Not long ago, the biggest reason attendees came to an annual meeting was for information exchange.
Now that technology delivers the latest information to everyone’s fingertips, however, the main driver of meeting attendance has become the opportunity to network and build connection with peers, colleagues, associates and leaders in one’s field.
Event organizers are responding by creating networking opportunities that extend well beyond receptions and cocktail hours. And in this pursuit, convention center public spaces have never been in more demand—a fact that convention-center designers and retrofitters should keep very much in mind, says Kirsten Olean, CMP, director of meetings for the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). “We’re going to see more and more need for social gathering places outside the formal meeting spaces at convention centers,” predicts Olean.
She notes that ASM Microbe 2016, which was held in June at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, tapped just about every nook and cranny of available public space for networking opportunities.
For example, “hub” areas for each of the meeting’s educational tracks were set up in public spaces around the convention center. Here, attendees could recharge their devices, have a cup of coffee and tune in to short presentations related to their particular field. Ocean says the hub areas were designed for attendees to find their “community” at the conference, which attracted about 10,000 attendees involved in the spectrum of microbiology.
Here’s a look at four other ways to creatively use public spaces at convention centers:
- Reimagine hallways and foyers as more than just places to move through to get somewhere else. Why not set up a Meet the Speaker booth, a bookstore or tech-help center?
- Commandeer a quiet area, perhaps a large breakout room, and set up a yoga or wellness center. Or you can use temporary partitioning and some simple noise-dampening techniques to create these spaces in public areas.
- Set up a specialty food and beverage area, perhaps showcasing local specialties. Be sure to offer comfy seating and excellent Wi-Fi accessibility.
- Don’t be afraid to let your attendees outside; people need a breath of fresh air. Set up a creative F&B space in an outdoor plaza, or feature a local jazz ensemble. Some centers have unusual outdoor spaces like rooftop gardens or riverside parks that you can take advantage of, weather permitting.