Here are eight ideas to steal from the ambitious annual conference.
1. Break the mold. The opening general session of Convening Leaders usually includes a discussion of the organization’s business followed by a keynoter. But this year, organizers moved PCMA business to a separate town meeting and instead scheduled three short, 20-minute keynotes—from developmental molecular biologist Dr. John Medina, game developer Jane McGonigal, and author Sally Hogshead—into the 75-minute opening slot.
2. Continue the conversation. PCMA had five “continue the conversation” sessions on the agenda. These follow-on informal discussions after keynotes allowed interested attendees to share their thoughts and questions and to dive deeper into the material.
3. Chunk your info. In his short keynote, Medina, author of Brain Rules, explained that the brain takes in information for a discrete period of time and then needs time to digest it. Information, he said, is best processed in 10-minute chunks. That concept dovetailed with Convening Leaders’ Learning Lounge, a comfortable educational hub with informal conversation areas, a product demo area, and four stages that hosted 150 sessions. Many of the sessions were just 15 minutes long.
4. Break the mold, part II. Who says every session has to be the same length? At Convening Leaders, sessions ran 15, 30, 60, and 90 minutes (some even longer). Once they adjusted to asynchronous sessions, many attendees said they liked having the flexibility to build their own schedules. PCMA president and CEO Deborah Sexton admitted that PCMA took some chances, but added that it has to be on the leading edge of meeting trends. “We’re very fortunate that our members allow us to take risks,” she said. “If members leave here excited about trying something new, changing it up, that’s what it’s all about.”
5. Remote control. Ever wanted a speaker who couldn’t or wouldn’t travel to your event? PCMA showed attendees how to rethink that situation when game developer Jane McGonigal presented her talk remotely via Skype, a first at a PCMA general session.
6. Sponsorship innovation. As meetings evolve, so do the opportunities for sponsorship. Ottawa Tourism and the Ottawa Convention Center, for example, sponsored Convening Leaders’ Monday night tweetup. A tweetup, for the uninitiated, is a face-to-face event for people who normally connect through Twitter. PCMA held the popular event at Redfield’s, a sports bar at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
7. Bring on the iconoclasts. Keynote speaker Richard Saul Wurman may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but the cranky, fearless individual who created (and later sold) the TED Conference generated lots of conversation at Convening Leaders. “I invented the TED Conference by subtraction,” he said. He eliminated things he didn’t like about meetings, including panel discussions; business attire, especially ties; and lecterns, because they give speakers something to hide behind and hold their prepared remarks. “Who wants to be read to?” he said. And when Wurman gives speeches, he never starts until people sit in the front rows. As soon as he walked on stage in San Diego, he asked for the lights to be turned down so he could see the audience. “They sound like funny little details, but meetings are made up of so many small things,” he said. “Every little detail is important to me.”
8. Informal but not unstructured. PCMA’s eight Really Live Chat Rooms (a play on online chats) were another opportunity for attendees who learn best by talking things over. People gathered in the Chat section of the Learning Lounge, where they viewed brief videos and then related what they’d viewed to their own challenges and brainstormed solutions in facilitated, face-to-face discussions on topics such as “Designing for 21st Century Learning.”
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