By Joyce DiMascio

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  That’s been the often-repeated sentiment of 2020.

We’ve heard it over and over from all CEOs and staffers around the industry – in Australia and overseas.

So what stood out in 2020? Despite all the bad stuff, there were also many positives.

What will we remember other than the trauma of being brought to our knees by the pandemic?

As optimism returns and smiles and laughter light up the faces of our friends and colleagues – we asked a few key people: What stood out? What surprised and delighted them about 2020?

There are recurrent themes about the resilience of staff, the speed with which we adapted to new technology, collaboration, the emergence of new leaders and importantly, the power of reopening and operating safely.

Read the full story and what a cross-section of industry told micenet below.

Nigel Keen

General manager

Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre (PCEC)

 

Resilience: Our industry has once again shown tremendous courage and energy and will emerge stronger after the most challenging of years we have experienced in recent times.

Undervalued:  Whilst the industry spoke as one to federal government, we failed to significantly lift the value and importance of the BE sector to the broader economy and the vehicle we can provide to diversify Australia’s global position in an international economy.

Visible leadership: It was a pleasure to see new leaders emerge within the industry and within my workplace.

Vision: We need to refocus our energy and storytelling to demonstrate the importance of a national BE market and the jobs we create, to create a brighter future for our industry.

Personal health and wellbeing: Our industry and people bore the brunt of COVID-19, the health and wellbeing of our people is of utmost importance.

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Libbie Ray

Director

Connected Event Group

 

Disruption showed our strength: Our industry disruption created new opportunities to connect. Forced into a new reality, our innovative and creative industry was tested, and succeeded. Without the forced disruption we would have never had the chance to truly see what we were made of.

Staying connected: The world was shown how important our industry is, how connecting, communicating and staying relevant needs to happen for all industries, regardless of the situation – the fact that events in 2020 looked different, doesn’t mean the results are. Our clients are excited to get back to face-to-face but are grateful for what they have achieved through this year, to stay connected to their clients.

Many ways to deliver events: As event producers, we now understand that there are many different ways to connect and activate, our industry is broader and more versatile than it was before.

Staff resilience: The resilience of our staff was tested, we were so lucky to see so many people rise to the challenge and adapt, change and innovate. Team members had the chance to learn new skills and develop ones they had learnt previously.

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Andrew Klein

Went from 2019 “conference emcee” to 2020 “virtually an emcee”

 

The camaraderie in our industry: I knew it existed – but the support that came from all parts of our community and the instant ‘let’s work this out together’ partnerships that quickly formed both delighted and enthused me.

Watching the AV/tech companies turn their warehouses into cool studios: They are the unsung heroes of the events industry in 2020. The speed at which brilliant studios sprung up around the country was a game changer. The ones with existing studios also rose to the challenge. Hats off to them all.

Conferencing from home: Yes, it has many downsides, but the multitude of upsides surprised me. I was always aware of how much we travelled in this industry, but when forced to NOT do it, I realised how much I enjoyed working from home.

Green screens and studio lights: With a fairly small investment, you can set up a home studio that looks and sounds awesome on screen.

“Pebbles” bark: This year we really got to see each other ‘at home’ in our authentic, unfiltered settings – casually dressed in our living rooms, kids walking behind Zoom calls etc. It delighted me how 10s of 1000s of people around the world got to hear my dog’s high-pitched bark on virtual conferences and webinars.

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Jo-Anne Kelleway

CEO

InfoSalons

 

My team: Never let me down and stayed positive even though our industry was being decimated by the pandemic.

The industry: We all say we’re in this industry together but this year really proved it. We were there for each other (albeit on the end of a Zoom line) but it helped knowing we were all in it together.

My family: They never stopped thinking about the future, about next year, and being as positive as possible.

Technology: Watching everyone get so good at using their phone to scan their QR code to check in. We’ve been trying to get everyone to do this for years.

Melbourne:  have to say that watching the second wave hit Melbourne was truly frightening and then seeing how hard it was for them all during the lockdown. What an inspiration they all were. I’m so proud of our fellow Victorians!

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Bob O’Keeffe

General manager

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC)

 

Staff: Creative, agile, resilient – Proud of our great team!

Embracing technology: The success of the recent World of Drones & Robotics Congress with 425 on-site delegates alongside 350 virtual delegates proved a winning combination for organisers.

Back to business: Whilst this year has been challenging, we look back proudly at the way Queenslanders and Australians rallied and supported one another. With guidance from Queensland’s chief health officer, BCEC was back hosting events in August including conferences, exhibitions and gala events.

Clients: During the initial stages of COVID we were very mindful of the challenges faced by our clients and the impact on their lives and businesses.  Ever since, we have worked alongside them to assist in any way we can.  It is a collaborative partnership we value highly and thank them for their support

Doing business differently: There are many lessons learned through out-of-the-box thinking and being innovative. There are many keepers in what we have learned. Local and national markets are very important.

Keeping safe: We were one of the first convention centres in Australia to re-open with an approved site specific COVID Safe plan. At the end of December, we will have welcomed 50,000 guests through the doors at COVID Safe events. We can operate at 100 per cent capacity for ticketed events with allocated seating and one person per two sqm for other events.   

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Claudia Sagrapianti

CEO

Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA)

 

Our people: Our young people for their focus on cross-skilling and up-skilling and their great support for one another, and so many outstanding individuals who have shown courage, bravery and resilience. Our industry is in great hands.

Meeting Scott Morrison: The prime minister was very engaging, understood the concerns of business events and was determined to assist the industry in recovering.

Building connections in state government: Across multiple departments which enabled us to get the message out about exhibitions and business events.

Data: The lobbying and advocacy work is driving further investment in research, case studies and quantitative data, which will strengthen our business case with government/s in the future.

Collaboration: I was impressed with the high level of co-operation between all sectors of the business events industry, with Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) members, and all other industry associations.

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Spiro Anemogiannis

CEO

Informa Australia

 

Our staff: They pulled out all stops to adapt and take on different role. The operations team delivered one year’s worth of events in three months (mid-September until mid-December). 45 virtual confexes and conferences and two trade exhibitions. Burn-out was narrowly avoided.

Embracing virtual technology: We had to adapt to virtual technology as we had no other choice as the restrictions remained. It is fair to say that virtual technology was not as easy or cost-effective as first thought. Even the revenue is not there and you need more hands on deck to deliver, meaning that whilst the event margins are healthy once overhead and staff costs are taken off, the ROI is not there.

We spoke to the federal government with one voice: With limited resources we were able to put the spotlight on the BE sector and give specific funding support.

Domestic business events: Given the state of the northern hemisphere, COVID-wise Australia is fortunate that we can restart the domestic business event sector.

Keeping safe: We showed we could host events and keep our communities safe.

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That’s a wrap. And for my part, yes, I am so glad the rollercoaster of 2020 is nearly over. I learnt so much about the importance of digging deeply, of reaching out to others and remembering that the human spirit is a mighty force that can thrive if supported and encouraged.

I hope you all spend time with those you love most over the Chrissy break and if that is not possible use the grand power of technology to connect with those far away.

And as we celebrate, light a candle for all those people in Australia and all around the world who succumbed to Covid-19.

Looking forward to many prosperous business events in 2021.

Joyce DiMascio