As PCMA Convening Leaders 2020 kicks off in San Francisco, we got a behind-the-scenes look at the insights they are using to transform their conference.
At last year’s conference, PCMA opened itself up to outside observation from the team at Steelcase, led by Kim Condon, Event Strategist. Lauren Bachynski, Steelcase Research Consultant, worked closely with Kim, orchestrating much of the onsite discovery.
“Sometimes, you lose perspective on what’s really happening at your event,” said Kim. “PCMA knew that they and the industry could really learn from the prevailing trends in this report.
Steelcase unleashed three of its applied research consultants during Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh.
Trained to look at all the participants without bias, they examined guests’ behavior and what they were doing.
Their research culminated into 600 collected data points which were synthesized to create six critical insights:
- Supporting Diverse Needs
- Enabling Meaningful Experiences
- Accommodating Connecting Strategies
- Enabling Learning Strategies
- Supporting Participant Wellbeing
- Designing for a Journey
Each of these was thoroughly explained in their final report, 5,000 People, 5,000 Individual Journeys.
1. Supporting Diverse Needs
“At large events, we’re tempted to put more and more in,” Kim said, “That can be confusing and overwhelming for guests and even become a stressor.”
It’s about striking the right balance for your audience. How much is too much, or what does it look like to have too little?
Each event is forced to walk a fine line between providing an individualized experience for everyone, while still trying to keep everything cohesive and straightforward.
There’s no right answer, she said, but it is something every event organizer needs to think about and what that really looks like.
2. Enabling Meaningful Experiences
What is valuable to one person could be at the bottom of the list for someone else. Understanding that diversity of experience is crucial for every event.
“That’s something that PCMA does very well,” said Kim.
Both the active and interactive experiences PCMA delivered were highly valued by guests.
By finding a perfect blend of activities and activations between sessions and a mix of interactive sponsor experiences, most guests were able to find something that kept them engaged each day during the conference.
“Like most things, it’s about striking the right balance that fits your event conference.
However, the problem with finding a formula that people appreciate is how to build off of it for an even better experience the next year.
3. Accommodating Connection Strategies
“PCMA is all about connections,” Kim said. “The connection strategy is vital, and you need to enable the right space to support those strategies.”
Each participant has a different goal, strategy, and motivation for networking. The “why” and “how” can look different for each person.
Guests found that there were opportunities for connection that met their individual styles. However, these could be better supported by the design and use of physical space.
4. Enabling Learning Strategies
While networking and connection are essential, learning and education are two of the cornerstone pieces of Convening Leaders and need to be championed.
To create productive learning environments, it’s important to remember that everyone learns differently.
For some, a hands-on, loose environment is perfect for them to grasp concepts and ideas. For others, however, a more structured session with a lecture-style session where they can take notes and prove ROI is ideal.
Convening Leaders is a perfect testing ground for new session styles, allowing for more creativity and inclusion while accepting what didn’t work and how it can be changed for the better.
5. Supporting Participant Wellbeing
No, this isn’t just about what you’re serving them for lunch and dinner.
Wellbeing is no longer about healthier food options (although that’s still important) but finding ways to support each guest while they’re away from the comforts of their home and office.
For many, being in a brand new environment with crowds of people is overwhelming and anxiety-producing.
Guests are always looking for ways they can find some personal space–without trekking back to their hotels–to catch up on emails, call home or just breathe.
Providing these types of areas and amenities can go a long way in helping ease tension and stress, producing an overall more pleasant experience for guests.
6. Designing for a Journey
From the moment they land to the second they take off, each guest is on a journey with you. How are you planning for that adventure over the next several days?
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if their experience in that journey says, ‘Welcome! You won’t believe the two or three days you’re going to have with us and the phenomenal experience that awaits you,” said Kim.
Pay close attention to each aspect of the attendee journey. Look at it like a 3D view of their days and how it unfolds.
How can you design specific spaces that will meet each person’s needs across this journey?
Sometimes, the solution is easier than you think.
“It can be a no-budget kind of thing,” said Tom. “Find a spot in your venue, rearrange furniture, and give your guests a quiet space to call home or get a worry off their mind. But you need to tell them you created this spot so they can find it too.”
Insight For All
As we mentioned earlier, these ideas don’t just sit with PCMA; they’re ideas all meetings and events can learn from and use.
PCMA took a massive step in allowing themselves to be vulnerable and welcome constructive criticism to help create better event experiences for years to come.
Are you willing to do that for your event?
Mitch Cooper is the Content Marketing Manager for Experient. A former journalist, he is passionate about crafting stories that enlighten and engage audiences.
When he’s not writing and editing, he enjoys spending time with his wife and one-year-old son, playing and watching sports and making people laugh.