Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 2013

They Have Fun With It

By Hunter R. Slaton

When we asked Cindy Scharringhausen, senior vice president of human resources for Houston-based Camden Property Trust, how its meetings have contributed to Camden’s status as a Best Company to Work For, she shot back, “[We have] as many meetings as possible,” then quickly added: “Just kidding.”

Although it might seem obvious, having fun at in-house meetings and events is very important. “Pretty much our philosophy is inclusiveness and informality and fun,” said Scharringhausen. “There’s always camaraderie or a spirit of transparency or sharing at all of our meetings and events.”

Camden’s annual two-day management conference, held each May at a different hotel or resort, draws 400 to 420 attendees - not only those employees who oversee a certain territory or other employees, but also key salespeople, award winners, support teams, and guests. “We probably have more people attend meetings rather than less,” Scharringhausen said, “so that everyone gets the information.” Given the diverse array of attendees, Camden meeting planners take care to schedule learning opportunities that will be interesting to every facet of the company — as well as chances for people to connect, build relationships, and have fun. “As much as we do invest in it, we tend to be value-minded,” Scharringhausen said. “We are not hiring the top rock-star band for $200,000. Rather, we are hiring just the right amount of external resources that fit the message we’re trying to deliver.”

One way that Camden has fun on a budget is with Skit Night, a program on the first night of the management conference for which the company taps three of its regional teams and one corporate team to “plan, practice, and develop a humorous skit,” according to Margaret Plummer, Camden’s vice president of employee development. “Before the meeting, there is a tremendous amount of team-building that goes on,” as the groups work together to come up with their opening-night routines. And beyond the team-building benefits, Plummer said, “It’s hysterical to watch people we’ve known for years get up and perform.”

In addition to Skit Night, Camden fields its own house band (as well as a “local, reasonably priced band”) for Dance Night, which also includes fun stuff like bobble-head mementos, photo booths, and - this year - an air-guitar contest, hosted by an employee in the conference’s lobby area. Why go to all this trouble for a management conference? For a simple reason, according to Schar-ringhausen: “We want people to look forward to it.”

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