As one of the designers for W2W, an invitation-only pilot program for 32 women in the meetings industry, held in March, I had never really worked with a conference center before, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. And this was a toughie: a meeting of meeting planners and hospitality people who have been there, done that in their own meetings and so have very discriminating tastes.

Thankfully, we were in good hands with Chaminade Conference Resort in Santa Cruz, Calif. "Just ask us if we can do it and we’ll make it happen if we can," says Joy Anzinger, one of Chaminade’s conference planning managers. As part of the meeting’s design, we set up a Web site where participants could post getting-to-know-you items like favorite music, foods, and TV shows, among meatier topics. Anzinger, who not only was working the meeting but also participated in it, paid close attention.

"I noticed that many of the participants were reminiscing about camping and all the wonderful desserts they had created over the campfire. We thought it might be nice to have a dessert teambuilding activity that would involve letting people roast marshmallows over a fire," says Anzinger. "While we do have teams create a dessert as part of our full-meal culinary teambuilding, we had never combined a dessert-only activity with a communication element before." After making sure that it would focus on cooperation instead of competition, Chaminade’s recreation manager came up with an activity that would focus on asking the right questions and listening—two vital skills for planners. The result was a big, if messy, success that ended up with small subgroups toasting marshmallows, scooping ice cream, and using everything from M&Ms to bananas to create the perfect dessert for another team.

Then there were the hats. "We took the idea of all the different hats we wear in our jobs and ran with it," says Anzinger. She e-mailed Chaminade staff, asking them to bring in all kinds of hats from their personal stash. The result was an amazing wall and table with everything from hard hats to bonnets, against a wild backdrop, with a wide assortment of snacks and drinks. It was the perfect setting to turn our creativity loose and begin to dig into the personal and professional challenges women in this industry face.

On the second day, the warm California sunshine and breathtaking view of Monterey Bay off the terrace were just too enticing to head back inside after an open-air luncheon. So the staff schlepped all our flip charts and assorted other materials from our second-floor rooms down to the courtyard and reset the meeting there. "We try to accommodate whatever a client wants," says Anzinger.

Finding it hard to imagine what the center couldn’t accommodate, given our experience, I asked Anzinger. She said, "Well, once there was a guy who wanted to drive a motorcycle up the indoor staircase to the meeting room, but that was too dangerous. We just couldn’t do it."