Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 10 2016

The Convention Centre Experiment That Planners, Attendees And Sponsors Will Love

By David McMillin

When I caught up with Claire Smith, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the Vancouver Convention Centre, in November, she was focused on one of the serious challenges impacting meetings today. “I think we have to let go of trying to control our delegates,” Smith told me. “Meetings tend to be overly structured. We have to allow [attendees] to interact with the meeting in ways that will matter to them.”

 Fast forward to the official opening day of Convening Leaders 2016, and Smith and her team are launching a solution. It’s the Workspring Active Learning and Work Space, located on Level 2 of VCC West outside Room 208. The area used to be a standard pre-function space, occasionally hosting coffee breaks during conventions, but otherwise, it was a relatively unused section of the centre. Now, it’s a hub of next-generation convention center design.

“We looked at the space that was under-utilized and asked ourselves three key questions,” Smith says. “How can we make it functional? How can we make it monetizable? How can we create a better experience for the delegates who are here?”

Now, high-back, café-style booths create a semi-private feel for intimate conversations. Fully-wired work stations offer easy places for attendees to plug in and manage workloads while they’re away from their offices. Down the hall, Workspring has even created a private Board room that features a spectacular view of the city with natural light and plants. It’s more reminiscent of a comfy home office than a sterile centre setting.

SEE ALSO: Are Your Meeting Spaces Giving Attendees The Privacy They Need?

A Lesson From TED

“This idea was really born out of TED,” Smith says, referring to the five-day conference that tackles big global issues in Vancouver each year. “The people who attend TED are influencers, and they’re in high demand. Many of them were leaving the meeting to return to their hotels to finish work, so Steelcase and TED joined together to make it comfortable, safe and inviting to work in the meeting environment.”

Smith and her team loved the space so much that they launched a partnership with Workspring to create a sample of the possibilities for other meetings. TED may feature a who’s who cast of global thinkers — Bill Gates and Al Gore are regular attendees — but other meetings face the same challenge: when attendees want to do business together, they head to bars, cafés and hotels instead of staying on-site.

"The furniture and the layout of the area are all designed to make attendees feel like they can accomplish everything they come to a convention to do without having to leave the centre,” Smith says.

The area was also designed to give meeting planners some assistance in securing more financial support. “We wanted to create sponsorship opportunities for meeting planners,” Smith says.

Prominent dividers between areas and within the private Board room will give planners prime real estate to sell to companies looking for bigger brand awareness.

“What’s great about kicking this off at PCMA is that now we can introduce potential clients to how this space can create an impact at their own meetings,” Smith says. “How can you brand it? How can your sponsors utilize it? How can it enhance your revenue? How can it enhance the attendee experience, and how can it keep people on-site? Convening Leaders will give planners a chance to think about how they can leverage this environment.”

SEE ALSO: 5 TED Talks To Inspire Every Meeting Professional

A Convening Leaders Exclusive

The current area will be in place for a full year, and Smith hopes for an expansion. “In my vision, I would love to see this design take over all of Level 2,” she says.

For now, though, Convening Leaders attendees will see one piece of the area that will only be active for the next three days until it’s moved back into one of the rooms in the centre: an open-space classroom with movable, modular furniture for programming in the Learning Lounge powered by Freeman.

“The furniture allows for easy discussion,” Smith says. “For example, if a speaker asks a group of attendees to have small group conversations, it’s easy for them to configure their own seating arrangements. It creates a taste of what a truly collaborative meeting room can feel like.”

To get your own taste, head to Level 2 of the Vancouver Convention Centre for a session in the Learning Lounge, or arrange a one-on-one meeting with your peers in the Workspring Work Space. And if you aren’t able to join the meetings industry this week, be sure to register for the Convening Leaders Live Stream so you can be part of the action no matter where you are in the world. 

Get a first glimpse at what makes the Workspring Active Learning and Work Space so unique for attendees with coverage from our partners at CNTV.

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