Encouraging attendees to rethink the way that they plan and participate in meetings, Meeting Professionals International added some new and experimental twists to this year's Professional Education Conference-North America, held February 2 to 5 in Houston.

“We wanted to bring new designs and concepts to attendees and experiment with different learning formats and technology,” says Brooke Bode, manager of strategic learning experiences for MPI.

And experiment they did. Following on the recent partnership between MPI and The Masie Center & Learning Consortium, attendees had the chance to participate in a think-tank session on the future of meetings, facilitated by Bruce MacMillan, MPI president and CEO, and Elliott Masie, futurist and CEO of The Masie Center. This session drew more than 100 people to brainstorm and design what meetings might look like down the road.

The conference also featured a “game design lab.” Six students from Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., were on site to develop two short, Web-based learning games on the meetings industry. Attendees provided feedback on the games as well as perspectives on the industry.

Perhaps MPI's biggest experiment was changing the traditional conference format. On day two, attendees participated in open-space sessions; a technology “playground,” where tech providers offered demos in a nonsales environment; and a redesigned trade show floor that encouraged connections and conversation.

Bode says that attendee feedback — both anecdotally and through post-conference surveys — was “overwhelmingly positive,” so much so that MPI plans to implement successful elements from this conference across all future conferences.

Bode also notes that MPI is working on taking the “Meet Different” theme further by disseminating post-conference information through its Web site. In addition to blogs and wikis, MPI is posting attendee podcasts from the conference, as well as a case study on what worked and what didn't at the event. “We want the learning to transcend the conference itself, so both attendees and those who couldn't attend can benefit.”