An Immersive Experience in Meeting Redesign

ASAE’s new Xperience Design Project (XDP) May 23-24 immersed more than a thousand participants in innovative ideas to redesign their association’s events in a new era of experiences.

A large ballroom can be much more than a place to gather everyone for general sessions. It can be redesigned to function as both central gathering place and space to host five simultaneous learning experiences. At XDP, a dramatic central stage served as the hub with five projections like spokes serving as stages for each learning zone.  Seating was a showcase of different types of sofas and chairs and conference tables as well as some traditional rounds. To prevent a Tower of Babel effect, participants used tiny AM/FM radio headsets to tune into presentations in each learning zone.

A fast-paced day kept the focus on peer-to-peer learning and problem-solving, occasionally punctuated with main stage presentations. Content leaders in each zone provided the big ideas and exercises for table teams as they rotated through three of five learning zones (location, experience, technology, learning and marketing).

Each participant received a highly-visual XDP playbook that was part manifesto, program book, workbook and marketing showcase. Naturally XDP featured a mobile app, but the playbook re-imagined print as an engaging alternative to paperless conferences.

The second day featured a recap of co-created ideas from each of the five learning zones. That afternoon what might have been an exhibit hall was redesigned as speed dating by appointment in 20 minute intervals. Participants didn’t roam the hall; they met by design and purpose. 

For news stories about XDP and some of the specific ideas shared, see Associations Now.

I acted as one of more than 100 table team leaders helping facilitate XDP. This role gave me a better view into the extensive preparations ASAE put into radically redesigning a large scale learning experience. ASAE did a smaller-scale pilot to test the concept and work out some of the challenges before launching the meeting. We table facilitators had at least two webinar briefings on how to act as guides into this new experience. ASAE also did a webinar for participants to help them get the most from this very different experience.

Some participants might overlook all this upfront design and miss the main point of this Xperience Design Project. It was much more than innovative staging and visual glitz. ASAE designed this event from start to finish and did the hard work to create a learning laboratory for us. XDP was so much more than tinkering around the edges or some innovative improvements.

Some ideas didn’t work out as hoped, humans being humans with decades of expectations about how to behave in conferences. I am also not sure how well every participant’s objectives were met, which is the ultimate test of ROI. It’s even probable many left with more unanswered questions than solutions they could implement immediately. That might be an important sign of success.

 An immersive learning experience is successful when it shakes up old thinking and clears the way for new possibilities. XDP will have lots of people thinking in new ways about the experiences they design.