The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) found itself in the unenviable position of having a nearly 40-year-old legacy annual event, Springtime Expo, that was heavy on exhibitions—and their attendant revenue—but was rapidly becoming irrelevant to attendees.

After consulting with marketing and event experience design company 360 Live Media, the association made the risky decision to scuttle Springtime entirely and replace it with a two-day event that is heavy on dynamic presenters, small-group participation and a Business Exchange environment set in a more casual environment and requiring buyers to have appointments with sellers. The move reflects a changing dynamic in the meetings industry, with attendees requiring more peer-to-peer networking, immersive environments and content that is directly relevant to their professional lives.

Called the Xperience Design Project, or XDP for short, the event was held April 19-20 at the Washington, D.C., area’s Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center and was a major disruption to the status quo of the association meetings world.

“The event landscape is now saturated with events that serve meeting professionals across their three principal needs: education, peer-to-peer sharing of best practices and access to partners and business solutions,” said Amy Ledoux, senior vice president of meetings and exhibitions for ASAE and a principal architect of the XDP transformation. “While many events attempt to offer an environment that delivers on all of these needs, none is designed to align them in a fashion that reflects how the meeting community most effectively learns, connects and desires to do business. The industry was asking for change and a new and innovative model and ASAE was the right organization to develop and deliver that model to the association community.”

Ledoux said ASAE consulted with more than 100 meetings industry and association professionals in the co-creation process leading up to the inaugural event, which included a “pilot” run-through last December.

Key format highlights of the finished product included The Lab, which featured collaborative Zones where small groups of planners heard presentations on five core topics in a theater-in-the-round setting and then had a chance to discuss the content around a table before moving on to another Lab zone; breaks in Lab programming to hear 15-minute “pop-up” speeches from motivational speakers; day-two “LabX” summaries where “Zone Captain” presenters encapsulated the previous day’s content; a day-two Business Exchange where buyers met for scheduled appointments with sellers; and entertainment options such as a nighttime networking event with New Wave legends the B-52s at the nearby MGM National Harbor.

“The idea behind trying new things is to spark new ideas and help other organizations imagine their event through a new lens and to experience different innovations first-hand,” Ledoux said. “The idea to develop, design and implement a new format on behalf of our members is to take risks on their behalf. Not everything we do or try is going to resonate or work for all organizations and their members, but maybe there are three or four innovations they can apply. Maybe it is the way the food and beverage was served with five small meals throughout the day instead of a breakfast and lunch. Or the idea of having in essence five keynote presentations being delivered in one room simultaneously instead of five separate rooms.

“There is something to be seen and learned by everyone,” Ledoux continued. “It just depends on the needs of the organization, its members and the lens in which you are looking at changes being made.”

For our original report on XDP and subsequent interviews with several of the Zone Captains about their experience and opinions at XDP, access MeetingsToday.com.