Several new twists are in store at Meeting Professionals International’s Professional Education Conference/North America, starting with the date.

The 2008 PEC will be held February 2 to 5 in Houston, a change from the traditional January conference date. And this year, MPI will also try a new start date for the trade show—Monday, February 4. The show typically starts after the opening general session on Sunday.

In an effort to improve the trade show experience, MPI is changing the layout of the exhibit hall. One innovation is something MPI calls “conversation spots,” freestanding circular plexiglass towers that are divided into quadrants and placed in high-profile spots around the exhibit hall. The idea is to provide a more intimate meeting area for exhibitors and attendees than they normally find on the trade show floor.

With a conference theme of “MeetDifferent,” organizers have tinkered with more than just the trade show format. New concepts include

  • the “Conversation Café”—a learning environment based on a coffee shop;
  • “book clubs”—discussions led by book authors and subject matter authorities;
  • wikis—each educational session will have its own wiki pages to encourage pre- and post-session communication and collaboration; and
  • educational sessions in “soft seating” or lounge-style meeting environments.
  • Most educational sessions—there are more than 80 in all—will eschew a traditional classroom setting and be held in the round to facilitate interactive learning and discussion.

    The opening general session will feature keynote speaker Tim Sanders. The former business development officer of Broadcast.com and chief development officer of Yahoo!, Sanders is also a best-selling author who addresses issues of corporate social responsibility in his upcoming book, How to Save the World at Work.