7 Ideas to Steal from PCMA Convening Leaders 2017 in Austin

EventMobi was onsite in Austin, Texas, for the Professional Convention Management Association’s (PCMA) annual conference Convening Leaders January 8-11th, along with more than 4,000 event professionals.  

This annual conference is a mainstay for most industry professionals, earning a reputation for offering some of the best education, most interesting and inspiring keynote speakers, and heralded each year for the risks they take with their space and programming design.

Here, we’ve compiled a list of seven ideas so good you should borrow for your events, from PCMA Convening Leaders 2017 #ICYMI

1) Take a page from the startup world Tech Pitch Presentations

This year, event tech vendors were invited to pitch innovative tech ideas during a tech pitch competition at Convening Leaders, similar to how entrepreneurs might pitch their business ideas to prospective investors. The vendors applied in advance, and the top eight were given five minutes to pitch their idea live on stage at the event. The winners were announced later that day. The pitch competition was a fun and exciting way to create programming, engage industry vendors, and excite attendees.

2) Surprise and delight your audienceMatt McConaughey

Conference participants still want to be WOWed at an event, and this year’s Convening Leaders’ organizers and strategic partner Austin CVB knocked the socks off all the attendees in the room when they brought out Matthew McConaughey during the opening general session before the keynote speaker even took the stage. The result was amazing because no one was expecting it. Annual conferences can be a bit tiresome year after year but adding an element of surprise will certainly get people talking. Concerned you don’t have the budget for an elaborate surprise at your next event? Don’t be. You needn’t hire a celebrity to surprise your event-goers, but being mindful of keeping a few elements off your official conference program can lead to WOW moments for attendees and reinvigorate an annual event.

3) Create opportunities for collaboration

This year’s theme of the conference was designing collaboration, and PCMA organizers incorporated that theme through the educational content but also in the session design, creating opportunities for attendees to come together and collaborate. One such way they did this was through a mini hackathon session. Once again borrowing from the tech sphere, participants were asked to get into small groups and work through specific topics, like hackers meeting to engage in collaborative computer programming. The result is a  group effort that explored a topic or answered a question. To learn more about hackathon-style sessions, read the blog post “No More Flip Charts! Why One Conference Organizer Put the Pen Down for Good”

4) Illustrate ideas and themesPainted wall

Marketers know that visuals are one of the best ways to capture attention and engage an audience. Content with related visuals receives 94% more views that content without visuals. And event planners have caught on to this trend. Over the last few years, the event industry has seen graphic artists use permanent marker to illustrate the main ideas and concepts of a keynote speech. At this year’s Convening Leaders, we saw an artist paint the conference theme on a wall, reinforcing the message and also creating conference decor — not to mention instagrammable moments!

5) Play knowledge matchmaker brain dates

I first stumbled upon the concept of brain dating at C2 Montreal, and am glad to see the Canadian company e-180 bring their brain dating concept to PCMA’s Convening Leaders this year. Brain dating involves creating an attendee profile on the brain dating site, including your areas of expertise and creating offers and requests for knowledge. Those interested in participating in brain dating can scan through the list of offers and requests and make 30-minute meetings with other conference-goers who meet their knowledge needs, allowing attendees to connect in a formal way and receive tailored advice from other attendees offering their expertise.

6) Create a menu free from common allergensAllergy menu

As someone who always has a special meal card tucked away in my conference name badge, I was confused, and then delighted to discover that I could not select “no dairy” on the PCMA registration site, and was not given a special meal card. This was no accident. PCMA created a menu for all plated meals that did not include gluten, nuts, dairy, soy, egg, or shellfish. What that meant was fewer special meal requests (there were still special meals for vegan, vegetarian and halal) and more participants being fed on time. Not only does this help make your guests with allergies feel less like the odd ones out, it also helps with flow and timing and allows guests to be intrigued by a less traditional menu!

7) Give participants a voicePost its

Holding conferences, especially association conferences, can be a platform for your members and attendees to share their thoughts. It’s also a way to gather feedback and crowdsource content from your attendees. You can collect ideas for upcoming programming in your event surveys or live polls in your event app or kick it old school by asking questions on a white board and providing post-its and speech bubble stickers for attendees to write out their thoughts for others to read. Convening Leaders’ organizers opted for both! The more feedback, the better!

Photos: Jacob Slaton, Courtesy of PCMA

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