The sessions, speakers and evening receptions listed on a program aren’t the only factors that fuel the success of a meeting; where all of these activities happen is an equally crucial piece of the puzzle. From the general session ballroom to the breakout rooms to the hallways, meeting planners can shape every nook and cranny of a venue to turn a traditional conference environment into an immersive, unforgettable experience.
However, space design can feel daunting. With so many possibilities, where should planners begin? To get a sense of some of the most important lessons to remember in design decision-making, I caught up with Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, Senior Vice President, Education and Events, PCMA, for her perspectives on how she and her team approached the environment for Convening Leaders 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Peacy’s insights apply to more than one venue, though. No matter where you’re welcoming attendees next, be sure to remember these three tips during your site visits and creative brainstorming sessions.
1) What’s outside the venue should help shape the experience.
“Attendees aren’t just at a conference to learn and network,” Peacy says. “They want to discover the destination, too. The destination is part of the overall experience.”
“We keep our attendees pretty busy with a packed program, so it can be challenging for them to get out and about as much as they might like,” Peacy adds. “So, we always try to infuse the flavor of the city in the design. We want to give them a taste of where they are, but we also want to make sure that we can keep them together and engaging with each other.”
In Vancouver, Peacy says she knew they couldn’t compete with the awe-inspiring views of the mountains and the harbor directly outside the centre. Instead, she and her team leveraged the scenery to make attendees feel like they were part of the city — even when they were indoors. “We designed the flow of the Learning Lounge to take advantage of all the great pre-function space,” Peacy says. “The views of the open sky and mountains gave everyone more room to breathe.”
For example, the Creativity Zone, sponsored by the México Tourism Board, was positioned directly in front of the best view of the harbor. Why? So that attendees could look outside, give their brains a break from advanced-level education and channel their inner-kid spirits with coloring and craft projects.
2) The materials make a difference, too.
As organizations aim to operate in an eco-friendly manner, reusing signage and other materials is important. However, those materials shouldn’t be exactly the same year after year. “The directive for the team was, ‘We’re in this beautiful building, our elements should match the aesthetic,’” Peacy says. “We challenged our partners at Freeman to develop natural-looking items that brought more of the Vancouver feeling into the building.”
For example, the structures that housed the PCMA Engagement Center and other member areas were covered in stone-like patterns to instill a more natural feel inside the centre. “If you want to blend in with your surroundings, you can’t necessarily take what you’ve done before and recycle,” Peacy says. “Stretch your mind to think about new ways to use it that will create an experience that mirrors the vibe of your host destination.”
3) One room can play many roles.
There’s not much in common between an evening reception with acrobats and open bars and a luncheon with a business speaker. However, Peacy and the PCMA team managed to find plenty of opportunities to reuse materials and lessen the workload between a Sunday night opening reception and a Monday networking lunch and educational session. “We already had our design plans in place for the lunch, and we collaborated with the team in Vancouver to take the existing plans and create an evening reception environment,” Peacy says.
Lighting rigs, drapes, staging, projectors and carpeting — the two very different events managed to share many of the same elements. “We used different lighting schemes and alternate patterns and colors to make the room feel unique to each use,” Peacy says.
No matter where planners are welcoming attendees, they can borrow some inspiration from Peacy. “In the design process, planners should always try to aim to identify some economies of scale, if possible,” Peacy says. “It can have a big impact on your budget, and it will demonstrate flexibility to other leaders in your organization.”
Interested in more takeaways from the experience in Vancouver? Check out “A Look Inside The Post-Convening Leaders Conversation.”