If anyone could be said to be an expert on the Braindate Lounge at Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh, it would be Paul Wong, associate director for meeting operations for DIA (Drug Information Association).
Over the course of two-and-a-half days, Wong participated in eight individual and two group “braindates” — 10 in all — facilitated by e180, a Montreal-based company. e180 coined the term “braindate” to describe the process of using software to link conference attendees with similar challenges and complementary expertise and to book face-to-face meetings for them during events.
The lounge, which occupied a roomy corner at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, was designed and furnished by Steelcase Event Experiences, a division of Steelcase, a 100-year-old furniture manufacturing company. Along with utilitarian considerations — people needed places to sit and talk — Steelcase Event Experiences planned an environment that would enhance participants’ experience and maximize collaboration, grouping chairs, sofas, tables, lamps, and accessories in supportive ways and choosing shapes, fabrics, and textures that created a sense of ease and well-being.
“My biggest takeaway was that [the design] made a big, open space feel private,” Wong said. “You could have an open conversation without disturbing anyone,” or feeling like your thoughts were being broadcast, he said. Touches like homey sofas, outfitted with blankets and throw pillows, made the environment “feel less rigid and more comfortable,” he said. “The whole goal [of braindates] is to have an open conversation. You want to be comfortable and have a sense of privacy in order to do that.”
Wong considered the braindates — both the connections made and the experience itself — to be a success. He said he has followed up with almost everyone that he “brain-dated.”
Meetings were scheduled in the Braindate Lounge for a limited number of hours during the conference. But the space remained in use all day — people gathered in impromptu groups of two or more, or conference participants settled in by themselves to take calls, answer urgent emails, or simply take in the view of the Allegheny River.
“One insight that we have documented time after time is what we call the ‘Linger Effect,’” said Melissa Holm, creative director for Steelcase Event Experiences.
“Long after the planned program concludes, we observe attendees remaining in these environments — continuing intriguing discussions, sharing information, and having meaningful conversations. This serves as a confirmation that attendees experience a positive emotional connection.”