Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 2012

Breaking Convention

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief
Dhabi sub-branding.  "We had to lose the Abu Dhabi branding within the game zone," Rees said, "but we were allowed [to keep] it outside on the overall site."

Fringe Benefits

While it may be difficult to quantify brand awareness, the improvements that the London Organising Committee made to ExCeL are easy to measure, and they add up.  An area of approximately 12,000 square feet that had formerly served as storage space became a volunteer training center, where every Olympic volunteer came for assessments, interviews, and induction.  The organizing committee installed restrooms and HVAC in that space, so now it can be used by groups and may serve as a training center going forward - a winning strategy for both ExCeL and the Olympics.  "Rather than having to either build a new or temporary structure in the Olympic Park, the organizers simply fit out an area of ExCeL," which represented a cost saving for them, Rees said, and in the process created an area of the facility "that we can use beyond the Games."

In addition, infrastructure installed in other pockets of the building will lead - with minor investments by ExCeL - to the creation of several other meeting rooms, ready for use by January 2013, as well as additional space for catering operations.  And at least one sustainability initiative will become a legacy: the installation of 18 charging points for electric cars in the parking space underneath ExCeL.  Other infrastructure upgrades - a huge overlay of cabling and other IT networking - will give ExCeL connectivity "guarantees that other facilities can't," Rees said.

One lasting major connectivity improvement isn't virtual: the Emirates Air Line cable car, which was built over the River Thames for the Olympics to connect ExCeL with the O2 - and which saw 320,000 journeys during the 14 days of the Summer Games.  Rees said: "It's a vital connection between us and the O2 - London's main convention center and its main entertainment center - [enabling] delegates to literally in a matter of minutes be across the river, either checking out a show or hitting bars and restaurants to have a great night out."

What were not left behind at the center - or destined for landfills - were the temporary structures provided by contractors, "using a kind of kit that is used regularly in exhibitions and other events on a temporary basis," Rees said.  "They used the type of partitions that are going in and out of exhibition centers all the time, rather than building fancy [single-use, throwaway] items out of wood or whatever."

With Fresh Eyes

Rees was thrilled to become a guest of the facility he works for during the Games, going to one of the weightlifting finals and one of boxing's final evenings.  Did his experience as a spectator give him a fresh perspective on ExCeL? "That's a difficult one," Rees said in a follow-up interview after the Olympics, "because we've had so many amazing events already where people have done some pretty crazy things, and also events like the G20 [Summit] where we had the world's eyes upon the world's leaders, back in April 2009."

But the Olympic experience gives Rees greater confidence that the venue can accommodate different groups simultaneously without a conflict.  "I think one of the things was the fact that there were so many different things happening in the venue," he said.  "I don't think we quite realized the ability for the venue to easily be able to cope with that.  There were so many people attending five different arenas at any one time."

Something else about seeing the building through the eyes of Olympic fans from around the world struck Rees: the level of interest in the history of the Docklands, the previously decrepit industrial area where ExCeL is located.  "I think one thing we will do [going forward]," he said, "is to harness some of the modern imagery with the historic imagery" in ExCeL's public space.

"So many people - bear in mind that we had virtually a million people through on that Olympic fortnight [14 days] - had never been to ExCeL before, and you could see people were loving being there," Rees said.  "They were delighted and proud to be at the Olympics, [and also to be at] these amazing venues in an area that was formerly rundown after the failure of the docking industry - and it's all come good.  And now you've got these spectacular venues hosting the greatest show on Earth."

Book Excerpt

Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration
From the chapter TED: The Environment Designed, by Frank Graziano

When the researchers and designers at Steelcase were first invited to create the environment for the annual three-and-a-half-day gathering for TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design), we began by asking ourselves: How might we create compelling experiential spaces in this temporary environment? Our challenge stemmed from the tension in designing for a temporal venue, given what we know and have observed in other contexts. The excitement came from both weaving together the five fundamental principles discussed here and ultimately understanding how people engage [in] activities and their surroundings as a result.

Being mindful of the greater context
At TED, the 18-minute presentations (TEDTalks) are held live in an auditorium and also simultaneously broadcast in multiple adjacent spaces, which allows attendees to balance a full immersion in the content while conversing and socializing.

We crafted a network of places specifically intended to connect people based on their different behaviors. There is a bookstore, several locations for coffee and tea, and many alcoves and different zones that people may choose. Some of the simulcast spaces offer large screens and lounge seating, supporting informal groups watching together. In others, the simulcasts are presented as a tool with whiteboards, pens, paper, and phones, allowing attendees to come together to think, create, and engage with each other.

Planning spaces for varied learning styles
Artists, actors, and writers as well as scientists, mathematicians, and business leaders gather at TED. They are drawn by the opportunity to connect with others who hold common beliefs and goals.

We took into account a variety of learning styles while creating the overall campus venue. Auditory learners might listen to the simulcast while wandering through the bookshop, but visual learners might want to be in the dimly lit theater setting to attain the greatest focus. Bloggers and note takers were given dedicated areas so that the tapping of keys wouldn't disturb those who preferred to watch and listen in silence. Finally, there was theater-style seating accompanying round tables for attendees who desired a more traditional learning experience.

Accommodating and accelerating transitions
The programming of TED is intentionally social. Forty-five-minute breaks throughout the day allow one to digest the content of the lectures, refresh, and socially connect with others while getting a drink or snack.

To harness the energy of this constant rhythm of people moving about, the paths and interstitial spaces were developed with intentional views and vistas. The sight lines from one setting to another created a feeling of being a part of something much greater. The open views encouraged stroll-up conversations — recognizing someone from a distance, then approaching to make [a] connection. Seating was offered at different heights: Stools allowed for perching and taking in the sights, while lower lounge seating encouraged a variety of relaxed and intimate postures.

Using ambiguity as an invitation
TED itself already has settings that have become iconic to its brand — for example, TED beds and beanbags. Though the utility of these objects is clear, their presence in the context of a conference is a surprise — it invites people to reframe their expectations of what is “appropriate” behavior.

We employed this principle in subtle ways as we designed each environment. By adding a layer of props that were slightly incongruous, we introduced and welcomed new patterns and behaviors. Ultimately, those who used the space assigned to it a new meaning.

Fostering a sense of belonging
Over the course of the three-and-a-half days, participants establish routines within the conference environment. We actively sought out ways to encourage them to feel ownership of the place.

Integrating elements that were easily manipulated or controlled by the participants — such as lighting, spatial dividers, or movable carts — enabled individuals and small teams to establish a home base or camp. These elements were intuitive in their purpose and asked for users to “adopt” them. Because these elements were repeated throughout the entire space, participants felt a greater sense of belonging and mastery of the environment rather than staking out a single corner for the duration of the event.

Frank Graziano is principal researcher at Steelcase. His research and designs focus on emergent patterns and trends in human interactions.

Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Scott Doorley, Scott Witthoft , Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration, 2012.

Olympic Legacy


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