Just six months ago, Aspira CEO Pat Lucey suggested I consider applying for the role of Project Manager for the Ireland Chapter PMI’s National Conference for 2019. Though I had little idea of what I was getting into, I successfully applied, and that was the start of one of the most amazing experiences of my life!

A conference of this large scale requires considerable financial resources and, therefore, sponsorship is essential. Thankfully, the Irish Chapter of PMI has a lot of credibility and is an attractive partner for highly reputable companies. Our Sponsorship Officer lined up some outstanding sponsors, with headline sponsor EY supplemented by other highly respected brands such as University of Limerick, Grant Thornton, Musgrave, Aspira, Cork Institute of Technology, Alpha Wealth, Auxilion, Cora Systems and Progressive Financial Services. As the Chapter is a not-for-profit body – it is reliant on the generous support of these organisations to run these major events.

One of the first decisions we faced was choosing a location – the conference had never gone outside of Dublin. Would a new venue work? Would people travel in numbers outside the capital? Once we checked out the wonderful facilities on offer at Fota Island Resort in Cork we were confident it would definitely deliver.

Another early decision that was important was selecting the conference theme which is relevant to the issues of the day. We settled upon ‘From Idea to Reality’ to explore how project management is utilised to deliver projects from conception to completion.

One of the biggest challenges of all was to line up a variety of speakers with diverse expertise and with the appeal to attract delegates in large numbers from all parts of Ireland. We were really privileged to have one of the founders of PMI, Jim Snyder, speak at the conference. His address turned out to be truly inspirational and so appreciated by all the delegates.

For any conference, one of the really vital calls is the choice of keynote speaker. It needs to be someone who is well known, respected in his/her field and has something fresh and interesting to say. This year, we secured high profile TV architect Dermot Bannon, who was simply superb. He was authentic, funny and shared meaningful insights into driving change through creativity and disruptive thinking.

All of the speakers delivered major contributions, from the remarkable and emotional journey of the Irish Hockey team, who went from rank outsiders to the World Cup Final, to the use of blockchain technology to improve the transparency of charitable donation. It’s always good to break up the flow of presentations so we included both an EY-led panel discussion and an interactive workshop from Walter Bradley of Dale Carnegie Ireland.

The special ingredient to complete the mix is the right choice of MC. We were thrilled with the contribution of Barry Murphy of Aprés Match fame who kept the conference moving smoothly along with good natured and, at times, hilarious efficiency. He helped maintain a high energy and positive buzz throughout.

After the excitement of the conference, coming back to work the following Monday was somewhat of an anti-climax. However, my spirits were elevated by the stream of positivity from the delegates. I have received numerous commendations, both verbally and online, all of them much appreciated and a tribute to the entire team. The response of the delegates is the real barometer of the success of a conference – for us it could not have been more positive.

So, what did I learn from the overall experience? Obviously, the application of good Project Management principles was key, from the original concept to the successful conclusion. In working with a team of volunteers, the importance of positive teamwork cannot be over stated. Working together as a team we met every challenge head on and with a positive mindset. I must also confess I was also inspired by the speakers. Seeing so many different individuals perform with confidence and poise drove home the importance of commitment, passion, vision and a strong work ethic – all essential for reaching one’s personal goals.

For anybody interested in taking on a new challenge, pushing outside your comfort zone and working with a great bunch of people, I definitely recommend volunteering with the Irish Chapter of PMI.

Author: Clodagh Geary, Head of Marketing, Aspira

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