More than 300 delegates at this year’s Meetings & Events Australia annual conference, held in the Malaysian capital in May, returned home satisfied with the program and their Asian experience. Not to mention their kids! By Brad Foster

In hindsight my first visit to the night markets in Petaling Street prior to the start of the MEA conference should have been my last. I had a list of things that my kids said they’d like and I got most of them on that first recce. Stupidly I thought there’d be plenty of time to get back there and get the other stuff in-between meeting sessions and after-hours functions.

By day two of the three day event I realised, however, that I was running out of time. And so, like a conference delegate with too much to do I hot-footed it back there after one of the dinners, getting there around 10pm. I found the first store selling English football gear – real I’m sure – made my purchases and sweated it all the way back to my hotel by 11. And I do mean sweated. It was damn hot and the wine with dinner certainly wasn’t helping.

Like any good conference in a foreign destination, this year’s MEA meeting, I believe, provided a good mix of business sessions interspersed with cultural experiences. The welcome reception, for example, was held in a venue in downtown KL called Saloma – an indoor outdoor space where delegates were given play money to bargain for small traditional goods in a mock market setting.

In-between official meetings, at morning and afternoon teas, delegates were encouraged to bash out their own Selangor Pewter bowl, create a batik painting, or “get inked” (temporarily at least) with a henna tattoo, all within the cool walls of the host venue, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Lunches provided an inspiring mix of Asian cuisine, and particularly Malaysian food.

Delegates fortunate enough to arrive a day early had the opportunity to participate in some free tours courtesy of the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) including: a heritage guided walk around the old KL, a walking tour of Little India, a bicycle tour (ooh scary!), a shopping tour (as if Australians need help with that), and a visit to Selangor Pewter, the Batu Caves, and Chin Swee Temple.

Returning to Australia a tad exhausted on the Sunday I reflected on my experience and came to the conclusion that what many working in the sector have most probably already surmised… a destination different to the one in which we work and reside can enhance a meeting program and ultimately our lives.

During this conference I pretty much attended all the sessions I was invited to attend. They seemed better or as good as other conferences I had been to, and I’m guessing part of that was because they were somewhere other than my home town. When they were over and I was walking back to my hotel I was seeing new things; I was experiencing something different to what I was used to, which I believe put me in a different mindset – perhaps a more open one that allowed me to reflect a little bit deeper on what I had just heard at the conference.

“The objective in putting together the content was to provide an educational and inspirational program that participants could action back at work straight away,” explained conference producer, Rob Vass of Turningpoint Solutions following the conference.

“The challenge was the diverse business interests of attendees.

“The structure of thought starters and deep dives was devised to maximize benefit to participants. By having the thought starters everyone could benefit from the high level insights of the specialist [speakers] and then make their decision to get greater detail in the deep dives.”

The thought starters were 10 minute presentations by each presenter to all conference delegates on their topic area. Three or four thought starters were held one after the other. After hearing these delegates could then choose which presenter they wanted to hear in a longer format presentation – the “deep dive”- which were held immediately after the thought starters.

“Each `group’ of topics was designed to cover a broad range of interest so all in attendance could gain benefit from at least one deep dive,” Vass explained.

Sessions covered included:

  • Your logo is not your brand
  • Secrets of being taken seriously
  • Lead like you were born to it
  • CSR – are we bothered?
  • The impact of individual influence
  • Co-opertition and strategic alliances
  • Why team-building works
  • Hybrid events
  • Winning Sales
  • Is Asia Australia ready?
  • Food glorious food
  • The art of business storytelling

In this writer’s (and delegate’s) opinion, the broad set of relevant topics, in combination with the conference setting, acted as a catalyst for deeper thought and greater engagement.