'Experience Creation' May Be Key in Designing Meeting Room of Future

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"One hard-to-miss trend is the push toward more 'creative' and 'flexible' meeting spaces that mix individual and group areas and allow for different modes of learning. In practice, this can look like a modern shared-office setup like WeWork...

"[In addition,] 75% of respondents said they had equipment in most of their meeting rooms that allowed the rooms to be used in flexible ways. The desire for flexible spaces is even leading to the use of more lounge-like furniture, including armchairs and couches."

Those quotes come from an Associations Now article last week about a recent IACC survey report titled Meeting Room of the Future. Interestingly, the SIPA Forum conversation that dominated Friday focused on event spaces and those same new trends.

Jeff Grizell, director of FDAnews/CenterWatch, suggested that in any "under-utilized areas [to] have the hotel move casual couches and occasional chairs and tables to make conversation areas or 'pits.'" Kathy Greenler Sexton, CEO and publisher, Subscription Insider, said that it's always good to "work with your venue to understand types of seating and room options you have... Whatever option you choose, make the room 'look' full as perception is important!"

"We prefer to use dedicated executive briefing centers (EBC) with tiered, theater style seating," wrote Jeff Parker of Directions on Microsoft. "For our size event, we've found EBCs are dramatically more efficient in terms of cost and logistics."

Here are 8 takeaways from Meeting Room of the Future:

Create a new experience. Almost 60% of venue operators believed their role was to offer "experience creation" assistance to meeting planners, which was up slightly from the year prior. "As power continues to shift to participants (albeit still with a very high percentage still advocating their role in this area being important), venue operators are seemingly relying more on meeting planners to provide the 'experience creation' element," the report stated.

Use themes local to your destination. The elements offered most by venue operators to assist with "experience creation" are: Creative meeting rooms (77%); themed food and beverage (71%); outdoor meeting rooms/spaces (69%); ice breakers (66%); team building (58%). Ellen Sinclair of Benchmark, a Global Hospitality Company, says, "In creating memorable meeting experiences, venues, suppliers and planners alike see a desire by participants to 'act like a local' and in turn are including a taste of the destination/location of the venue in their meeting elements, especially food and beverage offerings."

Look for flexible spaces. "Effectively switching between the three different modes of learning—auditory, visual and collaborative—is best supported with active learning spaces that support easy movement and reconfiguration without interruption." Suppliers named flexible, "non-traditional" meeting room furniture as one of the biggest trends in meeting space development and design.

Look for natural light when possible and some room to maneuver. Designing spaces that incorporate color and natural light, as well as encourage movement in both sessions and throughout the day are proven to increase participant engagement and creativity and provide higher ROI to meeting owners. I recently held a meeting for about 20 in a New York City high-rise room that had a big window and space to move around—both contributed to very good networking before the meeting and during breaks.

Look for under-used spaces in your venue. According to the study, activating under-used or third spaces, such as foyers, hallways and atriums into work cafes and networking lounges is a great opportunity to increase collaboration and build trust among participants. They also provide great touchdown spaces for participants to do a quick check in at home or work and then return to the meeting more productive and engaged.

Consider varied furniture. When asked what types of furniture they are incorporating to help facilitate collaboration and flexibility, operators most often mentioned: 1. Lounge furniture (couches, armchairs, soft-seating); 2. A variety in tables and seating; 3. Furniture with wheels; 4. Foldable tables; and 5. Lightweight furniture for easy mobility. Venues report a rise in providing seating styles which help create a fireside chat environment, opening viewing angles and supporting multiple content.

Enable attendees to share information. Screen-sharing technologies advance attendees to easily share content from their smartphones, tablets and laptops instantly without interruptions to the meeting. Clickshare offers one click content sharing across all the different platforms.

Be forward-thinking for your food and drink choices. Most venues (80%) now offer continuous refreshment break services. "This year, more venue operators agreed with the phrase on sustainability and sustainable practices regarding their food and beverage offerings. Venues are aware of the high value placed on sustainability by incoming generations."

You can download the complete survey here.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…