Jeremy Ducklin, Managing Director of Congress Rental Australia, discusses the year of innovation and perseverance, which culminated in their recognition as MEA's national winner for the Specialist Services and Suppliers award.

The awards formally recognise exceptional achievements, creativity, and professionalism in the events space. This year, they celebrated the innovation and determination of event industry businesses in 2020. Applicants from across Australia were tasked with demonstrating their commitment to innovation and improvement of business practices despite the setbacks presented by the pandemic.

Representing one of the countless small businesses rocked by the pandemic, MEA recognised Congress Rental Australia's efforts in the simultaneous interpretation space during the national awards in its work as a Specialist Service and Supplier. As described by MEA award host Nigel Collin, the national award for Specialist Services and Suppliers "recognises the many varied support services essential to each and every event and the successful delivery of that event." Specialist suppliers make up an essential segment of the MICE industry. From event security to coach operators to photography, these services are designed to enhance the experience at events and, when delivered well, should go mostly unnoticed by participants. ​ To learn more about the year that culminated in their momentous achievement, we talked to Jeremy Ducklin, Managing Director of Congress Rental Australia, about the award, the industry, and what innovation looked like for the business.

Q. 2020 was a particularly challenging year for the events industry. In what ways did it challenge Congress Rental? "You have to understand that as a business that specialised in simultaneous interpretation, the size of our market was already significantly less than the total size of the events industry." "Then, when everything changed in March 2020, our core on-site interpretation equipment rental business wasn't viable anymore. We had to 'pivot' our business and become totally virtual." "The first challenge was learning in new areas like streaming and virtual event platforms so that we could then integrate interpretation into them and offer these solutions to our clients." "…The next challenge was something that I think everyone in the events industry struggled with, which was convincing organisations that virtual events could be just as impactful as in-person ones. Prior to the pandemic, it was the common sentiment that hosting events virtually was prone to issues and provided inferior engagement." "There were also the operational challenges that were a result of the pandemic. The work from home orders made it difficult for team members to share information and knowledge and coordinate effectively as we usually do." Q. We saw the rise of virtual and hybrid events as a much-needed response to the challenges of 2020. Where do you see their place in the future? "Virtual and hybrid events have developed to become a key part of the events business. I think that event planners will now have to include a virtual component in most of the meetings that they undertake." "This change happened partly because of COVID, but in the future it may be due to reducing carbon footprint and being conscious of climate change. People now have an expectation that they can get some of the key learnings from a meeting without having to travel to a distant location. Although I think most people's preference will always be to meet face to face in the future, there will be an integration between virtual and in-person events." Q. Do you have any particularly memorable events from 2020? Are there any that required considerable innovation on Congress Rental's part? "There are several. Our first fully virtual remote interpretation job in June was the first time we had put all our training and testing with virtual platforms into a real event. It marked the start of our pivot towards virtual interpretation services." "There was also the first trial of a physical interpretation hub in our office. For that event we integrated physical equipment at a hub in our Sydney office with a virtual event based out of Korea. The interpreters worked at our hub in a controlled environment with the same level of support they would get as if they were working on-site." "…Another memorable one was just before Christmas when everybody went on holiday, and I was the only one left. I had to come up to speed very quickly on the remote interpretation platform and how we integrate it with a virtual platform. I worked through the night for a US based client, with sessions that ran 12 hours a day, all on my own." Q. What are your thoughts about Congress Rental winning the National MEA Award for Specialist Services and Supplier? "Really, with this I think I need to thank the team for providing the innovation and efforts that we could include in the submission. It's so great to be recognised for our contribution, and in this very difficult year I would like to thank MEA's contribution in lobbying government on behalf of the events industry." ​ Q. Do you have any advice for other small businesses or individuals looking to apply for a MEA Award? “Something we learned through our application was that a good documentation process makes it significantly easier to gather up the required evidence. It’s an easy step to miss out, especially with all the chaos and uncertainty, but it’s essential to build a strong case for your application.” “Most importantly, I think they should definitely give it a go, especially if they've been considering applying for an award in the past. The experience gained from applying in and of itself is something valuable even if you don't win.”

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