May 17, 2012 by Jeff Hurt
Have you ever seen a movie that starts with a fast action scene?
Immediately, you are pulled into the middle of things.
Screenwriters call this media res or in the middle of a plot. They know that they can pull their viewers into the story by placing the action at the beginning. This same principle can be applied to your conference and its space.
Conference registration areas that are easy to navigate are critical for registrants to feel safe and welcome in a space. Equally important is having them get excited by the buzz and vibe of community as soon as they enter the scene.
So often our welcome and registration areas are uncomfortably quiet and furniture is removed to accommodate large groups of people. Unfortunately, this sends an unconscious and emotional message that the conference is not well attended, lacks energy and that people are kept away from each other, not invited to connect.
Your welcome area needs activity, energy and music rather than a large massive empty space. That helps your registrants understand the culture of your conference. Then they know that they are to be participants and not just mere passive consumers of the experience.
How do you do that? By providing areas for people to lounge, connect and network with each other. By offering some high-energy participatory, hands-on activities. Think about a carnival midway. As soon as you enter the fair, there is an immediate invitation to dive in and participate.
You don’t want to overdo it. Too much activity or crowds of long lines can also be a deterrent.
Transitions are important as well. Let your customers feel the energy of the space immediately and also allow them to enter it on their own terms. Consider offering a visible threshold between themselves and the action through a different type of floor treatment, a clear glass or plastic wall or even a partial partition.
On the flip side, you also want to create some places within your conference that foster and nurture reflection, thinking and relaxation.
Current brain research shows that insights, ideas and epiphanies occur when the brain is most relaxed. It happens in strange places and unusual environments.
You’ll want to create some non-work environments that encourage relaxation amid the high-energy and fast pace of your conference. Choose a metaphor for your relaxation spaces that align with your theme like spa, yoga studio, Zen garden or forest park bench. Identify the properties that make the space relaxing such as natural or soft light from incandescent lamps, comfortable seating and soft music.
These spaces offer a crucial respite from an open collaborative environment. The more extroverted some of your conference sessions or activities, the more you need these spots of passive, comfortable yin amid the paths of high-energy, brightly lit yang. Keep them low-tech with no electrical outlets.
When designing these spaces, you want to provide strong points and counterpoints. Learning lounges are great because they amplify engagement and participation. Their counterpoints are spaces that invite introversion, reflection and introspection.
Large open spaces should always have smaller, closable spaces available nearby to provide small intimate conversations and an escape from the crowd. You need both in your conference experience.
Identifying the point and counterpoint in both types of spaces provide exciting opportunities to amplify details that scream one thing or another. Consistency of intent creates stickiness. Variation in execution creates conference attendee delight.
When you provide spaces and activities for both action and reflection you’ve created a holistically supported environment. You’re intentionally fostering community and relationships. Then you’ve truly created a conference experience that allows your participants to experience a range of emotions, connect with each other and customize their experience.
What types of high-energy things have you experienced in a conference registration area? What are some examples of reflection areas that you’ve seen at conferences?
Filed Under: Event Planning
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