by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Back in Hawai’i
This year’s conference of the Finance and Insurance Conference Planners (FICP) took place at the magnificent 62 acre Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, Hawai’i. It was FICP’s first time back on the islands since ICPA did Maui in 2004. Selecting an off shore location signified a new confidence about destination selection for conferences and incentives following the lost years of austerity. A highly successful event with over 30 distinct educational sessions, it was book-ended by two educational sessions and two great parties that, I believe, will remain with me for some time to come.
The event opened with an introduction to the Dear World initiative, delivered by its founder Robert X. Fogarty. It ended with a plenary address from Mike Rayburn, described on the conference materials as “speaker, comedian and world class guitarist”.They were radically contrasting sessions in content and style but both, in different ways, had massive impact.
Tears, Laughter and Goose Bumps
My great friend and a former global events director for YPO Mike Kelley had a simple but devastatingly accurate metric for event success. He wanted tears, laughter or goose bumps and you’d be golden if you could get two of these. Fogarty and Rayburn delivered all three.
Dear World invites individuals to share “one meaningful message with family, friends and strangers” by writing that message on their bodies and having their portrait taken (this is my portrait here) Since 2009, when the project started in New Orleans, Fogarty has shot thousands of portraits and unlocked a treasure chest of powerful human stories of gratitude, hope, determination, laughter, celebration, resolve.
His portrait of FICP hospitality partner, Anthony Duggan, taken during the conference, highlighted the extraordinary impact of the project. Anthony is photographed with the words “You believed in me” inscribed on his arms. 15 years previously he arrived in the US with $2000 in cash and big hopes in his heart. He had won a Green Card and intended to settle in the US but after 2 months he still hadn’t found work and was down to his last $50. When all seemed lost Susan Marano of Hilton Rye Town, Westchester took a chance on him and his American dream survived. Anthony and Susan then met after a long absence at this FICP event and the Dear World project allowed him say thanks, eloquently, impactfully, powerfully.
Dear World has huge potential as a new kind of “team building” activity for corporations. If you’re disinclined towards zip-lining, high ropes courses and the ubiquitous iPad scavanger hunts but want something engaging and meaningful then bring in Dear World. The level of deep personal sharing amongst work colleagues as they stand in line and wait for their portrait to be taken will forge bonds stronger than you ever imagined.
Turning a personality disorder into a career
Mike Rayburn was also impactful, powerful and eloquent. His address commenced with an astonishing performance on acoustic guitar during which made a simple 6 string instrument sound like an entire orchestra. He then interwove elements of his own personal story of great courage and uncompromising determination into a riotous performance involving parodies of well know songs and classic rock, pop, hip hop and indie all sung in a perfect country idiom.
Mike’s key takeaway was simple – he asked us repeatedly to imagine “what if …”, stressing, always, the need for disruption, differentiation, denial of the status quo. His ability to illustrate his core point by reference to personal experience made it all plausible. He explained how he set himself the seemingly foolish and impossible goal of crafting an arrangement of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for acoustic guitar and then played it live for us explaining that it had taken him over 6 years to figure it out.
Mike’s address was funny, dynamic and highly motivational but never superficial and vacuous in a way that some brilliant motivational speakers can be. His genuine decency and sincerity shone through the mischief and anarchy that he cultivated. It was a brilliant closing to a great conference and I’ll never be able to take Savage Garden’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply” seriously again (– if I ever did in the first place!). Kudos to Diane Goodman of Goodman Speakers’ Bureau for bringing Mike to FICP.
The social functions on opening and closing days were golden too, managing to match the mood of the moment and connect perfectly with attendees as we acclimatised ourselves to the time difference. Fairmont – or, to be precise, parent company FRHI – hosted the opening function at the nearby Fairmont Orchid and delivered a wonderfully laid back event that was meticulously planned to take into account an audience whose body clocks were anything from 4 to 11 hours ahead of local time on the Big Island. Attendees took the suggested “white theme” very seriously and turned up in full synch with a stunning outdoor setting of spacious understated elegance and an amazing musical soundtrack.
Having been leid upon our arrival at the airport and again upon check in at the Hilton we were leid again upon arrival at the Fairmont by a charming troop of tiny children who vied with each other over who could place the most leis. The remainder of the evening unfolded informally as we made new friends and reconnected with old ones while grazing from the sumptuous buffet presentations. Live music was provided by award winning Hawai’i based Nuff Sedd, a versatile 4 piece who did lounge-influenced arrangements of well know tunes and the truly remarkable Maori, LT Smooth, on slack guitar who could have given the talented Mike Rayburn a run for his money with his storming performance.
The final night, hosted at the Hilton Waikoloa with support from a veritable constellation of partners – the State of Hawai’i, Island Partners Hawai’i, Hawai’i:the Big Island, PSAV Presentation Services, LNP Productions, Waikoloa, The Orchid Lei Company (yes we all got leid again) and Tihati – was one of the best final night parties I have ever attended at FICP. When partners really partner with each other and come together to create something bigger than any individual effort could achieve then you get amazing events. Kudos to all concerned.
We gathered pool-side at 5:30 and sipped cocktails as we watched the sun go down, the first in a series of dazzling vignette performances that punctuated an unforgettable evening. Between then and 8pm, when the band started, we had dancers in traditional costumes, a hip hop troupe who performed in the pool and the breathtaking Taimane Gardner giving us Booker T and the MGs in jig time on ukulele, amongst others! About 8pm Liquid Blue came on stage and delivered the most pulsating, note perfect set list I’ve ever experienced at a corporate function. And FICP responded in kind with a truly liberated, throw-caution-to-the-wind response during which we got down, got up, shaked our booty and danced like it was 1999.
Huge thanks and kudos to Nicole Swenson and team from Specialty Imaging who added great value to our attendee experience at FICP with their wonderful pictures, photo kiosks and sparkling personalities. Attendees can access a first class photographic record of the entire event by logging onto www.mysiphotos.com with username: FICP 2014 and password: annual2014.
My portrait (above) was taken by Robert X. Fogarty of Dear World. Infinite thanks to him and his team too for such a special input to our event.
If the education is good at FICP then much of that is due to the outstanding work of Lydia Kamicar, Education Senior Manager at SmithBucklin, the association management company that manages FICP. Lydia co-ordinates the efforts of the event design team and the education committee (of which I am a proud member) to produce truly meaningful and impactful conferences.
Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique agency working with destinations and hotels on strategies for the MICE market. He is a member of the Hospitality Partners Advisory Council at FICP