In my conference travels in 2019, across every State of Australia and in 5 different countries, I’ve seen so many and varied things, inside the conference room, at exhibitions and at social events – from countless great speakers to amazing audio-visuals, from spectacular conference locations to some innovative technology…..

Here in no particular order are 10 awesome things I’ve observed at conferences in 2019. Some of these things are new and some have been around for a while, but I really noticed them explode on the scene this year.

1. Miami Marketta – Gold Coast: Yes, its become a cliché to make fun of the Goldie, but several of the Gold Coast conferences I attended in 2019, held social functions at the Miami Marketta, in my opinion, one of the best, coolest, music-festivally conference locations anywhere. Great food, great service, great interior design – and the best toilet areas anywhere. Trust me.

2. Brene Brown: Sadly, I didn’t get to hear her ‘live’ (although the Netflix special is cool) but Brene is in this list as being, in my view, the most mentioned / quoted person during conference presentations this year. Simon Sinek has held that title for about 5 years. But this year, it was all about ‘what did Brene say’. Her “Dare To Lead” and “Call to Courage” insights were continually quoted and inspired many conference delegates.

3. Best Exhibitor Gift: Drink bottles, mobile chargers and Lindor Balls continue to fill Sponsor Exhibition stands around the country. But my favourite exhibitor giveaway for 2019 was also the smallest. Webcam covers. Tiny stick-on bits of plastic (branded of course, thanks EY) which take the place of tape or Blu-Tak as a way of stopping hackers from spying on you via your laptop webcam. I didn’t even realise this was something I needed to be concerned about, but apparently it’s a thing!

4. Donut Walls: In exhibition halls around the world, you can’t beat a wall of tasty iced donuts for an Afternoon Tea sugar hit. A conference I MCd in Wellington, NZ served up Gin and Tonic donuts. A truly holey experience!

5. Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre: As a Sydney boy, I’ve loved working at the ICC (and it really has come to life in the last few years) – but the best Convention Centre food this year, hands down, came from BCEC….gourmet conference lunching at its best. Give the Head Chef a raise.

6. Cardboard Lanyards Without Plastic Sleeves: One of the many simple environmental changes I’ve seen in the last year.

7.  Festivalisation of Events: Many great attempts are being made to increase audience engagement and do things differently – but trying to make conferences and exhibitions more like Music or Arts Festivals seems to be the way of the future. While I have yet to attend, I am told Xerocon is at the forefront.

8.  Conference Presentation Theme: The “hot” conference theme from the last few years – “Disruption” has been disrupted. While digital disruption, AI, Blockchain and bots are still flavoursome, this year I saw ‘Resilience’ and ‘Purpose’ start to dominate presentation topics. And there’s some awesome speakers on those themes out there.

9. Garden Party: As a conference junkie, I don’t normally get blown away by “Gala Dinner Reveals” (you know, when they open the doors to the dinner and you are awed by how a room has been transformed?) But this year, at a Surgical conference in Sydney, the amazing The Production House Events (TPHE) turned a regular ballroom into a beautiful garden for a ‘Garden Party’. Real trees, a working fountain, a grass dance floor and unlike most booming ‘walk in music’ it was almost silent on entry, other than bird’s tweeting noises. Such an impact. So creative. So different.

10.  People talking to each other: In this age of mobile phone addiction, conferences have become one of the last avenues for old style face-to-face communication. Long may it last.

And as a sneaky NUMBER 11 – I can’t go past mentioning Sir Bob Geldof and Dr Richard Harris (one of the Thai cave rescuers) – two of the countless amazing speakers that I was privileged enough to meet and introduce to stage this year (at different conferences). I hear so many presentations each year but I will never forget these two very different, yet very powerful and special speakers.

Have a great break and see you at a conference next decade.