By Laura Bradley

Despite a few recent setbacks, New Zealand’s business events industry showed up in force for the 43rd annual CINZ conference in Queenstown.

At just 25 years old, Liam Malone has faced his share of challenges.

Addressing attendees at this year’s CINZ conference, which took place in Queenstown between October 29 and 31, the Nelson native relived his journey from being born with fibular hemimelia and having his feet amputated, to losing his mother to cancer and finding refuge in drugs and alcohol, before turning his life around to win gold at the Paralympics, only to have his records stripped due to rule changes, and eventually establishing careers in both artificial intelligence and stand-up comedy.

His advice for those looking to bounce back from adversity?

Stop, breathe, and consider your next step.

“After each of these events, I asked how I could re-imagine myself”, he said.

“I’d grab a bunch of my friends, sit them around a table and begin to brainstorm a different idea of who I could be as an individual.”

Liam’s captivating talk tied in perfectly with this year’s theme – ‘Inspiring New Thinking’ – and was a rather timely reminder for New Zealand’s business events industry to keep calm and carry on.

A week before the conference, a fire caused significant damage to the New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) construction site, resulting in further delays to its opening date of October 2020.

In September, CINZ’s esteemed leader Sue Sullivan tended her resignation, bringing an end to five-and-a-half successful years in the role.

On top of that, the previous weekend saw the All Blacks knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by England.

But despite these successive setbacks, the atmosphere at the conference was far from sombre. More than 150 delegates showed up to engage, learn and better both themselves and the business events industry.

Sue Sullivan summed up the collective mood best when she acknowledged the NZICC fire in her opening talk.

“This industry is a small and tight one, and in instances such as this, we come together and offer support in whatever way we can”, she said.

“Moving on to brighter and inspiring things, we have a wonderful line up of speakers, workshops and networking opportunities at this year’s conference. Get your eyes up, and make the most of it”.

And make the most of it we did. Here was my take on CINZ 2019.

The venue

Skyline Queenstown was the venue for this year’s conference, a quintessential attraction located 450 metres above ground level. Delegates walked from their respective hotels to ascend to the building via Gondala, which was part of CINZ’s commitment to a carbon neutral show.

The walk took me a mere 15 minutes from QT Queenstown, with a further five spent riding the Gondala. Nobody complained with such magnificent views every step of the way.

For the duration of the program, CINZ delegates had exclusive use of Skyline’s event spaces and Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar, only encountering the general public in the entrance and while admiring views from the lookout.

Conference proceedings took place in the Wakatipu room, a space which offered remarkable views of Lake Wakatipu and its surrounding snow-dusted mountains. There were no pillars obscuring sight lines for delegates, and four screens were helpfully placed around the room for easy viewing.

Although the Wakatipu room’s official capacity is 400 theatre-style, it did feel a little too small for our group of 150. This demonstrated the need for more large-scale venues in Queenstown, an issue that CEO of Destination Queenstown Graham Budd addressed on the second day.

“We’re at a remarkable venue today, but Queenstown still needs an appropriate, purpose-built, right-sized convention centre”, he said.

“The last two to three years of my life have been spent campaigning for a convention centre, and for the government to help pay for it, but the bureau’s attempts have not been successful.

“We will continue to advocate for it informally, but at the moment we’re working on a more formal document to lobby various people and demonstrate the benefits of a purpose-built convention centre for Queenstown.”

Where the venue did exceed expectations was with the lunch served on both days of the conference. Delegates enjoyed a fresh, well-stocked and versatile buffet in the restaurant, with a range of grilled meat, seafood, salad, sushi and curry to choose from.

There was even a dessert station piled with cakes, pastries, ice cream and fruit which was reminiscent of the Pure Imagination scene in Willy Wonka. Plenty of tables with mountainous views were at delegates’ disposal, so there was none of that awkward standing and eating business that I’ve come to expect at events.

The lunch served on both days of the event was – and I don’t say this lightly – the best I’ve ever had at a conference.

The speakers

First of all, props must be given to Tony Gardner, who by his own admission is not an MC and had prior to the conference hosted three events in his life. The CINZ board chair was both relaxed and authentic, injecting the right amount of humour to keep delegates engaged while ensuring smooth transitions between talks.

The speaker program comprised an ideal mix of faces from both inside and outside the events industry, with my favourite of the former being Greg Bogue and my favourite of the latter being the aforementioned Liam Malone.

Greg Bogue is the chief experience architect at Maritz Global Events, a company that designs event experiences for clients, and delivered a talk on the incentive market sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.

As he wandered around the room gesticulating with passion, the zealous American asserted that experiences, rather than cash, are the new ‘status symbol’ in the corporate world.

“What’s happened in society is that we’ve shifted from trophy value to selfie value”, he said.

“It’s no longer about things, it’s about where we are and the pictures we capture.

“Why do people come to New Zealand? For experiences. And the great thing about this country is that you can choose your own adventure.

“You can go extreme or not so extreme, curating personalised experiences for a big group.”

Greg exhibited the type of talking style that demands one’s attention, and made his speech both contextual and humorous by including a video of him bungee jumping in Queenstown six years prior.

Groups and events sales manager for Robertson Lodges Michele Ballantine-Wooley also enjoyed Greg’s presentation.

“His insight into the initial pitching and planning of any incentive program was very helpful”, she said.

I’ve already shared a little about Liam Malone, but what made him a favourite amongst attendees was his confident presentation style, use of emotional anecdotes and the dark humour woven throughout his talk. Liam had delegates laughing and crying in equal measure, and during his keynote there wasn’t a cue card in sight, lending a raw believability to his presentation.

An honourable mention must also be given to New Zealand psychologist Nigel Latta, who delivered the closing keynote sponsored by Celebrity Speakers. Nigel was also very funny (what can I say, I’m a sucker for comedy), and commenced his talk by marching onto the stage and introducing himself.

In a cool, calm and collected fashion, Mr Latta encouraged the CINZ attendees to integrate three types of thinking into their daily lives: slow thinking (as opposed to fast thinking, which relies on impulse), lateral thinking (which proposes that problems should be solved by ignoring assumptions and working backwards from solutions), and clear thinking (or avoiding panic during times of crisis to carefully consider your next step).

This quote from Nigel really resonated with me, and was a rather sage piece of advice for the New Zealand business events industry: “When bad stuff happens, you can fall into a low of helplessness and despair, but at some point you’ve got to get up again. There’s no super complex way of cleaning up a big mess, you just have to start by getting the brush and pan out.”

Six break-out sessions were held across the program, with delegates attending two each. To facilitate the sessions, the Wakatipu room was split into two (the Walter Peak and Coronet Peak rooms), while the remaining group ventured downstairs to the Moonlight Theatre. It was here that the most talked about session of the conference took place, ‘Purposeful Storytelling for Leaders’ which was delivered by ‘presentologist’ John Quinn.

Referencing the work of acclaimed orators such as Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr, John outlined the elements that make a speech memorable (the use of props to highlight points; short, Twitter-like headlines and pictures on slides; knowing your audience and subject inside out; and making use of your space), as well as the common faux pas that make speeches boring (excessive use of bullet points or walls of text on slides; relaying impersonal, flat data over anecdotes; and standing in the one spot the whole time). I had a bit of a eureka moment when I realised that speeches riddled with these mistakes are the ones that I drift off during.

The social program

CINZ always knocks it out of the park with its social events, and this year’s conference was no exception. The welcome function took place at Gibbston Valley Winery, a popular attraction located half an hour east of Queenstown. The rain held off as we filed into a private courtyard to sip on Gibbston Valley wines, munch on a selection of canapes and mingle against a backdrop of rugged hills.

A few heaters were scattered around to keep the chilly air at bay, but most people were smart enough to don their winter woollies.

The adjoining Wine Vault – a naturally-lit space that can cater for 170 cocktail-style – was set up with a stage where cultural facilitator Geraldine Gray told the story of the creation of Wakatipu in front a captivating visual display. Conference & event sales manager for Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa Renee Braakhuis said that this impactful presentation cemented the welcome function as her favourite part of the social program.

A highlight of our visit was having a quick peek at some of the venue’s 24 luxury villas, which are due to open this December. The villas feature neutral tones, marble surfaces and fireplaces, and are sure to be a hit with the corporate retreat market.

The closing function was themed ‘high country’ and delegates sported boots and plaid for their voyage to Walter Peak High Country Farm on the TSS Earnslaw. The Edwardian vintage steamer dates back to 1912, which, coincidently, was the same year the Titanic was launched. Fortunately the similarities ended there and our 40-minute journey across Lake Wakatipu was completed without issue.

Disembarking from the boat the group stopped to marvel at the picturesque homestead: a collection of white buildings with red turrets fringed by a manicured garden and towering mountains. This was to serve as our dinner destination, but first, we wandered round the back to witness a sheep herding show.

After bidding farewell to Sue Sullivan and seeing Tracey Thomas from Conference Innovators crowned this year’s CINZ Outstanding Contributor, the group headed on in to Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant for a gourmet BBQ dinner. Tender meats, roasted veggies and sticky date pudding made up the menu, which we heartily consumed on banquet tables featuring rustic flower displays. The space was also warmed by a roaring fireplace and filled with the sounds of a four-piece band who blasted out classics from Queen, Billy Joel and Angus and Julia Stone.

The celebration was wholesome and expertly-themed, and guests were kindly given the option of heading back on a 9:30 boat or staying back with the late crew.

Convention bureau manager at ChristchurchNZ Claire Hector-Taylor was part of the latter camp, and said that the closing do was one of her conference highlights.

“Travelling on the Earnslaw was fun, particularly dancing all the way back home!” she said.

“It’s been several years since I’ve been to Walter Peak Station so it was great to head over there again – it’s a lovely venue and the food was outstanding.”

The app

To app or not to app seems to be the question at conferences, and delegates at this year’s event appeared to answer in the affirmative.

Designed by EventsAIR, the CINZ 2019 app had all of the usual toggles, including programmes, agendas, and an attendee list, as well as a few nifty extras, such as information on local restaurants and phone numbers for local taxi services.

The app also allowed delegates to anonymously submit questions to the speakers, which were relayed by Tony Gardner at the end of each talk. This was a great way of involving audience members who wouldn’t typically raise their hands, and the function was well-utilised, with almost every speaker answering multiple questions at the end of their presentations.

Sales manager at Gibbston Valley Katerina Cerna said she made great use of the app, particularly for accessing her personal agenda, the general agenda and for information on the speakers.

That said, this old fashioned gal still printed out her itinerary. Perhaps I should get with the times.

Next year’s annual CINZ conference will be hosted in Napier city and the Hawke’s Bay region. We can’t wait to see you there!