“Disrupt” Your Meeting to Improve Attendee Productivity

Karen Malone of HIMSS talks about how she constantly thinks about innovation and disruption, including with her own staff.

To create innovative and interactive meetings, planners around the nation are raising the bar on productivity and capitalizing on attendee experience. In Orlando, seven planners have exceeded in this realm, setting the bar high for both their peers and the industry. In this series, we’ll learn how these planners are driving change, creating memorable events and inspiring their attendees at each and every meeting.

Meet our second “Planner of Productivity”: Karen Malone, vice president of meetings and sales of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, better known as HIMSS, headquartered in Chicago. Malone oversees the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition in Orlando every two years. The next event will be in Orlando March 9–13, 2020. The conference brings together nearly 45,000 professionals from 90+ countries for education, innovation and collaboration.

Visit Orlando: How do you define innovation and what are you doing to infuse this into the meetings you plan?

Karen Malone: Innovation can be so many things, but a lot of it is around disruption and change, which people are often very uncomfortable with. But given the industry we’re in—technology and health care—it’s just inevitable the amount of innovation that happens and needs to continue to happen to be able to deliver the best care and get the best outcomes. We try to lead by example throughout the conference. We showcase innovation in many different places. We have an Innovation Live area on our exhibit floor that has accelerators and incubators in it and a lot of companies such as startups that are demonstrating innovative solutions. .

We have another area on our exhibit floor called the Health Care of the Future Pavilion, which showcases many innovative solutions that are bleeding-edge—not even quite on the market yet. We also showcase many innovative companies that have health care solutions—disruptive companies that you wouldn’t even necessarily associate with health care like Google and Amazon and Lyft and Comcast.

Orlando’s really trying to become more of a mega city around medical technology. They have Lake Nona Medical City. We’ve worked with their CIO; about four or five years ago we did a tour with them and we’ve been working with them every year since. We do tours, and we engage them as speakers in our conference program because they are very innovative.

VO: How have such innovative approaches allowed for greater productivity in meetings?

KM: Here’s one of the things I do with my staff: The team that is responsible for logistics management—I rotate their job every year for three years. One year one person might be responsible for all convention center logistics and another person is responsible for all events in food and beverage, special events planning. And the other is responsible for housing and transportation. And then the next year they rotate and do one of the other areas, and then the next year they rotate again. I do that to a) develop them, b) keep them challenged and c) it helps us should we have any turnover; we have people who can jump right in.

VO: Taking advantage of smart, flexible meeting space is one of the largest trends this year. How have you utilized this for greater productivity?

KM: The Tangerine Ballroom in the West Building in the Orlando convention center I would call flexible space. It can be a beautiful ballroom; it can be an exhibit hall; it can be breakout space for education sessions; it can be a very large networking area; it can be a reception venue. We definitely look to use spaces like that in all kinds of ways to maximize our program.

In the Valencia Ballroom in the West Building last year we had keynote sessions; then I intentionally scheduled the keynote sessions dark for a few days so we could turn it over to a Learning Lounge. We created a big food court and park in the foyer area. We called it our HIMSS Park. We set up games and picnic tables; we did a happy hour. We had putt-putt golf. We worked with our decorator to design food truck facades for the catering area. Then we turned it back over again later in the week so we could run some more keynote sessions. We always look at how we can multipurpose space.

VO: What advice would you give to peers about keeping up with consumer expectations? How should they not only manage this, but continuously surprise and delight attendees?

KM: Talk to your peers, see what they’re doing. We are one another’s best resources. And go visit other shows. All my staff are required to go visit other shows—at least one, if not two, a year, even overseas. Get some ideas from them, whether they’re association shows or corporate shows. I think there’s so many things we can learn from corporate shows. Financially, their budgets are often greater than ours, but there’s still some great takeaways.

And look at your program as zero based every year. Something we hate at our organization is when folks say, “Well, we’ve always done it that way.” That’s just not acceptable.

VO: Describe a few of the initiatives you’ve spearheaded—no matter how large or small—to improve the attendee experience.

KM: We have new leadership at our association with the mindset of greater globalization. The global conference used to be focused more on the North American market, and we realized this is such a great asset to the organization that we need to use it more as the magnet worldwide. There’s so much for people in the United States to learn from people abroad and vice versa. So, we’ve worked very hard over the last few years to really integrate global representation for our meeting on our education committee, global representatives in our programming, our curriculum. Also, on our exhibit floor; we’ve got 10 or 12 international pavilions.

VO: When thinking about unique experiences in Orlando, which offsite location do you prefer: Café Tu Tu Tango? Cuba Libre? ICON Park?

KM: I’ve been to all three, and they’re all terrific. Café Tu Tu’s really cool, and so’s Cuba Libre. We’ve done some private events at all of those, I believe, and I know our exhibitors have.

This article has been provided by Visit Orlando.

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