space available to speakers to interact with attendees after their presentation.

Places filled quickly for the opportunity to be a part of one of the two Intimate Group Lunches hosted on the exhibition floor by featured speakers Cameron Little and Lucy Bloom.

At the conclusion of day one delegates were entertained by Sam Higginson at the Welcome Reception that was hosted throughout the 60-booth trade exhibition space.

Starships proved to be a popular choice for the PCOA networking event on the Monday evening. Delegates appreciated the relaxing cruise on the magical Sydney Harbour while being entertained by a DJ.

PCOA 2020

Business Events Tasmania (BET) is welcoming the opportunity to showcase Tasmania’s conferencing and business event capabilities to industry professionals at the PCOA Conference 2020 in Hobart.

BET’s CEO Marnie Craig said following the announcement that: “Our team is excited that so many PCOs, in-house event planners and meeting industry professionals will enjoy first-hand, a genuine Tasmanian experience.  We’re confident that the conference will leave a lasting impression on delegates.”

“Tasmania has an enviable brand and regularly features in top destinations to visit but we find that PCOs and in-house event planners are often surprised to find out that not only can we host events of over 1000 but we do it really well.

“We proudly boast that Hobart has the facilities and meeting infrastructure of a modern city but without the big city interruptions.”

PCO Association (PCOA) president, Barry Neame, said: “We are genuinely excited to have announced Tasmania as the destination for the 13th annual PCOA20 Conference & Exhibition.

“The timing couldn’t be better. The PCOA20 conference and exhibition will encompass PCOs, in-house event managers, conference curators, and other meetings and event professionals, speakers and exhibitors.

“Attendees will not only enjoy Hobart’s legendary hospitality, they will get to experience some new and exciting products coming online.

“We are confident Business Events Tasmania have the capabilities to offer an experience never to be forgotten.”

The PCOA20 conference in Hobart runs from December 6-8.