Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

December 30 2014

The Evolution of the Learning Lounge

By Carolyn Clark

Like many brilliant revelations, the idea for PCMA’s Learning Lounge grew from a simple need – to creatively fill extra space on the arena floor at MGM Grand for Convening Leaders 2011. With TED-style sessions the talk of the industry, it was an ideal time – and place – to experiment with a variety of short-time content before general sessions. And members loved it.

Since then, the concept has evolved significantly and now serves as a destination hub for educational content and professional networking – with the why as crucial as what goes inside the environment.

“With the Learning Lounge, our goal is to create experiences that meet the learning style needs and preferences of our diverse population of attendees,” says Dawn McEvoy, CMP, CAE, PCMA’s Director, Education.

That’s where PCMA draws on Freeman’s expertise – to make those experiences, and the content, more valuable year after year. In addition to layout design and production support, FreemanXP partners with the Education team to recommend topics and speakers based on the issues their customers want to learn more about.

But this transformational space is about so much more than just knowledge sharing. It’s about giving attendees the time and the place to immediately process what they’ve just heard during general sessions, thought leader sessions and breakouts. By discussing these fresh takeaways with colleagues in a meaningful way, all of those little “a ha!” moments can be cemented to memory and applied as real learning. “It’s the natural evolution from the classroom,” adds McEvoy.

In Chicago this January, the open space design of the Learning Lounge pays homage to Chicago’s vast cityscape with areas for both structured presentations and casual conversations.

“We hope to showcase how different types of furniture, space layouts, AV and signage can create a variety of environments and evoke specific emotions,” FreemanXP Executive Producer, Carrie Kennedy explains. “For example, each of the education tracks will have a color theme that will thread through the space to help attendees identify their interest areas and create comfort zones.”

This deliberate connection to the new color-coded tracks is just one of the ways the Learning Lounge experience has become much more integrated in the overall educational journey of the attendee. It will be located near the general sessions and lunch rooms making it convenient to stop by often throughout each day. There’s always something going on inside!

The popular Tech Central will also be located within in the Learning Lounge featuring demo stations in X-shaped formation with a TechHelp Bar in the center.

The Global Hub will offer peer-to-peer learning on best practices and Q&As with thought leaders in an intimate round pavilion format.

Other highlights include a Meeting and Experience Design Gallery, Wellness Studio, Coffee House and Hybrid Mash-Up Studio with live broadcasts going out to the virtual Convening Leaders audience throughout the conference.

As the scope of PCMA’s Learning Lounge has grown over the past four years since its debut in Las Vegas, so has the adaptation of the concept for various member organizations. Many members have replicated it in full or in part – and for good reason.

“From our experience with various association and corporation events, we know conference attendees want more networking with thought leaders and peers,” says Kennedy. “The Learning Lounge is a great example of how educational content curators and space designers can collaborate to create new attendee experiences to increase engagement.”

While Convening Leaders doesn’t have a tradeshow component, several Learning Lounge ideas can be implemented to bring education to the expo floor. Often sponsors and exhibitors are also subject matter experts so providing a neutral casual space to engage without the pressure of a sales pitch is a great way to facilitate more interaction among attendees and exhibitors.


For the fourth story in this five-part series, we took a closer look at how PCMA and Freeman collaborate to design a Learning Lounge experience that brings people and content together in ever-evolving ways. We’ll wrap up the series in January with a behind-the-scenes perspective of how all the moving parts played out on-site in Chicago.

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