Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2013

Designing Experience

Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor, Photographs by Susan Montagna


In 2011, the décor that carried out the event's theme — based on “the sublimities of India” — used a variety of cost-saving techniques. Stark's team ran vellum paper through a photocopier to print a classic paisley design, then used the paper to surround inexpensive votive and pillar candles, making glowing centerpieces. Colored vellum was rolled into cylinders and attached to table lights with double-sided tape to create handmade chandeliers. Stark used the chairs available at the event's venue, the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City.

“If the chairs available at the venue have four legs, those legs reach the floor and you can make them work with your design, consider that good enough,” he writes. “... The critical factor with money — like time — is how you spend it. No matter how tight your finances, you can always afford to make a fun event."

4. A Party in Cyberspace

All of the events that Stark designs are “generally for people who have been everywhere and have done everything,” he said. “I often say that they're out nine nights a week, and it takes a lot to impress them.”

That describes much of the crowd who attended Huffington Post's 2010 Game Changers event, a now-annual program where the media company honors 100 people in a dozen fields whom it considers to be “innovators, mavericks, visionaries, and leaders.” Among the 2010 honorees were Twitter founder Biz Stone, actor Sean Penn, Apple founder Steve Jobs, and actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

Stark's starting point for such events is surprise. “I want to create something that is entirely unexpected and that will really blow their minds, simply because they are running around all the time seeing so many things,” Stark said. “So, how do I create an environment that will be entirely about the client and the occasion, but will be a great surprise for the guests?”

Game Changers was held in a large art gallery in New York City, where Stark draped the walls in black, “creating a sort of black box for all the décor to glow within,” Stark said. The design featured a series of open, steel-wire sculptures — one for each Game Changer category — that were illuminated in fluorescent hues, and lounge spaces where guests could interact with honorees. A series of angled black walls divided the space and served as screens where text describing the accomplishments of the honorees was projected throughout the evening.

“Because the walls were pitched at different angles, you got the sense that you were in an optical space,” which was appropriate for a media company founded in cyberspace, Stark said. “You had these neon sculptures that glowed against the black, and you had all of the projected information. But then there was also a stage, a DJ, and there was yummy food. So you really fell down the rabbit hole into this world that was entirely about the Huffington Post.”

The projections on the walls changed as the evening progressed, to reveal more and more over time. “What I don't like about an event space ... is when you walk in and you see everything at once,” Stark said. “What I like to do is to create a series of spaces so that we're constantly revealing new things. It really helps to create the excitement in the party, because you want to go and check things out. You want to go explore.... It really inspires you to go see more and more.”

Earn Your CEU Hour

Once you finish reading this CMP Series article, read the following material:

  •  “Breaking Convention,” a feature article about reimagining meeting space at convention centers from the October 2012 issue of Convene.

To earn one hour of CEU credit, visit pcma.org/convenecmp to answer questions about the information contained in this CMP Series article and the additional material.

The Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) is a registered trademark of the Convention Industry Council.

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