Talk Amongst Yourselves

How bringing people closer together can support interaction.

Photo by Jacob Slaton
Photo by Jacob Slaton

The PCMA Education Conference, which opened Sunday evening at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark and ends today, has been notably interactive. Topics were crowdsourced at 10 sessions and many others were highly participatory, including Monday’s Convene Live session, where Editor in Chief Michelle Russell and I presented findings from four recent surveys and asked participants to help us think through what the results might mean.

The big-picture content was designed to create communication and was supported by an environment that encouraged conversations. Instead of large rounds that seat a dozen or more people, the room where we spoke was set, in part, with small cocktail rounds that seated four or five.

That one small tweak literally brought people closer together, creating more intimate space. In fact, the small tables initially felt a little too cozy at first, one participant reported, until the session was underway, and then the small size made it easy to talk. In our session, and in many others, the room buzzed with conversation and groups lingered, keeping the dialogues going.

The cocktail tables made the room feel less like a hotel meeting room and more like a social space, said PCMA’s Dyan Westropp, CMP, events manager, who along with Carrie Johnson, senior education program manager, designed the room set to support collaboration. “We wanted to make it easy for people to interact and take notes,” Westropp added.

Choice was another key to the room set-up’s success — the environment supported interaction, without forcing it on anyone. In addition to the small rounds, participants could sit at long, skinny, classroom-style rectangular tables or in traditional rows of chairs. 

“It wasn’t hard to do or expensive,” Westropp said. “We used what we had to make it innovative.” 

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.