The Wizard of Oz

When Suzanne Moore was tapped to organize an international conference on spinal-cord injury (SCI), her biggest challenge wasn't getting hundreds of wheelchair-bound participants into a three-level convention center, handling keynoter Christopher Reeve, or even the eight-week lead time. It was letting the audience talk back.

No, we don't mean hecklers. "I'm passionate about getting people to network," explains Moore. "We had such an unusually broad range of groups present" -- from clinicians and caregivers to the paralyzed and their families -- "we felt it'd be a shame not to generate discussion." So she ditched the typical classroom-style setup for round tables, mixed attendees up so every table contained members of each constituency, and scheduled in ample discussion time. She even based the subject of breakouts (for instance, "care vs. cure") on what attendees wanted, rather than the other way 'round.

Thanks to this philosophical approach, final details on room sizes weren't known until the last week, and two staffers pulled an all-nighter just doing the seating charts. That's not to mention the access issue, which Moore and her team solved by putting everything -- from meals to medical facilities to restrooms to parking for special vehicles -- on the ground floor of the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. Still, there was plenty of tweaking. "As an able-bodied person, you don't even think about certain things," notes Moore. "For instance, the purpose-built toilets we ordered had to be altered when our consultant found they weren't terribly accessible!"

The result: On her post-conference evaluation forms, Moore scored 4.7 out of a possible 5 -- or, as one attendee wrote, "Fan-bloody-tastic!" Another commented, ominously, "Maybe more of our forums should be prepared in limited time if the energy at this forum can be replicated." Boomerang, anyone?