Funny how a little punctuation can transform an often bloody form of civil disobedience into a benign, optimistic ideal, isn’t it? But that was the theme of the annual Professional Convention Management Association Convening Leaders conference held in Boston last month. And yes, it did come with a Beatles soundtrack. But there were a series of experiments on how to instigate gentle (non-disruptive) change worth mentioning. Here’s a guide to some of the best (and worst) ideas we found at #PCMACL.
1) Distribute an “innovation guide” to attendees
Change can be scary. It makes people uncomfortable. But if you explain the “why,” it helps them adapt. PCMA went one step further and distributed an innovation guide explaining all the conference experiments; what theory, mission or challenge inspired them; and where/when they could be experienced. In this way, the organizers not only set expectations, they invited people to discover and interact with change at their own pace.
2) Make a big space more intimate
Hynes Veterans Memorial Auditorium seats 2,500 on the floor and 900 in the balcony. PCMA wanted to provide maximum visibility for all 3,100 attendees, so organizers worked with Freeman to design a stage that sat flush against the wall and installed a series of flat-panel screens to act as the central focus. No matter where you sat, you felt close to the action. Because there was no backstage area, speakers came from floor seating, reinforcing PCMA’s sense of community.
3) Infuse high-energy optimism into the event design
Before general sessions, a professional DJ warmed up the audience and provided walk-out music for the speakers. Two minutes before each general session started, the massive wall of screens displayed a countdown clock, which built anticipation. It was a fantastic way to start the day while reinforcing meeting themes.
4) Dedicate lunch times to networking
Two lunches were plated and one was an “outside-the-box” grab-and-go indoor picnic, but they were all were dedicated to networking, not education. Because attendees didn’t have to sit through a speaker’s program, they were free to come and go and take care of business or explore some of the innovation zones set up around the conference. All three offered a much-needed break in the action.
5) Set aside spaces where people can learn, share and collaborate
If you didn’t want to attend hourlong concurrent sessions, there were two spaces where you could go for more experiential education. TechCentral featured a series of 10- to 25-minute sessions on a TechByte stage, tech demos and a TechBar, where you could ask advice and get solutions on anything from project management to personal branding. The Learning Lounge 2.0 had walls and bulletin boards on which attendees could write or pin ideas, interactive presentations, Q&As with industry experts and a hackathon that lasted for days. Both had lounge seating, areas to meet with friends or get some work done. But they were separated by a building and a 10-minute walk and empty for large periods of time. It would have made for more lively discussions (and less cavernous spaces) if they were combined.
6) Incorporate storytelling
PCMA wanted to communicate the importance of key messages in an entertaining way. At similar events, people use graphic storytellers to translate those messages into a visual framework. At Convening Leaders, they decided to use a professional “storyteller” to weave together the elements of the three general sessions. It was a good idea that fell flat in practice. Storytelling is spontaneous, not staged. But this storyteller was given very scripted (and repetitive) messaging to convey. There was no interpretation, no stories. The resulting experience was like watching a very enthusiastic emcee — without the jokes.
7) Offer tickets and guidance for those with dietary restrictions
PCMA generally does a fantastic job of accommodating those with food allergies. But there were a few gaffes worth mentioning. The first: Speakers’ dietary needs weren’t registered the same way attendees’ were, so they weren’t given the meal tickets required for plated luncheons. The opening night reception had signage and chefs at each station to help those with allergies, but if you had multiple allergies (like gluten and corn or dairy) there wasn’t anything to eat, and one of the meals was mislabeled “gluten free.” At the grab-and-go lunch, the special meals on display weren’t labeled, and there was a secret cache of specially prepared multiple-allergy meals, but no one (staff included) knew where to find them. On the plus side, the allergen-free fare during the plated luncheons looked just as tasty and nutritious as what everyone else was eating and didn’t take that much longer to be delivered.
What experiments are you seeing (or trying) at meetings and events? Tell us about them by commenting below. Or take pictures on-site and tag them with #pympics to share them with us on social networks.