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Meeting Innovation: PCMA’s Learning Lounge

What comes to mind when someone says – Learning Lounge?

For me, I think of a sterile library-like-space with few people, little noise and empty chairs. I’m extremely pleased to tell you that PCMA‘s Learning Lounge was anything but. It was noisy, engaging and full of life!

This experimental idea gave us a glimpse into the Future of Meetings. It showed us new ways to include and engage a large number of attendees. And, showed us how we could incorporate the back of stage into our event experiences.

Luckily I brought my Flip Camera and made a short video. Have a look.

5 things that I liked about the Learning Lounge:

  1. The format gave approximately 100 additional attendees an opportunity to share ideas and expertise with their peers.
  2. The open space allowed you to “sample” a bunch of ideas and move between theaters very quickly.
  3. The interview studio sessions were recorded and broadcast on the internet allowing people at home to participate as well.
  4. The use of 3D structures and décor created intimate spaces out of a huge open space.
  5. Having the Learning Lounge right next to the general session helped people arrive early, network, learn and get excited before the general session started.

Bottom Line

PCMA’s Learning Lounge was a high-energy, high traffic space that gave a bunch of attendees an opportunity to participate in the event. This is an idea that you should consider for your next meeting or event.

Have you experienced anything like PCMA’s Learning Lounge before? Have you tried anything similar in your own events? And, if you were at PCMA last week – what did you think of the Learning Lounge?

PS. This is a perfect example of Wish #2 coming to life!

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. I was very grateful to Dave & Jeff and PCMA for making this happen. We have to get others to DEMAND these kinds of environments and deliveries.

    What surprises me, Sam, is what you thought it would/could be! Is out our age difference?! I envisioned a less tech environment .. comfortable, with soft lighting, couches, arm chairs – a place to curl up and share ideas at a few times. I thought art on the walls .. windows .. openness. [Note: we did have those spaces in the meeting space and they were bitter cold and not marketed.]

    As examples, the first year (of only 3) PCMA did bookclub sessions, Bill Host & I arranged the entire environment: it was in the Sheraton Seattle in a new meeting room with windows on 2 sides (or was it 3?), cocktail tables (with flowers on the tables), some soft seating. We brought posters that I’d had made of blow ups of the exercises Dan Pink had done from “A Whole New Mind” for the walls. We had cookies, coffee, tea, hot chocolate. It was wonderful!
    The following year, we were in a neat museum. The next one (in NOLA) we were in a restaurant bec. the book was about NOLA’s food by a food critic. We even had a tasting of the foods! Ummmm.

    Here’s the thing: we designed these for small groups (25 or fewer) and PCMA deemed these ‘failures’because of the time it took to plan them, I guess.

    They became experiential because we did go out of the convention center and tied what we did to the books and used the environments.

    How can we take the concepts from 2011 and those Bill & I did .. the non-sterile environment (see below for one that two of us keep proposing that goes nowhere)and make these more of a reality all the time?

    (I also think of the women in the industry group that meets in March – and has for 6 years and how we use the spaces – talking near a fireplace, sitting outside under trees when the weather permits, lingering over morning coffee in another room with a fireplace and replicate that.)

    Other idea: Some of the industry lawyers and I want to do a mock trial (which we did at PCMA years ago) and do it in a courtroom to give participants a REAL feel of what the consequences can be from “deals gone bad.”

    We know it takes time and some expense to do different things. Can we (the industry, PCMA, etc.) afford not to have experiential learning and the oppty. to expose people to ideas and environments to stimulate their brains?

    I don’t want to die before this happens!

    January 17, 2011
    • Hi Joan,

      I don’t know why I didn’t envision a space like yours for the learning lounge! Your space sounds like a blast! I guess that I used to see these types of things in europe and they were always lame.

      It sounds like the Mock Trial should be a candidate for Event Camp Twin Cities 2011. We will have to talk details.

      Finally. I don’t think that the industry can afford to not expose people to new ideas and environments. If they don’t do it – someone else will do it and take their place.

      January 18, 2011
  2. Hey Sam & Joan!

    Excellent video Sam! I think you may have missed your calling!

    I love the idea of the Learning Lounge. It looks like it was a beehive of activity. But one thing I was struck by was its tradeshow atmosphere.

    Personally, I have a hard time concentrating when there’s a ton of noise and stuff going on around me. To me, Joan’s ideas sound like a great way to improve it.

    Thanks again for a thought-provoking post!

    January 17, 2011
    • Hi Jenise,

      Thanks for the compliments, Jenise. It’s amazing what you can do with an HD Flip cam and MacBook Pro.

      Your observation about the tradeshow atmosphere is a good one. I think you are going to see spaces like this evolve toward the “new” museum style format. Think Coke Museum in Atlanta. There will be content zones that are marked, branded and themed uniquely. This will give people several visual cues to help with wayfinding and engagement. That’s what I see in the crystal ball anyway…

      January 18, 2011
      • Very interesting! That is such an astute observation Jenise. If I wasn’t there and watched the video I would think the same exact thing 🙂
        Believe it or not, while in the Learning Lounge Theatres, it didn’t feel like a tradeshow at all. They did the most amazing job of constructing the hives so there was no ambient noise. While presenting, I couldn’t even hear the speaker in the booth right next to me. Amazing usage of fabric and space design!! There was the great opportunity to duck into a theatre space, or remain in the general networking hum outside of each learning area. I hope you get to join us next time!!

        January 18, 2011
  3. Great video Sam. As one who was SUPER jealous to not have
    been at PCMA this year, it is so refreshing to see and hear that
    some segment of our industry is trying to change the game, and in
    successful and yet-to-be successful way learning what the future of
    education at conferences will look like. This problem has bothered
    me for years at industry events (see
    and its previous post). Why is it that in an experiential industry
    we are so terrible at creating engaging, interactive experiences
    for our own education? Personally, I think a big part of the
    problem is that we are all invested in creating meetings and events
    for our clients while the future of our business is creating
    experiences for our audiences. It is a fine line and of coarse in
    every event you think about the audience, but how often do we put
    the audience at the center of our decisions making? If we did so
    the comments expressed so well by Joan and Jenise would have been
    considered in the strategy of building this learning environment.
    While I believe sometimes you have to risk it and fall down, but
    fall forward by trying something in order to get the reaction
    required to create the solution which you are chasing, but he have
    to start seeing ourselves as clients, our audiences as primary and
    build environments which meet them where they are at, facilitate
    their conversations and foster their great ideas.

    January 17, 2011
    • Hi Ryan,

      I like how you used the phrase fall forward. I think that is a good way to look at innovation. Also, I think innovation in our industry will best succeed when you take it in chunks. Evolution rather than revolution. It has been my experience that clients are more willing to take on small bite-sized nuggets of change than big chunks. They try one thing – see the possibilities and missed opportunities – then take it to the next level the following year. Then to another level in year 3.

      Your point about putting attendees at the center of the experience is a good one. I think it is easy to lose sight of the attendee when you are making tradeoffs late in the process or onsite. We need to get into the habit of constantly asking ourselves – how will this benefit (or hurt) our attendee experience?

      Great comments. Thanks Ryan!

      January 18, 2011
  4. Sam,

    I love capturing the learning in video rather than lengthy text. Pictures (moving in this case) are very powerful.

    I can sum up my thoughts on PCMA 11 in two words: Lab Coats. I’ve long wanted to be a part of an event that treated the entire event as a chance to try, fail, change & succeed while sharing all along the way. PCMA accomplished that this year.

    Here’s to continued lab coat learning. Thank you (as always) for adding so much to our community.

    January 18, 2011
    • Hi Kevin!

      I love the “lab coats” analogy. I am very happy that PCMA took on the Learning Lounge and the “Back of House Exposed” concepts. Both of those were cool innovations and fun to see. I hope that others consider these ideas for their events as well.

      This was my first PCMA Convening leaders. I am already looking forward to next year and the evolution of this event. It will be fun to see.

      Thanks for doing the interview, Kevin. Your natural onscreen talent made the video look great!

      January 18, 2011
  5. As I posted on Jeff’s blog – the Learning Lounge passed the “bootie test”
    In other words, the litmus test for whether or not a programming idea is a good one or not: “How would my bottom feel if I was the one sitting in that chair for an hour, two hours, four hours?” 🙂
    I enjoyed the Learning Lounge SO much – passed the bootie test for sure!!!! And the fact that it was backstage was even more cool. Kudos to Freeman for that one…although I could feel the pain of the poor techs who are generally so much happier hiding in video land backstage 🙂
    What a great time this was.
    Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl

    January 18, 2011
    • Hi Midori,

      Thanks for both of your comments. Both were great additions. I agree with you that the backstage part was really cool. I liked how they made the screens visible in the front and the back. I thought that was cool.

      January 21, 2011
  6. Probably more than most, I was very pleased to see the
    positive reception to the Learning Lounge at PCMA’s Annual Meeting.
    The concept and many of the ideas that were realized in Las Vegas
    had been on the drawing board for at least 5 years and I’m glad
    Velvet Chainsaw helped make it happen in their own image. What
    frustrates me is that it’s taken so long for a relatively
    straightforward idea like this to see the light of day. Where would
    we be now as an industry if these ideas were supported and improved
    upon over the past five years? What other innovative ideas have
    been filed away for lack of vision, fear of failure, or any of the
    other traditional barriers to change? Hopefully, the enthusiasm
    generated about what’s possible leads to more widespread adoption
    and accelerates the pace of change that’s so desperately needed in
    this and other areas of meetings. Congrats to all involved in
    making the Learning Lounge the success it genuinely was. What’s

    January 20, 2011
    • Hi John,

      Great additions. I am sure that there are a ton of ideas out there that have not seen the light of day. I don’t feel like we have innovation labs in our industry – in the same way that we do in other industries. 3M and P&G, for example, spend billions annually where they can innovate and try new things. In the Space industry, they even have the “X prize” – a privately funded prize designed to encourage industry innovation.

      On the other hand, if we look outside of the Meetings industry toward e-learning, training & development and organizational development – you can find a lot of innovation in those spaces. I think we can learn a lot (and take a lot) from the advances over there.

      Thanks again for your comments and great questions. Like you I hope to see ideas like the Learning Lounge catch on at other events.

      January 21, 2011
  7. I facilitated a workshop on barriers to innovation in
    associations last month at Holiday Showcase in Chicago. The
    original idea was to share examples of innovation but I couldn’t
    get anyone to go on record with examples or case studies so I
    changed the focus. The workshop highlighted how innovation works in
    the for-profit world and why it doesn’t in the not-for-profit world
    and guided the participants in a brainstorming session that
    addressed barriers to innovation in four key areas: strategy;
    leadership; processes; and resources. All the output was
    transcribed and provided to the Association Forum for posting. An
    article on the experience is coming out in FORUM Magazine in March.
    There has indeed been little serious dialog about innovation in the
    association world but that may be changing. Stephanie Schall heads
    up Smith Bucklin’s Innovation Center. She wrote an article on The 4
    Qualities of an Innovative Association in last month’s Association
    Now ( Jennifer Blenkle is ASAE’s head of
    product development and Innovation. Eric Lanke of WSAE just released a white paper on Innovation in
    the association space. He and Jeff De Cagna have been trading posts
    on their respective blogs: & An online community is expected to launch
    soon. A possible conference (of course) is under discussion.
    Hopefully, some new voices will join the dialog and we can take
    things to the next level.

    January 22, 2011

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