By Brad Foster

Long-time industry veteran and speaker representative, Barry Markoff, continues his support of the Professional Conference Organisers Association in 2020, sponsoring nine high-profile speakers for the December hybrid event.

micenet asked Mr Markoff why, what his take is on the impact of COVID-19 has been and when he sees a return of the sector.

Why are you supporting the PCOA?

I think the PCOA do a wonderful job for its members and associates. They keep them informed about what’s happening in the industry, educate them on topics that are important to the industry and are currently doing a great job with their lobbying with the Federal Government through the likes of Barry Neame. I find that nothing is ever too much trouble for the PCOA. The partnership ICMI has had with the PCOA over the last seven or eight years has been a win/win for both organisations.

Who are some of the great speakers we can expect at the conference?

Steve Sammartino, ambassador for the future, is widely considered to be in the top few speakers throughout Australasia. His presentations on disruption, innovation and the future are always informative, entertaining and fun. And of course Gihan Perera, a fellow futurist of Steve’s, is always great value and entertaining.

Australia’s best MC Andrew Klein has been around for ages and is possibly the most knowledgeable person throughout the whole events industry. He always does what is best for the conference industry – not what is best for Andrew. He is about results for his client whether that involves him being involved or not. Andrew will once again be a big part of PCOA20.

And then we’ve got the celebrity factor with Commando Steve from Channel 10’s “The Biggest Loser” and the well-known Lola Berry. Each will be entertaining us with their health and fitness philosophies. Really looking forward to it.

Mark Carter’s latest book “Add Value” summarises what he will be chatting about at the conference while online guru, Bernadette Schwerdt, will be educating us on how to write a proposal that decision makers will take notice of.

Dr Ali Walker will be chatting to us about behaviour profiling and understanding your strengths, and former comedian Jordana Borensztajn will show us to how to use creative social media marketing tools to build your event brand.

And last but not least Harry Sanders will be talking to us about StudioHawk, a company which he started at 17 years of age and which has gone from strength to strength.

It’s been a crazy year. What have you been doing personally and what have your speakers been up to?

The events industry has been booming for the last 20 or so years and everybody involved expected it to continue forever. Who would have thought that coronavirus would overnight reduce many in the industry to five per cent or less in some cases to their normal income. Rarely has such a flourishing industry been hit by something like this.

Hotels, airlines, conference organisers, entertainment agencies, limousine companies, speakers bureaus, event planners, exhibition organisers, production companies, guest speakers, entertainers and musicians are just a few of those who were decimated by this “left of field ” and once in a century act of God. Despite this disaster many have survived by being agile and accepting that things are going to be different for the next 12-18 months and adapting accordingly.

Once corona hit it probably took at least four weeks for “good organisations” to adjust but once they did things started to happen.

The scene looked different – everybody was receiving free business virtual webinars but within a few weeks everybody was “virtualised out”. This was a haphazard approach with no empathy in mind for their customers and clients. Initially most people were in Noddy Land and needed time to process what was actually happening rather than being thrown business information after business information at them. That was the last thing they needed when the majority of people were experiencing not only job uncertainty but also – and more importantly – life uncertainty.

Companies after a month or so of the virus started to plan what in particular the short term future looked like. Our staff are working from home so what does that mean? How are they feeling? Some are home schooling also – what does that mean? Restrictions are tough – what does that mean to people’s health and wellness? Limited physical contact with friends, staff colleagues, family, etcetera – what does that mean? Playing sport and keeping fit has been limited by many – what does that mean?

Many organisations have realised the importance of bonding and have been involved in enrichment programs for their staff, leadership series with celebrities like Dylan Alcott, Friday afternoon drinks, company quizzes and games, cook alongs with Matt Preston, having Hughesy solve your problems and planting herbs and seeds with Costa Georgiadis.

And possibly home renovations with Scott Camm and/or car restorations with petrol head Shane Jacobson.

Six months ago Zoom had only been heard of by a rare few but now it is common day language which we are all connected to. Exhibitions and conferences are now being done in a super creative way so that people feel like they are actually at the event and enjoying the experience; many are doing their two day conferences over five days virtually, realising that attendees don’t wish be seated for hour after hour and instead do conferencing for three hours per day. Interaction between attendees also gives it the “live” feel to a certain extent.

Can you see us getting back to some sense of normality in 2021?

In 2021 I can’t see the events industry being like it was in previous years. I think it will boom but in a different way. The whole industry is and will become more agile and creative with a combination of live, hybrid and virtual events. We all have to think differently in 2021 and beyond. There will be a certain number of people (maybe 10 per cent) who have decided that they will never go to another live conference again because they feel like they could catch some form of virus if they attend. Those attendees will need to be catered for in an agile and creative manner. Sponsors – the bloodline of so many events – will need to be looked after like never before.

The one night stand approach will not work – it will be much closer to a partnership approach. Exhibitions will have to become more creative with their exhibitors and prove to them why they need to be there and the benefits they will receive. In the past many sponsors have just signed up year after year for an event. This may not be the case in the future. KPI’s will need to be proved before sponsors sign on.

You’ve always been an extremely positive person and a great supporter of the business event sector. Have there been any lessons learnt for you in 2020?

As a sports psychologist I have a statement for every company and individual person wishing to stay at the top. “To stay number one, you’ve got to think like you’re number two”. What this means is that you have to work harder and smarter to stay at the top as everybody is trying to catch you.

The ingredients for success over many years [for me] has mainly been based around customer service, product knowledge and work ethic with thinking outside the comfort zone also being a smaller part of “the program”. What I’ve learnt throughout the pandemic is that “thinking outside the comfort zone” has shot to the top of the tree with the other three ingredients still being important.

In simple terms, “thinking differently” has shot from being number four to number on and for success to continue, which I know it will.

Learn how you can participate in PCOA20 on Monday, December 7 and Tuesday, December 8, live or online by clicking here.