Interviews with Planners - Sharon Fisher

Relevant, engaging and interactive. Sharon Fisher is the CEO and Chief IdeaSparker of Play with a Purpose, a company devoted to creating more fun, participatory, creative and hands-on meetings. The Orlando Chamber of Commerce named her company one of the Top 25 Best Places to Work in Orlando, proving that her passion for play works. With clients like Disney, GSK, Feld Entertainment, Microsoft, Met Life, the Daytona Speedway and even the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, thinking different is a part of daily life. Since she believes the back of napkins is still the best place to get new ideas, she spends lots of time brainstorming while drinking wine. A 2x Guinness World Record Holder, Sharon loves to participate, laugh, learn, share, and explore cool ideas with others.

What is the best advice you have ever received as a planner? 
Stay curious. As planners, it is not only important to be good at logistics, but we also need to be able to bring new and fresh ideas to our meetings. Being curious and open to discoveries in non-traditional places, as well watching what others are doing, is really important to being relevant in today's marketplace.

What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
Being in Orlando, we have lots of unique spaces for events. But probably my most favorite was at our local Harley Davidson dealership. It was challenging because it wasn't a traditional event venue - it was a dealership - so they didn't understand all the components of hosting an event. While it led to a longer, more detailed planning process, their inexperience also allowed us to push the envelope with new ideas. They didn't know what "wouldn't work" so we got to try lots of original ideas. The event also happened to be for about 1,000 people - so making the best use of both the indoor space, the parking lot, etc. meant a lot of creative solutions, including tenting, storing all the for-sale bikes in the maintenance garage, etc.

Since it was an optional, ticketed event, we had to create buzz around the event. To do that, on the afternoon of the event we set up a merchandise store at the meeting venue and allowed people to buy Harley themed clothes and accessories prior. We also had a huge team of cyclists parked outside, revving their engines and showing off their bikes. Ended up being the best turn-out ever for this event.

What advice would you give to someone entering the business today? 
"Don't do what I tell, do what needs to be done." This advice was given to me by my first boss, and has served me well. I learned that my job description was not all encompassing, and I was expected to look for opportunities to add value, do projects that may not have been on my list but drive our business forward.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being a planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
From my perspective, it is the disconnect that often happens between the meeting planning department and the meeting stakeholders. This shows up in two ways:

First, timing: Planners often have to book space for meetings months and years in advance of the purpose and content of the meeting being known. So, venues get booked, then when it's time to actually plan the agenda, we are limited to what has been contracted. Not much you can do about that, except work with your venue or go off-site.

Second, content: Many times, the learning, content and purpose of the meeting is discussed without the planner. Then the planner is asked to "go find a vendor" without actually understanding the reason and desired outcomes that they want the vendor to bring to the table. Sometimes this is because of the planner -I only need/want to do logistics- and sometimes the organization doesn't realize the value, ideas and resources the planner can bring to the table.

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How do you think our industry will evolve in the next five years?
I think we're going to see an entire shift in learning at events. Hands-on, applicable and participatory learning will take the place of 'speakers'. Networking and learning will converge into one. Meetings will become transformative, instead of just experiential.

What makes you successful as a planner?
Being able to think different.

In your opinion, what is the best and worst industry trend of the year?
Best trend: Conversations everywhere about the purpose of meetings and new engagement techniques. While the world likes to bash Millennials, I credit them with driving educational change in a much-needed direction.

Worst trend: Thinking technology is the end-all, be-all to audience engagement. Tech is just one, albeit terrific, tool in the box. We need to keep looking for authentic ways to bring people together.

What is the best industry book that has helped you as a planner?
The Experience Economy, Updated Edition.

Sharon Fisher
President, IdeaSparker at Play with a Purpose
Phone Number: (407) 872-3838
Affiliations or Memberships:

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