The Value of an Opening Ceremony


Never underestimate the impact of a good opening ceremony!

It can set the tone for the following days and really make delegates feel welcomed.

As a conference MC one of the things I really enjoy is welcoming international delegates to Australia, especially if they’re on their first trip. As one of the first voices they will hear at the conference, I have to ensure they feel welcomed and understand that they are in for a good time.

On Sunday March 20th I had that very pleasure when I welcomed 1,400 delegates from 41 countries to the opening ceremony of Ottawa 2016 at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre (PCCEC) This is a big medical educators conference held this year in association with the Australian & New Zealand Association for Health Professional Educators (ANZAHPE)

The PCO was Alison Petrie of EECW and opening entertainment acts were booked through Beth Ormbsy at BBC Entertainment.

There was the usual hum of conversation in the minutes leading up to the start. Then the stage darkened, the audience fell quiet. A single spot picked out the lone figure of James Webb sitting in the centre of the stage with didgeridoo poised at his lips.

I will never tire of hearing the sound of the didgeridoo. Equally, I love watching the faces of  international delegates, many of whom hear that ancient, earthy sound for the first time.

When James had finished I walked out on stage to a stunned silence. You could hear a pin drop! I’m not sure if they thought there was more, if it was simply a break in the piece of if they were in pure awe of what they’d heard.

“You didn’t like that ?”, I asked the 1,400 delegates.

Thunderous applause!

Speeches from Health Minister Dr. Kim Hames, Ottawa 2016 Chair, Prof Ronald Harden and ANZAHPE President Prof Monica Doran  comprised the formalities and then the Variety Youth Choir took to the stage for three iconic Australian songs. Waltzing Matilda seems to have everyone singing along including  – I noted – the delegations from Lithuania and Bangladesh!

The evening concluded outdoors in the Summer Garden where EECW had organised a wonderful street food vendor-like ambience and some Australia wildlife with which delegates could get up close and personal.

Of course, as I sent the delegates out of the theatre I couldn’t help myself and told them there would be crocodiles they could cuddle!

But what did the audience think? Among the twitter-savvy delegates was New York medical educator Lawrence Sherman.

“It was a great pleasure to be in the audience to observe and participate when Gerry Gannon hosted the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Ottawa Conference in Perth, Australia”, said Lawrence.


“There wasn’t a person in the crowd that didn’t laugh and participate in a very engaging and interactive session. I was happy to have tweeted Gerry during the session and not only did he tweet back, but he called me out in the crowd.


“As a New York based comedian and medical educator I’m tasked with having to do just what Gerry did, and it’s my honor to say that Gerry is amongst the best I’ve seen. I hope to be able to see and maybe share a stage with him in the future”


Thanks, Lawrence! That’s a big rap from a fellow performer!


Also in the audience was  Professor Lyndal Parker-Newlyn from Wollongong University.


“The Ottawa/ANZAHPE conference in 2016 got off to a great start – the opening ceremony was a sign of good things to come,” said Professor Parker-Newlyn.

“The welcome to country was exciting with dance, music and culture making the Noongar people’s ties to the land incredibly clear. The speakers gave a great overview of the topics at hand and being the calibre of Prof Ron Harden and the WA Health Minister was impressive.

“We had music from the Varity Youth Choir who got everyone singing and clapping along and this was all held together by MC Gerry Gannon. Gerry was professional, engaging and funny and tied together one of the best conference kick-offs that I’ve attended!”

No doubt about it; a good opening ceremony is worth the effort and expense.




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