Six in the mix: how to create the perfect meeting space

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Open space learning at 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders by Jacob Slaton Photography Open space learning at 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders by Jacob Slaton Photography

Designing the perfect face-to-face meeting space for delegates demands a delicate balance of six basic elements, according to new research by convention managers association PCMA...

The study – 5,000 people, 5,000 personal journeys – used the 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders conference, in Pittsburgh, as a case study, observing delegate behaviour in open spaces.

Carried out by the PCMA Foundation and Steelcase Event Experiences, the research yielded a framework of key insights for meeting planners and business strategists.

Insight: Supporting diverse needs

Business events professionals should determine where their audience falls on the spectrum of wanting something for everyone vs. one path to success. Offering many options can be valuable when the audience has varying experience levels, but it can also overwhelm and lead to analysis paralysis.

Insight: Enabling meaningful experiences

Here, the spectrum is informational vs. experiential. Some participants may have higher engagement with interactive experiences, while others are more interested in traditional education methods.

Insight: Accommodating connection strategies

"We’ve learnt that connecting does not solely mean meeting people, although many do network that way," said Kim Condon, event strategist at Steelcase Event Experiences. "Instead, we saw those with more industry experience connecting with their senior-level peers to learn, discuss new ideas, and be inspired, using this event as their rare opportunity to be in the same place, at the same time."

Insight: Enabling learning strategies

The challenge here is striking the right blend of formal learning with informal learning in addition to aspirational content with business practice content. Some participants may engage with inspirational and motivational education content, while others are looking for a more tangible ROI in ideas they can take back to their workplace.

Insight: Supporting participant wellbeing

Business events professionals must determine where their event falls on the spectrum between creating a supportive environment for each individual or for the audience as a whole.

Insight: Designing for a journey

Here, the spectrum is designing by default — utilizing pre-existing gathering spaces — or designing for a specific journey and experience by creating work, networking or waiting lounges.

"This research is important because it is based on the perspective of the user," said Lauren Bachynski, applied research consultant at Steelcase. "It provides insight into their experience of the conference, helping to uncover unmet needs and opportunities for growth as well as identifying key differentiators and ways to further enhance participant engagement in the future.”

Sherrif Karamat, PCMA president and CEO, said: "We put ourselves on the line during our own signature event, Convening Leaders, to examine what elements among our open-space environment did or did not resonate with participants so that we could provide a better experience in the future and so the industry could learn from our research results. We are always looking for ways to improve our own events and provide resources to support the business events industry."

Tonya Almond, VP knowledge and experience design at PCMA, added: “Personalization during events has become a crucial factor in delivering memorable and tailored experiences for participants at face-to-face events. We'll take these insights and use them to shape our 2020 Convening Leaders experience in San Francisco so our industry can see the full cycle of the research."

James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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