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From the road: Observations about facilities, meetings and travel

Posted on November 07, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Observations: Meetings
Meetings happen.  Meeting planners are becoming savvier about program design and content, integrating the two with the space that can be used at the facility.  Facilities have been housing meetings for a long time and surely along the way, those who work in facilities - sales, convention services, set up staff, audio visual personnel - and speakers who provide some content for our meetings - have noticed there that there has been a change in how meetings are configured.

Is it possible that while we were honing our adult learning skills, working with training or program or sales departments to ensure that content was delivered successfully, facilities forgot to keep up? Is it possible that while we worked harder to provide a greater educational return on investment, facilities just kept setting meetings the same way?  Is it possible that AV personnel, who know the equipment is far superior to the old overheads and 35mm slide projectors, forgot that we don't need lights out in a room for an effective presentation?  Could speakers (professional and subject matter experts - SMEs - didn't realize that good adult learning, in many cases, involves interaction and using space differently?

Recently at meetings at which I was a learning facilitator (a term I prefer to 'speaker' or 'trainer'), it was interesting to see that although crescent rounds were used for all sessions, they were set in rows so that there was one neat aisle down the middle.  In almost every case, when AV was tested, the AV techs turned out the lights before it was strongly recommended that the presentation on the screen was also in the handout and it was okay if the screen were a bit washed out; that the visual learners would still be able to see and grasp the information; and that any slides on the screen that were not in the handouts would be easily seen.

Lessons Learned/Actions Possible and Taken:
I've integrated some of the actions possible and taken in the section on observations. Since we have a long way to go, I offer more:
Facilities, AV folks, and speakers: c'mon - brush up on good adult learning models.  The Foundation of Meeting Professionals International (MPI - www.mpiweb.org) long ago did studies on what makes meetings work and why people attend association annual meetings.  The information gleaned in these studies, available on the web site, still hold true and will provide insights into what meeting participants want at meetings.  The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA - www.pcma.org) has published a textbook with good learning models.  Look at web sites for the TED conference, read what Jeffrey Cufaude has written, google adult learning and see what is written.
Observe how people congregate in your facility.  Do they use the lobby and the lounge areas to meet others and have conversations?  At a group's refreshment breaks, are people hungry for more than food? Do they meet with others and talk about what they are learning or what they want to learn?  Do you provide soft or other seating in those places to enhance those experiences?

Have you talked with the fire department to see what is possible for room sets that may not be what you've always done?  Are there conversations among sales, convention services, banquet set up, revenue managers to see how to provide more space when it might enhance the learning atmosphere?
It's not one sided. There are still planners who are not familiar with good education models, preferring to set all rooms the same, not taking advantage of smaller group settings or alternative spaces.
My observations from the road, as a learning facilitator and meeting participant, tell me that we can 'get there' if we work harder.  Are you willing to join me to make the changes?


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