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Stacey Thorp
Stacey Thorp

Senior Executive Producer

FreemanXP

The strategy behind PCMA’s Convening Leaders general session room flip

General session image courtesy of PCMA/photographer Jacob Slaton.

Editor's Note: As we head into another PCMA Convening Leaders, we wanted to once again share some insight on how to effectively use meeting space based on what we learned at the Vancouver event. Enjoy! 

On days one and two of PCMA Convening Leaders, the hallways outside the general session room at the Vancouver Convention Centre were abuzz with anticipation as attendees waited for their upcoming education sessions to begin. It was an unusual — but not impossible — challenge: converting an enormous, fully AV-equipped ballroom designed to seat 3,400 guests into two smaller breakout rooms, each intended to accommodate 1,100 meeting professionals in just one hour.

Why change the space? PCMA wanted to focus on transparency as an overall part of Convening Leaders, creating more visual appeal and driving engagement for an audience that is naturally interested in what’s going on behind the scenes. Instead of just hearing about ideas in sessions, attendees could witness their application first-hand. PCMA also wanted to create increased networking opportunities and manage the flow of the event to keep things lively and interesting.

“We realized that if you keep people together, there’s more energy, more connections, and you can find people a little easier,” explained Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, senior vice president of education and events for PCMA. “In order to do that, we needed to turn our general session into two smaller rooms.”

So how did PCMA see their vision through to fruition? Here are a few steps that helped them make the most efficient use of a single space.

1) Get everyone on the same page. PCMA and Freeman started the planning process several months in advance. As developments were made and challenges were realized, the organizations stayed in constant contact to ensure success looked them same from both perspectives.

2) Be practical with your plan and resources. “The design of the seating and the placement of the staging really have to factor into your thought process,” said Peacy. “We put our stage on one end, so far over, in fact, that much of the equipment behind the scenes was located in the open-space foyer.”

Consideration was also taken when choosing AV and installation methods for the concurrent education sessions. Instead of opting to rig equipment from the ceiling, and then lowering it into place during intermissions, it was more efficient and cost-effective to hide ground-supported equipment in service hallways and at the back of the ballroom behind black drape.

3) Communication is key. Permission from the venue is essential, but you also need buy in from every team involved in the changeover. Prepping the presenters for the transition is important as well, and at PCMA that was made virtually effortless with the use of a presentation management system which allowed the speakers to easily upload and make last minute changes to their presentations. And don’t forget audiences — letting them know what’s happening and why really helps to get them in and out of the meeting space during transitions quickly!

4) Practice, practice, practice. All teams involved in the room conversion went through three complete room conversion run-throughs on the Sunday afternoon prior to Convening Leaders. They even factored in elements outside of their control, like the length of time it would take attendees to clear out of the general session room and reenter the breakout rooms, as well as the amount of cleaning necessary between live room changes.

Designing your event to produce your desired outcomes sometimes requires thinking outside of the box, and by breaking free of the four-wall event environment mindset and letting your event objectives guide your design strategy like PCMA, you can design an event that provides the best attendee experience, boosts engagement, and fully meets your event objectives.

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