Early one morning, while 15-minute interactive sessions were going on at PCMA’s “Learning Lounge” across the hall in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a group of meeting professionals pushed two round tables together, pulled up chairs and gathered together for a spontaneous, very low tech meeting. They had volunteered to moderate roundtable discussions but no attendees had shown up.
Who could blame them? The room was bland and uninviting, very much in contrast to the event next door, but the discussion turned out to be anything but dull. The gathering included some of the top educators in the industry, experienced presenters and planners attending PCMA’s Convening Leaders convention in Las Vegas. They were passionate about how learning and networking events really might be done differently and their informal conversation ranged from dismantling the classic classroom set-up and incorporating different learning styles to holding more open space meetings and assigning mentors to first-time attendees.
“Our industry seems stuck and has for a long time,” said Joan Eisenstodt. “Though people keep coming, it doesn’t seem like it’s doing enough.”
Others offered their own experiences as an example of too much top-down control, lack of innovation and inconsideration of attendees.
Claire Smith of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre moderated a panel on preparing for the unexpected earlier in the conference. “People were talking at you and asking questions off topic and it was great,” she said, in contrast to panel discussions that limit audience questions to the end.
Another participator expanded on Eisenstodt’s comment that planners need to think more about the learners’ needs than those of the sponsoring organization, noting the importance of room set-up. Eisenstodt responded and said, “I’ll go in a room and see the set-up and walk out,” adding that planning has to go beyond the session title, the speaker and the objectives to include design, decor and lighting. She suggested everyone read “Seating Matters” by Paul O. Radde.
Making rooms and sessions more inviting to people goes beyond the physical set-up, and the discussion turned to ideas about approaching attendees differently as well. One suggestion was to have a facilitator who might welcome latecomers or tell someone it’s OK to just be a listener if that’s his style of learning.
What was striking about the pop-up meeting was its focus on simple, personalized solutions that focused on attendee comfort, ease and interaction. After an hour and a half, the group closed the meeting, agreeing to continue the conversation.
“We’ve developed a rogue task force,” said Smith, smiling at the others in the room.
Reinventing Roundtable Discussions, aka Conversation Cafe, is now active on Facebook.
More: Read about open space technology, a new kind of meeting.