If you are a people person like me, conferences are always special events. This is particularly true for the Exercise New Zealand event (formerly called FitEx). This is my 7th year attending this event as a presenter, including last year, which I presented online, as the borders to New Zealand were closed due to COVID restrictions.
Real-life events are tentatively returning, with a lot of risk on the part of the people who create them. The fitness industry was hit particularly hard financially by COVID. So it is a lot to ask people who can finally return to work to stop spending more time out of their earning days and spend more money being learners.
However, there was a fantastic turnout for the first full face-to-face event, including real-life international presenters – a big congrats to the organisers at Exercise New Zealand.
I want to share with you the 3 reasons I love this fitness conference above all others:
1. The delegates
If you ask any presenter who is privileged to present at the Exercise New Zealand conference, they will totally back me up on this one. The people who sit in the audience of your sessions or you meet around the conference are very forward in sharing their gratitude for you just being there.
They are keen learners who wear expressions of “wow… I wonder what I am going to learn here.” As a presenter, these are the best audiences.
If you came to either of my sessions, thank you for choosing my session over others – the timetable is full of interesting sessions and fabulous presenters.
Mihi mai i toku ngakau.
(Thank you from my heart)
2. The other presenters
If you are a presenter, your experience of a conference is very different. The work starts from the application process many months before, when you submit ideas with the hope that they will fit with a balanced timetable for the event. Once accepted, you pop the conference dates in your calendar. Then you organise your personal and work life around the disruption that flying to another country and a different time zone for a few short days will mean.
Before the event, you prepare your presentation. For me, I like to design something unique – even though I often present around the same topics. So those people who return to my sessions are treated to something new and engaging. Over the years, I have learnt many things about presenting and take great pride in my work. This equates to around 10 – 15 hours of work per 1-hour presentation.
And then you get to go live.
I have lost count of how many times in the last few years, I have presented to a small camera at the top of my computer. Where real-time feedback is limited to the chatbox, proper real-time feedback can be both frightening and highly addictive. The heady mix of these two keeps presenters doing this cycle year after year for (usually) no financial reward.
At the Exercise New Zealand conference, all the overseas presenters are housed in Auckland University of Technology’s student accommodation, much like bad backpackers’ accommodation. With the added knowledge that as the students have finished for the year, the carpet and couch are probably still filled with their remnants.
(Molly – the Student Accommodation Cat)
However, this is also part of the fun and joy. It’s like summer camp with people doing the same thing as you. Each year I get to know a new subset of the group that has flown in from various states across Australia and New Zealand.
And I get to hang out again with those who, like me, have been coming to this event for many years.
(Mish and Ian O’Dwyer at our presenter Xmas party)
We are an eclectic bunch of people brought together geographically by our individual passions, coupled with the desire to share what we know with others.
We also hang a lot of shit on each other. All mixed in with belly laughter, tears, hugs and confessions.
3. Aotearoa / New Zealand.
Although I have officially lived overseas longer than my years living in New Zealand and have made real homes in London and Melbourne, New Zealand is my home.
And the older I get, the pull and connection to the land is now so strong it is palatable.
I am not alone in feeling the spirit of this country. Which talks loud and clear through the land (Papatuanuku – Earth Mother), the ocean (Tangaroa) and the sky (Ranginui – Sky Father)
It was Brooke’s first time in New Zealand, both to visit the country and to the event and on our first meeting (when she had freshly arrived from the airport to the event); she asked me, “New Zealand is a spiritual place, isn’t it?”
Tears immediately sprung to my eyes as I replied. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
Followed by, “… And you have only been from the airport to the University campus… wait til you get out of the city!”
(Brooke Turner + Mish)
Exercise New Zealand Awards
This year, I was honoured to be selected as a finalist for the Educator of the Year award.
And I know that many of you reading this blog right now were cheering me on. Thank you. I did not take out this honour this year; Dave Liow, who did so, was both fierce competition and thoroughly deserving.
Other winners were also celebrated. One was Team Tash Training, based in Dunedin, which elicited a spontaneous haka from their table of wahine (woman) supporters. A haka to watch in real life is so full of feeling, it never fails to move you. And it was exceptional to see it performed by all women.
After a few difficult years in our industry, the celebration of the work that New Zealand fitness professionals do, day in and day out to keep New Zealanders active in mind, body and spirit, was especially poignant.
I wanted to see more presentations than I did, which is always the case when presenting yourself. However, my hands-down favourite was Slay Way.
Not only was the topic both engaging and relevant, but I was able to spend the last year mentoring them. To see Slay get up, be authentic to who they are, and enable everyone in the room to feel comfortable to ask questions around a topic that can be fraught with fear of offense, was complete joy.
Please highlight any session that Slay presents in the future. You won’t regret it.
Rooming up with strangers randomly forces you to connect and find a connection. This happens every year at this conference, due to the for mentioned accommodation. And this year did not disappoint. I loved getting to know Brooke and Kirstyn, who also work in the women’s health space. Plus, I shared a LOT of laughter, tears and pussycat photos with this awesome woman. What a joy you are Sally!
(Some of the wonderful presenters that I think would make a great band with their combined singing, dancing and bus driving skills…)
Exercise New Zealand: You are the best. This event and organisation has heart. Thank you for all the work that goes on behind the scenes. For those who work long hours and have little sleep, to ensure that the experience for both presenters and delegates is as seamless as possible –
E mihi ana ahau ki a koe – (here’s looking at you, Nathan ;).
Check out the details for next year (24 – 26th November 2023). Pop it on your calendar and if you want to have a crack at being a presenter, get your big girl’s knickers on and put it out there. Each and every one of us who presented this year started from exactly your position.
Ka kite ano.
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