Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 26 2016

A Look Inside The Post-Convening Leaders Conversation


The lights in the Vancouver Convention Centre have dimmed, and the massive screen in Ballroom A has been dismantled. The 3,800+ meeting planners and suppliers have returned home with mountains of new insights and business cards, and Convening Leaders 2016 is officially in the books. After four days of risk-taking, ground-breaking, game-changing work, PCMA and Freeman can celebrate another year of collaborating to help the meeting and convention industry move forward.

The celebration won’t last long, though. “We’re already looking ahead to Convening Leaders 2017 in Austin,” Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, Senior Vice President, Education and Events, PCMA, says. “Our teams will start looking at ways to enhance the experience in February.”

When the process begins, they’ll be armed with more data than ever before. The team will conduct comprehensive post-meeting attendee evaluations, but they will also comb through the findings from FXP | touch, Freeman’s second screen technology. In addition to helping Convening Leaders attendees participate in live polls and discover enhanced content in general sessions and 12 concurrent sessions, the tool analyzed the big picture of attendee behavior throughout the meeting to answer a crucial question: how engaged are they?

“Think of FXP | touch as an EKG of the meeting,” Ken Holsinger, Vice President of Digital Solutions at Freeman and founder of klowd.com, Freeman’s recent technology acquisition. “It monitors the overall pulse of the audience so we can analyze when they were most engaged with the content and when their attention spans drifted.

PCMA attendees utilizing the technology rated general session and breakout session speakers an average 93 percent satisfaction score. Breakout sessions delivered an 80 percent engagement score—very high compared to the 60-70 percent industry average. Provided with the option to use the second screen tool, an average of 90 percent participated in sessions where it was offered.

“We can drill down to moments during presentations to help speakers understand when they were captivating the audience and when the crowd felt less connected to the content,” Holsinger adds. “It’s a complete picture of the experience that will help PCMA continue to raise the engagement factor next year.”

Putting Sponsors In The Spotlight

One of the biggest challenges any meeting planner faces is balancing that attendee engagement factor with showcasing the organizations that make the entire event possible. “We are incredibly grateful for all our sponsors who are committed to helping the PCMA community get the education they need,” Peacy says. “We couldn’t do any of this without them, so one of the big focus areas we assigned to Freeman was to make sure sponsors received the recognition they deserve.”

It’s safe to say that sponsor activation in the general session was a success. With a screen that measured 32’ tall and 145’ wide, sponsors such as Vancouver, Melbourne and Mexico were able to showcase their assets with stunning, high-definition videos.  “This screen says it all,” Dan Traver, CEM, Business Development Vice President, Freeman, says. “This is my eleventh year working on Convening Leaders, and the conference has always felt synonymous with opportunity to me. This compelling visual component really capitalized on the chance for these sponsors to connect with meeting planners.”

Traver also highlighted that every piece of Convening Leaders can fit into a range of conference sizes and environments. From the big screen to other brand activations throughout the convention centre, meeting planners should think about ways to incorporate these new approaches and technologies in their own events. “Everything here is scalable,” Traver says. “Don’t be afraid of the budget. The elements in Vancouver can adjust to fit anyone’s needs.”

Addressing Acoustic Challenges

In addition to running the top-notch general session production, Freeman powers the well-known Learning Lounge at Convening Leaders. With bite-sized education sessions, tech tutorials and a range of alternative programming formats, the Learning Lounge has attracted more attendees each year since its inception in 2011. In 2015, though, its popularity caused a challenge: with so many attendees participating in active discussions, hearing each other in one big convention center space became impossible.

“This space included such beautiful views of the city and the harbour that we said to ourselves, ‘let’s not confine the Learning Lounge to just one portion of the centre,’” Stacey Thorp, Freeman’s Executive Producer for the event, says.

The spacing helped ensure everyone could hear programming, but Freeman also experimented with acoustic solutions including MOSS walls and headphone sets in certain areas. The result? A smashing success with a Learning Lounge that stretched throughout two levels of the Vancouver Convention Centre. From the Main Stage designed as a “pass-through area” to a Wellness Stop outside the general session ballroom to Knowledge Dens for casual conversations, this year’s Learning Lounge experience delivered compelling education and felt distinctly Vancouver. No matter where attendees turned, they could participate in advanced programming while taking in some of the best scenery in British Columbia.

Thinking About More Than Tech

While Freeman and PCMA are known for experimenting with the possibilities of new digital solutions, this year’s Convening Leaders also embraced what Thorp calls a “low tech, high touch” spirit. In a stark contrast to the tutorials of the latest gadgets, software systems and apps in Tech Central, the Creativity Zone invited attendees to channel their inner kid spirits with coloring activities. “This type of offering is becoming very popular in adult education,” Thorp says. “It’s a way to stretch a different part of the brain.”

Elsewhere, attendees could skip typing and swiping in favor of old-fashioned handwriting on large walls that asked for input on planner pain points and potential education topics at future PCMA events.

Looking Ahead

What can the meetings industry expect in Austin next year? The brainstorming conversations are only beginning, and PCMA and Freeman will use the Austin Convention Center as the new guide rather than using 2016’s successes as a template. Freeman and PCMA will once again use design thinking principles including a candid debrief, assessing new opportunities and formulating a plan to engage all stakeholders. 

“A lot of organizations try to fit the same framework into different venues, but each year is a time to reinvent,” Peacy says. “Redesigning an event is hard, but it pays big dividends. We’ll dive into the space in Austin to reimagine how the program can be most empowering based on the unique qualities of the center.”

Are you ready to uncover new possibilities for your conference? Click here to get in touch with Freeman to discuss your organization’s goals and find out how you can offer some of the innovations from Convening Leaders to your own attendees.

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