The 2007 Company Conference

The original plan was to set off at 7.30am, but as with every other well laid plan, the departure time was pushed back to 8.30am.

I arrived at the North Sydney office at 7.15am, armed with the first of 10 cans of Red Bull to be consumed over the next few days. Tracy, the chair of the Conference committee, was printing some final papers and sent me on a wild goose chase to find a case of bubbly that had been left somewhere in our offices. I found Richard, another member of the committee wandering around, and the two of us set off to scour all three floors to find the case of bubbly. Eventually located, we placed the case in my car, and made final checks before setting off for Leura.

The drive to Leura was picturesque and free flowing, which was terrific as I was at wits’ end from the long drive by the time we arrived at the Fairmont Resort. The other members of the Conference committee were already there, having arrived the night before to finalise everything at the venue. We set out all the name tags and prepared ourselves for the onslaught of colleagues arriving from all over the country.

As my colleagues trickled into the Resort’s lobby, I recognised a lot of faces and met a lot of others who I’ve had phone contact with but never met in person. It was lovely to see so many faces, new and familiar, all keen and eager to experience the Conference that the committee had spent the last 6 months putting together.

My tasks for the Conference were to source the gifts to be included in the Welcome Pack as well as organising the entertainment for the Friday evening. The gifts were quite easy – after much discussion amongst the committee members, I was given a miniscule budget to purchase 200 USB keys and printed lanyards, and found a supplier who was more than happy to assist. The entertainment was a little harder, but after it was agreed the evening should be a trivia night, I was given another miniscule budget to book an MC to host the evening, and found an experienced trivia quizmaster to host the night.

Just before Christmas last year, I was asked if the Trivia Night could be used to showcase the talented musicians within the company who had formed a band. After much ado, the Burnt Pizzas were adamant about performing on the night, and I was then tasked with ensuring maximum exposure for these brave slices.

The gifts were very well received – everyone was thrilled with their new USB keys and printed lanyards, which even my critical eyes could not fault. But my second task was not for another 36 hours, and I was left to gnaw on my fingernails for the time being.

Four weeks ago, I was asked to take on the role of Sergeant At Arms for the Conference. The role is to dish out fines to my colleagues for any and all memorable moments throughout the Conference, be they memorable for good reasons or otherwise. All monies raised over the course of the Conference would be donated to the company’s chosen charity, Redkite. Whilst bad behaviour was not encouraged nor condoned by my company, 200 people + 3 days away from home = good times ahead; just add alcohol to make it even more funny.

I was to share my role with Stephen, and we put our heads together just as the Conference was about to kick off to try and come up with a script for our first outing. We saw our CEO Nick being wheeled into the Resort – he had broken both his tibia and fibula in a skiing accident only a month ago and was still in a lot of pain, yet he braved the 2-hour long drive from his home in Balmain to Leura to open the Conference.

And so the much anticipated Conference was opened. Nick spoke eloquently about the future of the company, and told of some of the new and exciting initiatives that lay ahead for the company. He then introduced Ken Wall who was to run workshops for us for the next 2 days. I well remember the previous Conference – my first – where the first speaker of the Conference was a complete bore, and I was a little apprehensive about Ken. But my fears were allayed immediately as Ken brought energy and vitality into the room immediately. His interactive exercises and engaging presence captured our attention and imagination, and the first workshop was soon over.

At this point, Stephen and I made our first appearance. Contentiously, the role was filled by Captain Kenny at the previous Conference and at 2 earlier Conferences as well, and he was rumoured to be a little miffed about not being asked to play the role again. Secretly, I was thrilled to be asked and even more thrilled to be working with Stephen. We explained the rules, and asked if anyone would like to pay for immunity – a $20 one-off upfront fee – which cannot be revoked and leaves the payee free to play up. Stephen and I immediately placed our $20 each into the hat and for the next couple of hours, more and more money started pouring in as my colleagues prepared themselves for the opening night’s dinner.

A mini sports carnival was then held before everyone retired to their rooms and freshened up for dinner. My roomy Kylie and I took to the bar to relax with a couple of beers before getting changed, and I was stopped midway through my second beer by Crooky from the WA office, who would become my new best friend by the end of the Conference. Crooky needed to get to the nearest bottle shop to stock up for the Conference, and needed a car to help him. I offered to drive him, and after a false start (and finding all the dead end roads in Leura and ending up at the end of Sublime Point Road overlooking the beautiful gorge), we found ourselves in Leura village, pillaging the only bottle shop in town. We only just made it back to the Resort in time for a short shower before the festivities kicked off.

The entertainment for the Thursday night was home grown – all staff were encouraged to put talent acts together to be performed in front of the company. For months, the talented people in our offices have been preparing their acts – singing, dancing, acting, etc – and it all unfolded in front of us to everyone’s amusement and amazement. Again, comparing the acts from this Conference to the previous one, the acts last week walked all over the ones in 2005. The MC was also home grown – Tim did a fantastic job and was well chosen for the role.

Some of the highlights included:

* The WA office performing the Lumberjack Song, with the entire office involved and complete in their various costumes.
* The division I belong to singing Britney’s “Oops I Did It Again…” with reworked lyrics and back up singers / dancers dressed in school uniforms.
* Simon performing a solo act as Elvis in the white rhinestone jumpsuit.
* The ACT office’s music video to the tune of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” with reworked lyrics to encapsulate cramped office environment.
* The QLD office’s take on Flashdance.

The eventual winner was the QLD office – a popular choice. Simon / Elvis was awarded 2nd place and the ACT office’s music video was played twice more before the night’s end. Simon / Elvis was demanded an encore performance and he did not disappoint – I even rushed the stage at one point!

At the “official” conclusion of the evening, the party moved into the Tavern where more drinking and dancing ensued. I don’t recall too much more, other than how late it was by the time I hit the sack. The clock read “04:07” as I laid my head on my pillow – only 2 hours of sleep would be had before I had to start again for Friday.

Stephen and I handed out a myriad of fines first thing in the morning for a large number of indiscretions that were committed the night before. All fines were incurred and doled out in good humour, and we had plenty of dobbers as well. The biggest fine of all would go to Kimberley, who missed her 8.30am time slot for her presentation to the company after being seen heading away from the dregs of the party at 3.45am – she had slept through her alarm and did not surface until closer to lunch time. Dusty and rough, most of the crew dragged themselves back into the conference room for more of the learning part of the Conference. Ken Wall continued his workshop, and made sure there were more interactive exercises to sustain our interest. Thankfully, the morning flew by and after 6 cups of coffee, I too was flying.

The afternoon was to be filled with fun outdoor activities, with the company splitting up into 8 groups to partake in various pre-arranged activities including white water rafting, abseiling, golf and horse riding. I stayed behind to change the conference room into a more festive ballroom for the Friday night entertainment. Stephen had to leave the Conference at this point due to family commitments, and I sadly waved him off and wished him well.

My stress levels were rising by the minute as time ticked on – as the night was my “baby”, I just wanted everything to go perfectly. The decorations were laid out on the tables, and the balloons with their long metallic ribbons twinkled in the high ceiling. The room looked superb.

On Thursday evening during the talent show, I was approached by Phillip who was very firm in wanting to incorporate a surprise act at the beginning of the Trivia Night. Too tired to fight, I rejigged my runsheet to allow time for this surprise act, and ran around arranging props for the act at the last minute.

All that remained was for the crew to enjoy the night as much as I had hoped they would.

Sure enough, I was not to be disappointed. The surprise act was an all fire eating, all fire breathing act by Martin. He amazed the crowds with his fire handling prowess before everyone moved inside for dinner. The Burnt Pizzas opened the night with pizzazz – they started with a few slow numbers to tempt the audience with more delicious morsels to follow. Timothy Hyde and The Amazing Lynda hosted the evening flawlessly, with energy and enthusiasm and a professional polished act. Ever so accommodating, Timothy did not bat an eyelid when the evening was already 30 minutes behind schedule before the first question was even asked.

Everything else went off without a hitch – the teams were very competitive and had a lot of fun answering the questions, and the eventual winners were rewarded with bottles of champagne. My emceeing was well received (aided ably by a few glasses of bubbly). The Burnt Pizzas returned for their second set, and wowed the audience with some popular choices in rocking style.

With my official duties over, I was free to have a few celebratory drinks and dance the night away. I wound up having a number of very interesting conversations along the way and eventually made my way to bed at 4am (again). Another early start was facing me, and my body was just about ready to cave in.

A mountain of bacon and eggs and I was rearing to go just 3 hours after laying down. Traditionally, attendance on the Saturday of any Conference was always lacklustre, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the room at 80% capacity. More fines were handed out for various misdemeanours, and we were then treated to some short and interesting presentations by senior members of staff. By 11am, everyone was itching to leave the Resort and return home. Only two more workshops to go and we would be dismissed.

The low point of the entire Conference came in the form of the branding presentation. Branding is important to our company, and the company has spent a lot of money in this exercise. It was such a pity then that the person giving the presentation was so terrible. She spoke too fast and tried to cram in too much in too short a timeframe, and all to an audience who had worked hard and played even harder for 2 days already. The timing of this presentation was not the best, and most people tuned out during the presentation, secretly praying for her to finish up quickly.

Thankfully, the closing speaker Simon Hammond was engaging and energetic, and regained and retained the interest of the room until the very end. Simon even managed some interaction with a very weary audience before the Conference was officially closed.

The end came swiftly. Everyone dashed out the doors as soon as they were thrown open – the proceedings were running about 30 minutes behind schedule, and the buses taking interstate colleagues to the airport were itching to leave Leura. Even though we were running behind, there was no guarantee the airlines were also running behind, and it would be dreadful if anyone was to miss their flights home. Others who had driven to the Conference ran to put their bags in their cars and tore away from Leura like bats out of hell.

I managed to say goodbye to a few people before I too ran to my car with Crooky and took off for Bondi, where Crooky was staying for the weekend. Crooky and I had spent almost the entire Conference joined at the hip – wherever I went, you’d be sure to find Crooky and vice versa. We became fast mates over the three days and enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

As much as I have bitched and moaned about the Conference and how much hard work it has been for me and all the other members of the committee, the reward was in the pudding – the Conference was deemed a huge success by senior management and judging by all the positive feedback we had received over the course of the Conference (and via emails since Saturday), everyone else had a great time as well.

I have gained so much from the Conference and learned so much from being part of the committee. I have enjoyed every minute of the Conference – the role of Sergeant, the emceeing, being one of the “faces” of the Conference. I can’t wait to experience the next Conference – this time, as a veteran and participant only!

At some point, there will be photos – I just need to track down the photographers to get my hands on the pics.

Incidentally, we raised nearly $1,000 for Redkite through immunity payments and fines. Funny stuff indeed.

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