Meetings & Your Brain

How Meeting Environments Affect Engagement

"Space," according to Velvet Chainsaw's Jeff Hurt," is the body language of your conference. Your room set tells your audience how to behave."

Earlier this year, Jeff demonstrated what he means by that at one of the most well-attended, talked-about sessions at 2013 Convening Leaders: “Brain Candy: Your Experimental Meetings Laboratory.” At the session, attendees rotated through four different room sets, noting and sharing their impressions of the impact the environment had on interaction.

PCMA’s Technology Think Tank, held  in Vancouver last month, offered a real-world example of how rooms sets can be used to achieve different ends. The meeting room, shown above, was divided in half. One end was set in rounds, with screens for remote presentations and space for a facilitator placed up front. The other half of the room was set in armchairs and sofas, arranged in a long rectangle.

If the more formal set-up could have talked, it would have said, “Interact with others, but pay particular attention to the front of the room.”  The round tables promoted discussion, but the environment emphasized the expertise of the presenters.

But when participants moved to the sofas and arm chairs, the mood and expectations shifted. That space invited participants to relax and make themselves comfortable, and participants did just that. Conversations were informal, and the distinctions between learners and experts melted away.

Priscilla Noland, senior meeting planner for Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, left, and Wendy Surkan, Tourism Vancouver, get comfortable.

What struck me was how well the two worked together — I don’t think either one alone would have been as effective. I was also impressed with the attention to detail from the Vancouver Convention Centre, which placed pillows and fuzzy throws on the sofas, and casual bunches of flowers on the tables.

The think tank gathered together a small group — about 24 people —  who had shared interests,  but I can’t help but think that the cozy environment contributed to the level of trust in the group, which was considerable. I heard more than one participant say that they had never so openly shared problems and solutions around meeting technology.


Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.