I stopped short as I entered Room 307 of the Orlando Orange County Convention Center.  I had high expectations for a session called “Brain Candy—Your Experimental Meetings Laboratory” run by adult education expert Jeff Hurt, but I had never seen a meeting room like this before: four different room sets and a temporary stage in the middle of the room and at least four screens. Katy Perry was playing in the background.

For the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders conference in January—for most any meeting for that matter—this was way outside the box. One area had lounge chairs and comfy couches; another had two rows of chairs facing each other that I found out later Jeff calls “eyebrows”;  a third was set café-style, with small round tables and two or three chairs at each; and finally a group of two six-foot, classroom-style tables facing each other, with three seats on either side and one at each end (a form of a set called a pod). I chose one of those, thinking I would have the best view of the speaker.

As it turned out, the entire session was a “station rotation.” Jeff, executive vice president of education and engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, had us move from set to set, doing interactive exercises within our groups to talk about how each made us feel, how we thought learning could be fostered through the room set with our own conference audiences, and what the ramifications would be if we introduced something so new and different (keeping AV budgets and setup costs, etc., in mind). I think it was one of the best sessions I’ve ever attended at a meetings industry convention.

I learned the term “andragogy” means the methods or techniques used to teach adults. I jotted down some of Jeff’s gems: “Space is the body language of your conference.” “Memory is the residual of learning.” “In learning, movement trumps sitting.”

He’s right. I remember every room set I tried and the conversations around them, and I can’t wait to try one or more at our Pharma Forum event coming up in March.

The next day I attended a session called “Using Science to Design Effective Meetings,”  and there were probably a dozen other meeting design sessions. Kudos to PCMA for being on the cutting edge and taking risks throughout the conference.

And while we’re on the subject of thought-provoking and forward-thinking organizations, congratulations to ICCA, the International Convention and Congress Association, for celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Some Rutgers University educators took risks and broke some rules for their conference last year, and they should be celebrated for their meeting design, too.

Do you have an interesting meeting format or design that you've tried? Maybe it was a success, or maybe it wasn't, but please comment below or share on our Association Meetings LinkedIn group the kinds of risks you're taking in conference planning so we can all learn from our experiences.