Designing highly engaging, innovative and memorable face-to-face, open space environments at business events requires a delicate balance of six primary elements, according to a research case study released by PCMA Foundation and Steelcase Event Experiences.

The two organisations unveiled 5,000 People, 5,000 Personal Journeys during PCMA’s EduCon event in Los Angeles. The research used 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders as a live case study with researchers observing attendee behavior in open-space environments.

The observations yielded a framework of six insights for PCMA that business events strategists might also use to design open-space experiences and opportunities for connecting participants during business events.

Open space learning at 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders by Jacob Slaton Photography
Image: Open space learning at 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders by Jacob Slaton Photography

“We put ourselves on the line during our own signature event, Convening Leaders, to examine what elements among our open-space environment did or did not resonate with participants so that we could provide a better experience in the future and so the industry could learn from our research results,” said Sherrif Karamat, PCMA president and CEO.

“We are always looking for ways to improve our own events and provide resources to support the business events industry.”

Tonya Almond, vice president of knowledge and experience design at PCMA, said they will take these insights and use them to shape the 2020 Convening Leaders experience in San Francisco.

“Personalisation during events has become a crucial factor in design thinking strategies to deliver memorable and tailored experiences for participants at face-to-face events,” she said.

Lauren Bachynski, applied research consultant at Steelcase, said the research is important because it is based on the perspective of the user.

“It provides insight into their experience of the conference, helping to uncover unmet needs and opportunities for growth as well as identifying key differentiators and ways to further enhance participant engagement in the future,” she said.

PCMA
Image: (L-R) Lauren Bachynski and Tonya Almond unveiling the findings of the study.

Supporting diverse needs

Business events professionals should determine where their audience falls on the spectrum of wanting something for everyone versus one path to success. Offering many options can be valuable when the audience has varying experience levels, but it can also overwhelm and lead to analysis paralysis.

Enabling meaningful experiences

Here, the spectrum is informational vs. experiential. Some participants may have higher engagement with interactive experiences, while others are more interested in traditional education methods.

Accommodating connection strategies

“We’ve learnt that connecting does not solely mean meeting people, although many do network that way,” said Kim Condon, event strategist at Steelcase Event Experiences. “Instead, we saw those with more industry experience connecting with their senior-level peers to learn, discuss new ideas, and be inspired, using this event as their rare opportunity to be in the same place, at the same time.”

Enabling learning strategies

The challenge here is striking the right blend of formal learning with informal learning in addition to aspirational content with business practice content. Some participants may engage with inspirational and motivational education content, while others are looking for a more tangible ROI in ideas they can take back to their workplace.

Supporting participant wellbeing

Business events professionals must determine where their event falls on the spectrum between creating a supportive environment for each individual or for the audience as a whole.

Designing for a journey

Here, the spectrum is designing by default — utilising pre-existing gathering spaces — or designing for a specific journey and experience by creating work, networking or waiting lounges.

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Content via CIM business events

Top image: AIME2019 Network Evening Photographer: Rob Blackburn