How To Use Your Meeting Space To Create An Ownership Experience

From Above

Have you ever been in an Apple Store?

They are bright, open spaces with lofty ceilings, sleek design and great technology to play with at your fingertips. They offer a variety of services from the private one-on-one Genius Bar consultations to how-to classes to events to roving staff that are more like personal assistants than sales clerks.

What’s interesting about Apple Stores is that the space and their services are inseparable. You can’t describe the Apple Store by just describing the floor plan and architecture. When describing it, you have to discuss the services as well. The space and the services are joined at the hip.

Central to the Apple Stores success is that they provide a face-to-face forum to discuss music, photography, video, children’s games and software, and home and small business computing. It’s less about the computer and more about providing solutions to people’s everyday problems.

Creating An Ownership Experience

When the first Apple store opened only one-fourth of the store was about product. The remaining three-fourths were designed around interests and solving problems. The right wall was about photos, videos and kids. On the left was problems. The back contained the Genius Bar based on the concept of a hotel’s concierge desk.

According to Ronald Johnson, former senior vice president of Apple’s retail operations, the store’s original concept was based on creating the friendliness of a five-star hotel and the addition of a hotel bar. However, the Genius bartenders dispensed advice instead of alcohol.

The goal of Apple’s retail stores was to create a place that welcomed everyone and where everyone belonged. The staging of the store was based on helping others; space for one-on-one help with experts, theaters for learning and friendly people offering assistance.

Johnson and Steve Jobs didn’t design the store around selling, buying or consuming something. Instead, they built it around the customer’s life. They built it around creating an ownership experience.

They also wanted the retail store to feel like a public space, similar to a public library. They wanted the store to be about a series of experiences that make it the store.

Seeing Meeting Space As Learning Space

Meeting professionals can learn a lot about creating an ownership experience and designing learning spaces from Apple’s stores.

1. The space and the service (learning experiences) are intertwined.

First, the space and the service (providing learning experiences) need to go hand in hand. You can’t think of one without thinking of the other. Most of the time, meeting professionals fill large open spaces and pre-convene areas with kiosks, booths, registration and sponsors. The focus is on the right amount of marketing services, stakeholder advertising and space. Instead meeting professionals should think about creating learning experiences within those spaces first.

2. The focus is on providing informal, almost spontaneous, learning experiences.

Apple provides experts, helps desks, hands-on technology to play with, theaters, short classes and roving employees that are they to help, not sell. The store is buzzing with activity and noise and everyone is engaged in some way. Activity is based on personal interests and solutions to problems. It’s all about informal learning experiences.

3. Anyone can enter the experience at any time and participate.

Just like a public library, the space should be open, free flowing and comfortable for an 80 year old grandmother and a 21 year-old Millennial. Once you enter, you feel like you’re part of the community. You belong.

4. The experience fosters an optimistic can-do attitude and attracts others with similar beliefs.

One of the biggest differences in Apple stores is that the community embraces a strong feeling “of what can be.” It’s not full of naysayers and skeptics. It’s full of believers that embrace they can make something happen.

Meeting professionals can foster the same by empowering team members to be available in the space to help, direct and keep upbeat attitudes. Short presentations, hands-on classes and personal advice promote the “what can be” attitude.

5. Customization and personalization are key.

Anyone entering the space can quickly customize and personalize their experience based on their own interests, needs or problems. It’s not a one-size fits all experience like most conference education sessions.

6. The integration of space and learning experiences help build community and loyalty while helping customers be more productive.

PCMA’s Learning Lounge was built upon these very principles. The space is used to create an ownership experience with a series of smaller learning events tied together.

What do meeting professionals need to know and understand before they can create attendee ownership experiences? What would you add to this list about the integration of space and learning experiences from Apple Retail Stores and applying them at conferences and events?

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  1. Adrian Segar says:

    Jeff, I love the connections you’ve made between the ownership environment of a learning space and the design of Apple Stores. It explains a lot about why the latter are so successful, both in user satisfaction and sales/sq ft (highest of any retail spaces in the world I believe).

    One item I’d add is that, in my experience, Apple always provides an acceptable (or higher) level of responsiveness to customer needs in its stores. If you want to talk to a staff member you can find one who’s free; if you need something fixed, their appointment system lets you know exactly when you can talk to a Genius. How many events have we been to where we’re ready to engage, say with a vendor, but there’s no one at the booth or the rep is disinterested or overloaded? Providing this kind of responsive staffing is challenging, but necessary to create the kind of experience and successful learning you describe.

  2. Beth Brooks says:

    Great post — exactly the concept that TSAE rolled out last September at our annual meeting. The days of a general session followed by a coffee break, then breakout sessions have been replaced by learning at all times, in all places. We have purposely created talking/interacting areas and we had the CEO Genius Bar. Planning a meeting has never been more fun with ideas like these! You can get creative ideas for your meeting by learning from companies like Apple and Starbucks, TV shows and from your travels.

  3. […] of us will agree that Apple stores generally cultivate a positive shopping and learning experience. Jeff Hurt uses this analogy to explain how your association’s meeting space should be equally …. The space should focus on learning and intertwine service […]

  4. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    Yes, and …

    1. Everyone reading this MUST ensure hotels, hotel builders and designers, and convention centers and conference centers read this. Some spaces are just .. blech and blah.. or is it meh or feh?

    2. Make sure ownership is for all – that is, accessible in every sense of the word, and that everyone feels welcome so that they can and will be a true learning space for all.

    Sometimes we forget that not everyone is “us”!

    Thanks, Jeff, dear!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion. And thank you for being the maverick that you are challenging all of us to a higher standard.

  5. […] Jeff Hurt advocates to shape meeting space as learning space. The space should be open, free flowing and comfortable (…) once you enter, you feel like you’re … […]

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