The association’s flagship Convening Leaders event was used a ‘live laboratory’ to conduct research into delegate behaviour.
Designing engaging learning and networking experiences requires a delicate balance of six primary elements, according to research by PCMA Foundation and Steelcase Event Experiences.
Presented at PCMA’s EduCon event in Los Angeles last week, the 5,000 People, 5,000 Personal Journeys research was conducted earlier this year at Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh.
The event was used as a live case study, where Steelcase researchers observed attendee behaviour in open-space environments and conducted on-site interviews to determine participant perceptions, behaviours and interactions.
PCMA president and CEO, Sherrif Karamat, says: “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.”
The research yielded six key insights:
Insight 1: Supporting diverse needs
Business events professionals should determine where their audience falls on the spectrum of wanting something for everyone vs. 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.
Insight 2: 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.
Insight 3: Accommodating connection strategies
“We’ve learnt that connecting does not solely mean meeting people, although many do network that way,” says 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.”
Insight 4: Enabling learning strategies
The challenge here is striking the right blend of formal learning with informal learning in addition to aspirational content and 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.
Insight 5: 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.
Insight 6: 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.
“This research is important because it is based on the perspective of the user,” says Lauren Bachynski, applied research consultant at Steelcase. “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.”
Tonya Almond, vice president of knowledge and experience design at PCMA, adds: “Personalisation during events has become a crucial factor in design thinking. We’ll take these insights and use them to shape our 2020 Convening Leaders experience in San Francisco so our industry can see the full cycle of the research.”
Image credit: Jacob Slaton Photography