Most Innovative Meetings 2020: #10 PPG's Inspire U Regional Leadership Meeting

Organizers used an unconventional layout and creative activities to revamp the global paint supplier’s internal conference.

Technology such as interactive Microsoft Hub displays and CatchBox microphones kept employees engaged.
Technology such as interactive Microsoft Hub displays and CatchBox microphones kept employees engaged.
Photo: Courtesy of The Burnside Group

The Basics: In 2019, global supplier of paints, coatings, and specialty materials PPG (ppg.com) wanted to totally revamp its internal leadership conference. Working with The Burnside Group, the company hosted a two-and-a-half-day event at its headquarters in Pittsburgh from Sept. 16-18, 2019—plus three additional employee events in Barcelona, Cancún, and Kuala Lumpur. In all, 400 company leaders attended to discuss strategies for connecting with and inspiring their teams.

Group art activities, such as a yarn wall and digital graffiti walls, were used to reinforce PPG’s purpose and values.Group art activities, such as a yarn wall and digital graffiti walls, were used to reinforce PPG’s purpose and values.Photo: Courtesy of The Burnside GroupSteal-Worthy Innovations: Organizers rethought nearly every aspect of the meeting. To break away from the stale conference layout, seating featured modular couches and chairs, as well as high-top tables and statement chairs. Furniture was black and white with pillows and tabletops in PPG’s bright primary brand palette, and color groupings were used to seamlessly identify areas for particular teams. 

“The furniture allowed for multidimensional seating, so some attendees were seated at low couches while others were at high tables,” said Natalie Burnside, managing director of The Burnside Group. “We also left a lot of room for movement throughout the space, as attendees moved around quite a bit through the meeting during networking sessions and hands-on group collaboration.”

Technology such as interactive Microsoft Hub displays and CatchBox microphones was also used to keep the employees engaged. For example, attendees documented their thoughts and takeaways in a Microsoft Surface Hub application rather than in a notebook. “The digital record of the event was then captured for easier follow-up and discussion after the event,” noted Michelle Deemer, PPG's manager of corporate events.

Finally, a live painting experience added a fun (and appropriately on-brand) team-building element. “Each event featured a group art activity that reinforced our company's purpose and values,” said Deemer. “In Pittsburgh, we did a guided group painting experience with custom artwork. In Barcelona, we created a digital graffiti wall. In Cancún, we completed a yarn wall, and in Malaysia, we did a traditional Batik painting project.”

Lessons Learned: “Connection and engagement are key! After seeing just how much an interactive meeting design and an agenda focused on connection drove conversation and engagement, we’ve tried to incorporate those principles into other meetings,” said Deemer. “We may not be able to gather around Microsoft Surface Hubs and sit on bright furniture together [in 2020], but we can encourage discussion and collaboration through our digital tools.” 

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