MEA Conference Evolve 2019: Did it live up to our expectations?



Less than a month ago we wrote about why we were so excited to attend Evolve 2019… Last week we attended the conference and thought it only fair to tell you if it lived up to our expectations.

Let’s take a look…

1. LOCATION

“I’m moving to Brisbane…” I said on more than one occasion during the first day of being in town. What a brilliant city!  As one of Australia’s fastest growing and vibrant cities, Brisbane did not disappoint as a conference destination.

The presentations from Juliet Alabaster, General Manager Business Events, Brisbane Marketing throughout the conference were excellent, and it was clear to see that as a city, Brisbane has a very cohesive and exciting plan for the city it wants to be. There is a lot of development going on (with a plethora of major hotels having opened in the last year and lots more to come), there are an amazing array of event spaces and public areas opening too, a new cruise terminal, an additional airport runway and more public transport infrastructure  – making Brisbane a very exciting destination for events now and in the near future.

2. THE CONFERENCE VENUE – BCEC

The BCEC was by all accounts a fantastic venue. It’s won numerous awards, including AIPC Apex Award in recognition of the highest client rating received by any convention centre worldwide, along with 71 catering awards and most recently, Winner of the MEA 2018 National Award – Best Meeting Venue Over 500 People.

Having spent three days within it’s walls we can certainly see why. The variety and flexibility of the venue spaces were great. We loved their covered outdoor terrace which was a fabulous place to grab some air and sunlight. What really stood out as impressive was their catering team. The variety of food stations at lunch breaks was amazing. These were well-spaced out within the venue so that people could easily get a bite to eat (and go back for seconds).

Those with dietary requirements easily found their designated food station and those that I spoke to with dietary requirements said there was a nice choice available each day. Variety, quality and deliciousness were all covered.

Evolve 2019 | Catering at BCEC
Evolve 2019 | Conference catering at BCEC
© Oneill Photographics 

3. CONFERENCE CONTENT

The newly rebranded MEA Conference, Evolve, featured a new-look program with 8 “tracks” which split the content into key themes: Best Practice Case Studies, Event Business, Event Management, Event Panorama, Future Leaders, Sales & Marketing, Tech Talks and Wellness and Professional Development. The program therefore promised something for everyone!

There were some absolutely amazing and stand-out presentations but some that unfortunately fell a bit flat. It was an ambitious schedule and hats off to the MEA team for achieving a program with so many presentations covering such a variety of content. Perhaps in this case a little less might have been more.

Our favourite sessions of the program included:

The stand-out plenary sessions:

We highly recommend these three speakers for any type of conference program you might be planning yourself…

- Steve Sammartino – by far the most engaging and interesting session of the conference. A futurist with a whole lot of humour, insight and wisdom.
*Steve can be booked via ICMI Speakers and Entertainment.

- Prof. Peter Greste – Peter shared with us how he survived being wrongly accused in an Egyptian Prison… Crikey, this man’s resilience! Following that he sat down with industry leaders, Roslyn McLeod, founder of Arinex and Keith Wooton, MD of AV1 for a chat on how they have built resilience in our industry – overall this was an inspiring session!
*Peter can be booked via Claxton Speakers International

- James Castrission – James provided yet another stand-out session that had the room enthralled with his achievements and amazing story telling. Along with a life-long friend, he kayaked from Australia to New Zealand, and then a few years later, set out to be one of the first unsupported duos to trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole… Did they make it? Well, I suggest you book this guy for your conference to find out – brilliant presentation!
*James can be booked via Saxton Speakers Bureau 

The Stand Out Workshops:

- Women in AV Discussion – this was by far one of the most constructive sessions we attended. The delegates in attendance were from all walks of the industry and were encouraged to put forth their opinions about careers in AV.  It turns out it’s not just about women, but about seeing AV as a valid career path. Women in AV founder, Toni McAllister, facilitated a conversation about the industry coming together to support and encourage the future of careers in AV – stay tuned…

- Creativity Hot Seat – a comedy set or an informative session? I’m not sure, but Nigel Collin and Richard Foulkes had delegates engaged from the start and participating throughout. Their antics demonstrated how to effectively engage a room full of delegates - which is a big achievement for a Sunday afternoon.

The Stand Out Track Sessions:

- The Future of Events as Predicted by Future Leaders (Future Leaders Track) – This was a great panel of event professionals who were good at sharing stories and their own insights into the future of events. It’s always nice to hear from peers.

A round of applause has to go to Jessica Christy, Chair of the NSW Future Leaders Committee and Event Account Manager at Harry the Hirer, who I personally think was one of the best moderators of the sessions I sat in.

- The Three Brain Theory – Are You Managing Stress Effectively? (Wellness & Personal Development) – we arrived a minute late and it was standing room only. We heard great things about Peter Bliss’ talk and this track as a whole was full of popular sessions.

- Mega Events – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Event Management) - This was a great campfire session listening to Mik Auckland –and he had the room enthralled with his stories, proving that sometimes sitting and being a passive listener at a conference does work.

- Confident Sales – How to Approach Challenging Calls and Lost Business (Sales and Marketing) – Speaker Nicole Bates from Conversion Management provided a wealth of knowledge and insight into the art of sales. Considering it was raised more than once during the conference that our industry has a major skills shortage in Sales and Business Development, this session should have been mandatory.

P.S. It’s also worth noting that the Event App was super useful. It was easy to keep track of the sessions you wanted to attend, connect with other delegates and ask questions of the speakers during the sessions.

4. NETWORKING

Let’s face it, one of the best reasons to attend a MEA Conference is for the networking. Whether this is meeting new faces or catching up with old ones – hands down, this MEA conference provided space and opportunities to network extremely well.

As part of the program there were two evening events, plus the National MEA Awards Dinner (mentioned below) that encouraged people to socialise. We found the layout of the market place perfect for networking too.

Welcome Event

The Welcome Event was held at the Queensland Museum – a modern indoor/ outdoor venue that provided a great ambience for networking, it was also an easy stroll from BCEC. The entertainment provided by Onstage Entertainment was fun and there was an array of beautiful food stations around (including a floating dessert table) by The Fresh Collective. We loved the styling and furniture by Brandition.


Evolve 2019 | Welcome Event at QLD Museum
Evolve 2019 | Welcome Event at Queensland Museum
© Oneill Photographics 


Welcome Event After Party

The after party at Soleil Pool Bar was a nice place for a few post-event drinks with a glistening pool outdoor terrace and hip DJ to set the scene. It was located conveniently at the hotel where we stayed - Rydges South Bank – which, by the way we highly recommend for its extremely convenient location (read direct access to BCEC), lovely rooms and tasty breakfast

Casual Night Event

Hosted at Howard Smith Wharves, one of the city’s most exciting new venues, the casual event was sensational! The venue itself was fabulous, the views of the Story Bridge provided a spectacular backdrop and the ample and exciting food stations (including a caviar tasting!) all added up to a wonderful night. The band was awesome and the fireworks a crowd pleaser.

Evolve 2019 | Howard Smith Wharves
Evolve 2019 | Casual Networking Event at Howard Smith Wharves
© Oneill Photographics 

Casual Night Event After Party

Mr Percival’s was a fab boutique venue a short stroll from HSW. Tucked under the Story Bridge it has a gorgeous bar and outdoor deck with festoon lights – it’s a perfect party venue choice by the river.

5. MEA National Awards

The MEA National Awards were hosted in the Ballroom at BCEC. The venue, again, turned up the hospitality and everyone enjoyed a lovely evening. Pre-awards entertainment provided by Onstage Entertainment revved up the crowd and the after-awards band had the dance floor pumping – people were literally flipping out!

A huge round of applause to all the winners.

The after party at The Charming Squire went on until all hours and considering what happens at MEA stays at MEA, we can’t tell you anymore.

MEA National Awards 2019
MEA National Awards | Big Winners - Arinex and AV1 / Sprintr by AV1 
© Oneill Photographics 

Final note…

A big congratulations to Anne-Marie Flynn and the MEA team who did an exceptional job of rebranding and reimaging the MEA Conference in 2019.

Meetings and Events Australia are working towards an industry conference that everyone should attend. Our industry is full of niches, and it’s not easy to please everyone, but we believe the conference can be a must-attend event for our entire industry.

Next year Evolve 2020 will be held in the Hunter Valley and we can’t wait to experience another (even better) Evolve… Register now for the early bird rate.

See you there!


Header image: © Oneill Photographics