By Brad Foster

If the PCOA brief was to end the year with a conference that delivered some good meaty content then they certainly hit the mark.

Organising a conference for a disparate group of people who work in so many different facets of event planning can’t be an easy thing.

Then, on top of that, you have to provide your all-important sponsors with a platform in which to do business.

Despite being in what I considered to be a room too large for the number of delegates who attended the PCOA conference this 11th outing of the Professional Conference Association’s meeting was a good one.

(NOTE: Perhaps the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre was full during the time this conference was held which meant that we had to go into a larger room than was required. What that meant was that the intimacy was to a degree lost, despite staff asking people to sit in the seating below where the technical crew were stationed. But even this, with a large space between the stage and the audience didn’t, I believe, create the atmosphere that was required, particularly with the team-building offerings.)

With a theme of “Embracing Change – How Agile Are You?” the majority of content was spot on, with MC Yvonne Adele doing a great job to keep the conference relaxed and on track.

The opening keynote from Rohit Talwar, CEO of UK-based Fast Future Research, gave attendees plenty to think about that weren’t all pie in the sky futurist dribble.

As is the case when conferences are split into concurrent workshop sessions, it is not possible to attend everything. Is this a good thing? I’m not sure, especially if there are two speakers you want to see who are talking at the same time in different rooms.

Topics in workshops included:

  • New and emerging technologies in the events space (Scott Millar)
  • A panel discussion entitled Changing Hats – We are more than just event managers
  • Using digital marketing to drive real outcomes (Tanya Williams)
  • An interesting session entitled Fast Case Studies – idea sharing, delegate led quickfire session
  • The interaction of man + machine + marketing (Madeleine Preece)
  • 4 key areas to secure your event (Trevor Gardiner)
  • Smart Work (Dermot Crowley)

A real standout for me – totally off-topic but who doesn’t need a feelgood story at a conference – was the co-founder and CEO of Who Gives A Crap, Simon Griffiths, who gave a heartfelt presentation about how he co-founded a “profit-for-purpose” toilet paper company that uses 50 per cent of its profits to build toilets in the developing world.

Interestingly, Simon was more than happy to give a little detail on his failed non-profit bar venture which only added to the quality of his presentation.

Keeping the sponsors happy

The PCOA has had a trick for many years of ensuring that sponsors have the opportunity to network with conference attendees wherever possible. To achieve this, morning, lunch and afternoon tea breaks are held in the exhibition zone – a practice that is done now on a regular basis at many conferences.

It once again appeared to work well, with plenty of chatter between delegates and exhibitors.

An absolute highlight was the off-site networking event sponsored by Showtime Event Group and held at the incredible State Library of Victoria. Greeted with some mouth-watering cocktails, delegates were ushered into the impressive La Trobe Reading Room where canapes, roving entertainers and more drinks did the rounds.

If it’s not a hit already, this venue soon will be for Melbourne conference groups.

This year’s PCOA Conference will be held in Sydney. Stay tuned for dates.