By Hunter Clemens, CAE, CMP, Vice President Meetings Management Group (MMG)
Imagine being greeted at every turn along the way as you enter the venue hosting an event you are attending and being met with your badge, and then escorted to the coat check, and then to the room in which your meeting is being held. That is exactly what happened when I had the privilege to attend the American Society of Association Executive’s (ASAE) pilot of the Xperience Design Project, or XDP, this past December. This was a much smaller setting than the larger experience being designed for this coming May. Once we entered the main session room there was an immediate sense of energy unlike any event I’ve recently attended. Granted, we were a group of professionals that, for the most part, know one another, but it was the sounds, the smells and the lighting/atmosphere that enhanced the beginning of this event experience. I have written in the past that meeting professionals no longer just plan events; they now design experiences. The XDP was truly a well designed experience.
The main session room was set with a central stage in the round with round tables of eight set around the room. I was escorted to my pre-assigned table (based upon my interests in the topics being discussed from a pre-event survey) and introduced to my tablemates. There were danish and croissants in the center of the table on a lazy-susan with additional food and beverage stations set around the perimeter of the room. As I greeted industry friends along the way, I quickly grabbed a cup of coffee and a healthy breakfast and headed back to my table.
The room or “Lab” was divided into the following areas or “zones”: 1) Marketing & Technology, 2) Experience Design & Event Innovation and 3) Content Strategy & Learning Design. Each zone had a subject matter expert to speak on their topic. There were two tables per zone and each table was assigned a facilitator who served as an ambassador and stayed with us throughout this part of the day. Throughout this portion of the program, each set of tables moved to a different zone where we met with an industry expert. While the industry expert discussed their topic, the facilitator helped keep the conversation on track and made certain that each person was given an opportunity to participate (respecting that some were introverts) in the topic being discussed.
The conversations were lively and we quickly realized that there was a great deal to learn from one another. In some instances, we were given scenarios and/or problems to solve. At a mid-point in each discussion, two members from each table in a topic area would swap tables. This allowed for a cross-pollination of ideas between the tables. The industry expert would then get a report from each table and summarize our learnings on the topic.
The food selected and served throughout the morning and early afternoon of the learning sessions was healthy, energizing and served in smaller portions with the intent to help avoid the after-lunch slump. The focus was on five small meals throughout the day rather than two large meals.
After all groups had the opportunity to learn in each topic area, the industry experts participated in a “lightening round and close-out” where each gave a recap of what was learned from all of the participants.
After a 30 minute break we went into the business exchange for pre-scheduled appointments and/or brief “accelerator labs”. The appointments were highly productive and the accelerator labs were an opportunity to shake up your thinking about events through the lens of the corporate world.
Next we moved into the “Surprise and Delight Experience” where the participants were divided into two groups. One group was tasked with creating a scent for XDP while the other group met to design a signature cocktail for XDP. Within those two sessions several teams in each group competed to create and market their scent or cocktail. The electricity and creativity were truly flowing in these two sessions as co-creation took place.
Finally the event culminated with a closeout that announced the winning scent and cocktail and summarized key learnings and take-aways from the participants. And, to top it all off, the experience ended on a musical note with a co-created XDP song that the audience learned and sang along to with Jonathan Mann, the song’s creator. As I walked away from the event, I realized that I had just participated in a highly collaborative learning experience that left me feeling like I could not wait until May 23 – 24, 2017 for the first full Xperience Design Project. See you there!