On Monday afternoon, attendees at the PCMA Education Conference at the New York Marriot Marquis struck out in six different directions from the Times Square property. It was part of a new initiative to allow attendees to stretch their wings – and their legs — a little by participating in off-site experiences designed around a half-dozen topics.
PCMA wanted attendees “to be able to see what’s happening at other venues and how other designers are utilizing space in new ways,” said Carrie Johnson, DES, PCMA’s director of education content. “The takeaways from the off-site immersive sessions will help shape conversations as attendees learn how to apply those lessons to their own events.”
LEADERSHIP: You Had to Be There — Tavern on the Green
By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief
Education Conference participants who expressed an interest in leadership and performance were whisked via bus uptown, away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square to a bucolic setting from another century: Central Park’s iconic Tavern on the Green, originally built in 1870 to shelter sheep that grazed in the park’s Sheep Meadow.
Co-presenters Richard Cox and Melissa Jones Briggs of Stanford University took participants through a series of rousing interactive exercises that got them talking to each other, laughing, and on their feet. Presented in two parts, the first half of the session focused on how to package ideas using stories, and started out with teams figuring out what would make for a better umbrella.
The second half aimed to make attendees more comfortable performing under pressure, and included a “string of pearls” improvisational exercise in which volunteers wove together a story from unrelated sentences — starting with “Ten years ago, I visited Australia” and ending with “And the detective shut the door and walked away.” In between those two lines, some clowns committed murder and the protagonist met his sixth wife. Trust me, you had to be there.
For Sandy Reynolds, CMP, president of Meetings & Events USA, the session was both fun and thought-provoking. “It made me think that how you present yourself,” she said, “really impacts the message you are delivering.”
DATA: Cupcakes and Case Studies — Microsoft Store
By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor
Those of us who participated in the Microsoft Store experience found ourselves immersed the moment we stepped onto the bus outside the Marriott Marquis. Destination DC and Events DC were the sponsors, and during the 15-minute ride to the flagship store on Fifth Avenue, they presented a multisensory tour of DC — with the city’s go-go music piped over the sound system, and a gift bag that included a cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake and an assemble-it-yourself virtual-reality viewer embedded with a 360-degree tour of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
At the Microsoft Store, we were ushered to the third-floor Dell Experience — an event space set with long, wide worktables and wall-sized display screens. After a presentation on event-based data analytics from FISH Technologies CEO Mike Gilvar and President Rick Weldon, we broke up for small-group tours of the bright, sleek store, which offers hands-on opportunities to try out any Microsoft product you can imagine, from Xbox consoles and Surface tablets, to the HoloLens “mixed-reality” headset and the wall-mounted, 84-inch Surface Hub.
Back in the Dell Experience, we wrapped up with a case study on using data from Joe Colangelo, co-founder and CEO of Bear Analytics, and Stephanie Jones, CMP, senior director of conferences and events management for the Water Environment Federation. Emerging back onto Fifth Avenue was a little jarring, not because it was so bright and loud and hot, but because we had been immersed so deeply in the program at the Microsoft Store.
IMAGINATION: Doing Things Differently — New Amsterdam Theatre
By David McMillin, PCMA Writer
When most people think of Disney, their minds focus on a famous pair of ears and the spires of an iconic castle in Orlando — but the global brand does much more than entertain its fans. Education Conference participants in the Imagination & Creativity Immersive Learning experience got a behind-the-scenes look at what drives Disney’s success in the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, the second-oldest theater on Broadway and current home of the musical “Aladdin.”
The session started with a one-hour exercise on effective communication with Chuck Salvo and Chrissy Holt from the Disney Institute, the professional-development and external-training arm of the company, and the closing featured a panel of team members offering perspectives on the creative vision behind the hit musical production “The Lion King.”
While any organization would look up to Disney’s success — the company earned $13.3 billion last quarter alone — participants left with the knowledge that they can easily borrow inspiration from Disney’s game plan. In fact, the company’s magic formula is fairly simple. “We don’t do different things than other organizations,” Holt said. “We just do things differently.”
SHOW DESIGN: To Disrupt or Not to Disrupt? — Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
By Jasmine Zhu, Digital Editor
“Disruption” was the buzzword at the Show & Exhibit Design off-site session at the Javits Center. But while the term is so ubiquitous it can seem like empty rhetoric, speakers and participants drilled down into the specifics on how disruption can be achieved, giving attendees practical ideas behind the abstract concept.
The speakers — Grass Roots Meetings & Events Managing Director Howard Givner, Expotechnik Executive Vice President Thomas Frisby, and Lippman Connects Founder Sam Lippman — kicked off the session with a 20-minute introduction. Givner presented on “Improving Exhibitor and Attendee ROI,” Frisby’s introduction focused on “Design Thinking,” and Lippman chose “Designing a More Engaging Show Plan” as his topic.
Attendees also broke into groups for deep dives into the three topics, with participants and speakers collaborating through shared anecdotes and answering one another’s questions. Attendees reconvened at the main stage for a final wrap-up, where main takeaways from each breakout session were presented to the group at large. One of the main takeaways regarding disruption? Don’t “disrupt” for the sake of disrupting.
Lippman phrased it more directly: “If you don’t have a strategic reason to do it — don’t.”
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Getting Theatrical — The Manhattan Center
By Casey Gale, Associate Editor
Can you have the full Big Apple experience without visiting one of the city’s renowned performance venues? A group of Education Conference attendees traveled to the 1906 Manhattan Center on West 34th Street for the session “Storytelling and Production Design: Insights Shared by the Pros.”
Attendees convened in the center’s Grand Ballroom for a brief discussion between theater and design experts and moderator David Rich, senior vice president of client services for George P. Johnson Experience Marketing. Everyone then rotated around the room in groups, stopping by four stations to learn more about specific aspects of production design. Al Crawford, lighting director for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, discussed bringing themes and moods to life through lighting, while Jeremy Doucette, a design director for RWS Entertainment Group, described how he transformed an arena into an intimate reception space through innovative design. Producer and director Bill Castellino talked about communicating with clients, and screenwriter Loren-Paul Caplin demonstrated how the three acts of any good film or play — beginning, middle, and end — can be applied in the event space to create an engaged audience.
For the immersive experience’s finale, Northern asked attendees to sit in a circle around him as he discussed scalability — essentially, how to apply the core elements of lighting, design, production, and writing in planning a real event with a real budget. Cue the applause.
DESIGN THINKING: A Toolbox for Problem-Solvers — Convene
By Barbara Palmer, Director of Digital Content
The parade of Education Conference attendees who followed a string of bobbing purple balloons down the street in Midtown Manhattan barely made a ripple in crowded, colorful Times Square as we headed for a crash course in design thinking.
It was held at Convene at 117 West 46th Street, one of a growing network of meeting, event, and conference venues. The company uses design thinking — a human-centered approach to problem-solving — to set itself apart from its competition, according to presenter Joyce Bromberg, vice president of innovation and foresight for Convene (no relation to Convene magazine). “People want rooms that are not sterile, that have a point of view, and that are fun, engaging, and perhaps provide a little bit of inspiration,” Bromberg has said.
Design thinking is more than a way of thinking about user experience, it’s also a set of tools. Bromberg led the group as they practiced some of them — interviewing one another, observing behavior in photographs and videos, looking for patterns, and synthesizing — all with the goal of stepping outside of their own biases and into the shoes of others.