Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 2014

#BIGIDEASCL: Asking the (Outside) Experts

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief


Every industry needs a regular infusion of fresh thinking. With that in mind, PCMA and the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau — a PCMA Uber Partner — have joined together to foster innovation with the BIG IDEAS initiative. Supported by the PCMA Education Foundation, BIG IDEAS was launched at PCMA Convening Leaders in Boston this past January, and will last throughout 2014 — a year-long quest to gather the best ideas to move the industry forward. 

What's the hallmark of a big idea? For one, it looks at the tried-and-true from a genuinely different perspective. Here's an example, taken from Convening Leaders 2014:

Four design students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University were invited to attend the first day of Convening Leaders on Jan. 13. Their mission: to share their experiences in terms of the design of the conference itself. They were given no parameters other than to observe the event and meet afterward to consolidate their thoughts for an education panel recap session, moderated by global meeting professional Kristin Mirabal, CMP, on the following afternoon.

During the recap, Harvard's Allison Green and MIT's Sofia Berinstein, Zheela Qaiser, and Myung Sung talked about what they thought worked and what didn't. The Opening General Session was clearly a hit. “There was so much energy,” Green said, “and your theme was brilliantly displayed and woven throughout the whole session.”

Qaiser agreed, adding: “Entering the main event, I thought it was amazing that all of these people were entering the hall all at once and were having their badges scanned, yet there were no long lines. It was like managed chaos. Inside, the projection screen was just awesome. The whole event catered to our [generational] ADHD world, and I was standing there thinking, I can do 20 things in this room all at the same time! It felt great.”

In addition to that positive review and benefits found in the meeting's networking areas, the students agreed that wayfinding could be improved. And they found there was a tradeoff in the breakout sessions — between the depth of information provided in a lecture-based session that didn't feature any attendee interaction vs. shallow engagement in sessions that had baked-in interactivity. According to the students, there wasn't enough time to really share valuable information during the designated interactive period.

In all, the design students identified three key attributes of a well-designed face-to-face event: social energy, a forum to help to make connections, and a focus on visuals.

Would you allow an industry outsider to critique your program? It's one idea that can lead to others to improve your participants’ face-to-face experience.

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