BY ANNA STEWART
The 26th MEA Conference held recently in Darwin had Ignite the Conversation as its theme. And, with excellent presentations and stories of amazing journeys, there was plenty to talk about.
Four hundred delegates set out on their own exciting journey, travelling up to the Top End of the Northern Territory and the Darwin Convention Centre where the conference was held.
For many, this was their first taste of the NT, and the delightful dry season blue skies and 30+ degree days ensured a warm welcome. A number of delegates took advantage of the opportunity to venture further afield and took part in pre and post touring into Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, as well as familiarisation tours of Darwin.
The Opening Ceremony on the Sunday afternoon featured a moving ‘Welcome to Country’ delivered by young indigenous woman, Cyan Earnshaw, who represented the region’s traditional landowners, the Larrakia people. This was followed by some interesting and at times amusing anecdotal ‘My Darwin’ presentations given by a range of local identities.
On behalf of MEA, Chairman Simon Baggs welcomed delegates and highlighted that the BE industry in Australia needed to be ready to jump in and capitalise when the current “doom-like” market conditions turn to “boom”, with the global economic situation showing signs of improvement. He also announced a new advertising campaign to be undertaken by MEA, which will promote the Who’s Who online directory and services offered by members.
The opening concluded with a song and dance performance by a group called “One Mob Different Country”. It was only the following day that we learned they were in fact low-security indigenous prisoners from the Darwin Correctional Centre who are permitted to perform traditional aboriginal dances at events, in recognition of good behaviour – a classic case of CSR engagement in action.
Conference MC, Nic Yates, ably directed the busy conference program, with Monday sessions kicked off by an entertaining presentation titled ‘Ingenious Conversations’ from Nigel Collin of Thinkativity. Nigel (pictured bottom left) rode his motorbike (a BMW R1200GS) an impressive 4950 kilometres from Sydney to Darwin. En route, he filmed engaging conversations and encounters with a range of fascinating outback characters, many of whom provided inspiring examples of innovation, inventiveness and character despite their, at times, isolated and harsh environment.
Bryan Holliday, managing director of ICMS Australasia Pty Ltd summed up the appreciation of the audience. “Congratulations on delivering a truly outstanding program at the MEA conference in Darwin… the opening plenary session couldn’t have been better, with Nigel sharing the story of his journey from Sydney. In many ways his presentation was a metaphor for what conferences are all about; you leave for the destination and return with ideas that you never thought that you’d have.”
With MEA membership representing more than 13 different industry sectors, a range of education streams were provided to accommodate the diverse interests and experience levels of the attendees. Streams such as Innovation, Leadership, Global Trends, Asia and the State of the Nation aimed to get delegates thinking differently about business and life in general. Four Masterclasses were also provided to enable small in-depth workshops on topics ranging from legal matters and LinkedIn through to innovation and mindfulness.
Tania Goodacre from the Australian Trucking Association said the Masterclasses were a highlight for her. “A stand-out session was the Masterclass `Innovate to Prosper’ which was conducted by Roger La Salle from Matrix Thinking. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up buying his books so I can review them on the plane to the ATA’s national event, Trucking Australia 2013, at Hamilton Island in June.”
The China insights theme was carried across to an interactive lunch, where commentary was provided on the art of Chinese table manners, an all-important part of doing business in China, while delegates enjoyed tasty Chinese dishes provided by the versatile convention centre catering team.
The 16 different break-out sessions ensured that delegates were spoiled for choice and could find a topic that best suited their needs.
Pat Strahan from Strahan Events in Perth commented: “This was my first MEA Conference as my staff had previously attended, and it was good to network with industry colleagues and meet new people. It’s always beneficial to hear about the latest trends and the sessions reassured me that our business practices are in line with industry standards. I attended a number of workshops and particularly enjoyed Leadership in Adversity (Dr Len Notaras), Global and Economic Trends (David Thomas), and Rob Hamill was excellent.”
Marathon rowing champion Rob Hamill closed the conference sessions with an awe-inspiring story not only about his journey to victory in the inaugural Atlantic Rowing Race but also about the tragic loss of his elder brother at the murderous hands of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. “The power to choose your attitude and how you respond to any given situation” was his theme and no-one could fail to be moved by Rob’s incredibly positive attitude and powerful presentation.
The pounding of drums and an energetic cultural performance heralded the announcement that MEA 2014 is to be held in Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) from May 15 to 17.
Director of the Northern Territory Convention Bureau and chairman of the Conference Program Committee, Scott Lovett, indicated that this MEA conference was all about providing inspiration and new ways of thinking, rather than a purely didactic program.
“We set out to not only showcase beautiful Darwin and our convention centre, but to also send delegates away with new ideas and innovative ways of thinking about their business,” he said. m
A sampling of presentations included:
- Dr Len Notaras from the National Critical Care & Trauma Response Centre in Darwin talked about leadership in adversity and the need to “Expect the Unexpected”.
- Frank Tudor (National President of the Australia-China Business Council) provided perspective on the Asian Century, while David Thomas enlightened on global economic trends and the purchasing power of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.
- The colourful and engaging Gilbert Rochecouste from Village Well talked about ‘Placemaking’ and how people engage with their communities.
- The ‘Benedict, Bull & Bagels’ session held at 7.30am on Tuesday morning got the early risers up for a wide variety of animated discussions and spirited networking.
The social program showcased Darwin’s casual, laidback lifestyle with events including:
- A welcome function on the SKYCITY Darwin lawns with bonus access to the adjacent Darwin Food & Wine Festival and the nearby Mindil Beach Markets, culminated in a spectacular fireworks display provided by Howard & Sons.
- Crocosaurus Cove was the venue for the Casual Dinner, a highlight of which was MEA CEO Linda Gaunt and Lynn Fairbrass of MCI Australia bravely facing down a huge saltwater crocodile from within the confines of the ‘Cage of Death’ (pictured left).
- The awards dinner on the final night, with its glamorous ‘40’s theme, was held at the Darwin Convention Centre.
- Club MEA ‘after-party’ social activities were split across two venues – il lido and The Precinct, both located in the Darwin Waterfront Precinct, just across from the convention centre.