Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 2014

How One Planner Performed Reconstructive Surgery On A Meeting

By Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor

speak up and say what we feel, believe in, what we know in our gut will make an experience better for our attendees.”

Squillante's mindset could be described as having “creative confidence,” which is also the title of a new book about creativity and innovation by David and Tom Kelley, brothers who are the founder and a partner, respectively, of IDEO, one of the world's leading design firms. “At its core, creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you,” the Kelleys write in Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. “We think this self-assurance, this belief in your creative capacity, lies at the heart of innovation.”

Striking Resemblance

If you compare Squillante's description of how she implemented change at the American Society of Transplantation's (AST) 2013 winter meeting to the Kelleys’ book, it's striking how closely her actions align with their insights and recommendations. For example, successful innovation, the Kelleys write in Creative Confidence, balances three things: technical feasibility, business viability, and human factors.

Technology has to be more than cool, they write — it has to work. To that end, Squillante said she has “great support” from the AV consultant she works with. That expert can be “your best partner for medical meetings.” Even in nonprofits, the Kelleys write, “business factors are critical.” Indeed, staying within budget was a key element in Squillante's plan. Virtually every idea she implemented adapted to group and budget.


For example, one source of inspiration for Squillante's room setup was a round stage used at the U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild conference. But while investing in a custom stage makes sense for a meeting with 35,000 attendees, like Greenbuild, it didn't fit the budget for a meeting for 325, which was the size of AST's meeting. But rather than giving up on the idea, she found a way to adapt the concept with the materials that she could afford: standard risers placed together to create a diamond shape.

Squillante spent a little bit on lighting for the room, but she balanced the cost by using inexpensive polling software. “You rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “And if someone looks at this and says, ‘I can't afford it,’ I'd say, ‘Yes, you can.’ You can use light trees.” Another inexpensive option, Squillante said, is to use LCD bar lights, placed on the floor, as uplighting.

As for the human factor, the Kelleys define that as “deeply understanding human needs” — which, they write, “aren't necessarily more important than the other two. But technical factors are well taught in science and engineering programs around the world, and companies everywhere focus energy on the business factors. So we believe the human factors may offer some of the best opportunities for innovation, which is why we always start there.”

Squillante also started the reinvention process with human factors as her foremost concern. “The reason people join societies is for education and networking, right?” she said. “To me, it's up to the planner - it's our responsibility to create the best learning environments possible.”

And while networking may be a top reason why people attend meetings, not everyone comes with the same personality, contacts, or ability to connect. Squillante had observed attendee behavior and sought to support a variety of preferences, with seating options that allowed attendees to talk one-on-one, to comfortably meet new people in groups, or to sit alone. And instead of trying to change the behavior of meeting attendees who dashed in and out during sessions, she accepted and accommodated it.

A Word About Constraints
 Squillante launched an overhaul of AST's meeting when it was just a month away, without extra money budgeted for enhancing the event. While it may seem like more time and more money are always good things, that isn't always the case.

“Although ‘creative constraint’ sounds like an oxymoron, one way to spark creative action is to constrain it,” the Kelleys write. “Given a choice, most of us would of course prefer a little more budget, a little more staff, and a little more time. But constraints can spur creativity and incite action, as long as you have the confidence to embrace them.”

A Creative Support Network

PCMA Convening Leaders 2013 was a wellspring of ideas for Squillante, which she implemented by working with her team — all “rock stars,” she said. And according to the Kelleys, “when a group embraces the concept of building on the ideas of others, it can unleash all kinds of creative energy.”

They write: “Creative people are often portrayed as lone geniuses or rugged individuals. But we've found that many of our best ideas result from collaborating with other people. From make-a-thons to multidisciplinary teams, we treat creativity as a team sport. Like many elements of creative confidence, building on the ideas of others requires humility. You have to first acknowledge — at least to yourself - that you don't have all the answers. The upside is that it takes some pressure off you to know you don't have to generate ideas all on your own.

”... Even if you haven't found the right collaborators yet, you too can build on the ideas of others. Check out creative digital communities. Form an all-volunteer project team that works after hours on an idea that's important to you. Spearhead a creative confidence group that meets once a month for lunch or for drinks after work. In other words, take action to build your own supportive community of innovators.”

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