When I caught up with Claire Smith, vice president of sales and marketing at the Vancouver Convention Centre, in November, she was focused on one of the most serious challenges facing meetings today. “I think we have to let go of trying to control our delegates,” Smith told me. “Meetings tend to be overly structured. We have to allow [attendees] to interact with the meeting in ways that will matter to them.”
Fast forward to today, the official opening day of Convening Leaders 2016, and Smith and her team have launched a solution: the Workspring Active Learning and Work Space on level two. The area used to be a standard prefunction space, occasionally hosting coffee breaks during conventions — but otherwise, it was relatively unused. Now, it’s a hub of next-generation convention center design.
“We looked at the space that was underutilized and asked ourselves three key questions,” Smith said. “How can we make it functional? How can we make it monetizable? How can we create a better experience for the delegates who are here?”
Now, high-back, café-style booths create a semi-private feel for intimate conversations. Fully-wired work stations offer easy places for attendees to plug in and manage workloads while they’re away from their offices. Down the hall, Workspring even created a private boardroom, flooded with natural light and dotted with plants, that features a spectacular view of the city. It feels more like a comfortable home office than a convention-center hallway.
A LESSON FROM TED
“This idea was really born out of TED,” Smith said, referring to the annual five-day conference, also at the Vancouver Convention Centre, that tackles big global issues. “The people who attend TED are influencers, and they’re in high demand. Many of them were leaving the meeting to return to their hotels to finish work, so Steelcase and TED joined together to make it comfortable, safe, and inviting to work in the meeting environment.”
Smith and her team loved the space so much that they launched a partnership with Workspring to create a sample of the possibilities for other meetings. TED may feature a ‘who’s who’ cast of global thinkers — Bill Gates and Al Gore are regular attendees — but other meetings face the same challenge: When attendees want to do business together, they head to bars, cafés and hotels, instead of staying on-site.
“The furniture and the layout of the area are all designed to make attendees feel like they can accomplish everything they come to a convention to do, without having to leave the center,” Smith said.
The area was also designed to offer meeting planners assistance in securing more financial support. “We wanted to create sponsorship opportunities for meeting planners,” Smith said. Prominent dividers between areas, and within the private boardroom, give planners prime real estate to sell to companies looking for bigger brand awareness.
“What’s great about kicking this off at PCMA is that now we can introduce potential clients to how this space can create an impact at their own meetings,” Smith said. “How can you brand it? How can your sponsors utilize it? How can it enhance your revenue? How can it enhance the attendee experience, and how can it keep people on-site? Convening Leaders will give planners a chance to think about how they can leverage this environment.”
Read more about the space at pcma.org.