7 Design Considerations for Your Conference Hub

The Promenade, a hub experience at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2022, in Las Vegas.

High-tech user conferences like Dreamforce and Microsoft Ignite have been designing innovative hub spaces to engage and nurture their top customers for years. While some of the elements in these areas can be costly to implement, they don’t have to break the budget. Creating a town-square-like experience can help grow your community through valuable connections.

Our team got together for a strategy session and put on our design-thinking hats. We brainstormed what a hub should deliver from an attendee point of view. Here’s what we came up with.

7 Ways to Pull Attendees into Your Hub

A conference hub should be a destination that participants want to go to when not attending sessions or walking the expo hall. It should benefit attendees by meeting or exceeding their needs in the following ways:

  1. Serve — Hub spaces should always include some sort of concierge or help desk so that participants can easily understand and navigate what’s available in this multi-purpose space. Some organizations put registration services in the hub to help welcome and serve the participants.
  2. Connect — Your hub should feature networking spaces or lounges. Some organizers design experiences that provide access to experts — like a mentor neighborhood or human library. Another popular addition is to incorporate demo kiosks where tech providers can share their solutions and grow connections.
  3. Engage — The hub should enable people to be active participants in the event. Smart organizations have enlisted the help of their top sponsors to use engagement to best activate their sponsorship. Engaging activities include opportunities for the attendee to create, do, or get something. It may be getting a new professional headshot, making an emotional connection with puppies, or competing in an activity like building a giant Jenga. Entertainment options or a photo wall to capture and share conference memories are also popular inclusions.
  4. Learn — Micro-learning experiences in small theaters top the list. Scientific conferences can include e-posters and poster discussions. Overflow session viewing is also a popular draw for attendees.
  5. Rejuvenate — Participants should find this a place to relax, recharge, and discover elements of surprise and delight so they can get their second wind to tackle long conference days. Coffee and cookies included.
  6. Broadcast — When an attendee sees your conference as a place where news is being made, it helps validate their participation. Provide fishbowl-viewing access to live podcast and video interviewing studios.
  7. Gear — When conference attendees turn into raving fans, they’ll need gear. Go beyond the traditional bookstore and include items that they can proudly wear or display their profession.

Where Your Hub Belongs

Ideally your hub will be located in a high-traffic spot adjacent to — but not within — your exhibit hall. It should be a place that attendees frequent to meet up with each other. Here’s why you don’t want to put the hub on the show floor:

  1. Your hub opening hours should match the arrival time of your attendees. Usually that’s a couple of hours before your expo opens.
  2. Attendees will not visit the area if it is situated in the middle or back of your expo area.
  3. Traditional expo booths detract from the ambiance and experience you’re trying to create.

What roadblocks do you see, if any, to creating a hub experience at your next meeting? Which of the seven experience designs would most appeal to your attendees?

 Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2022.

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