Designing meetings that truly engage attendees in novel, experiential ways is the key to successful programs.

An educational session entitled Exploring Unique Learning Formats drew dozens of meeting planners keen on shaking up traditional models at MPI Northern California Chapter’s (MPINCC’s) Annual Conference & Expo (ACE) 2018, held Feb. 27, 2018, at San Francisco’s Moscone West convention center.

Following are five of the most intriguing learning formats discussed during the vibrant session, led by Jessie States, manager of professional development for Meeting Professionals International.

1. Fish Bowl

A Fish Bowl format allows meeting professionals to create a truly intimate conversational experience with large groups of people, according to States.

“It’s an incredibly good opportunity to engage your marketplace in a unique way,” she said.

The session can be organized by placing four chairs in the center of the room with concurrent circles of seats surrounding it to create a “fish bowl.”

“Suggest a topic of conversation, or have one pre-determined, and invite three people (the “fish”) to come and begin the discussion,” States said. “Anyone from the bowl may join the fish at any time by sitting in the empty chair, and one of the existing fish will voluntarily leave.

“Rinse and repeat as desired with any number of questions or topics,” she added.

2. Dotmocracy

Starting an event with a Great Dotmocracy is a great way to discover what audience members want to address while they are on-site at your meeting or event, according to States, from the greatest problem facing a company to a hot industry issue affecting attendees’ bottom lines.

“Brainstorm a variety of different topics or challenges and have a volunteer scribe record them on flip chart pages,” States said. “Tape the pages on the walls of your session room.

"Using color coding labels, ask your participants to vote using their ‘dots’ on which topics they wish to address, then break them into groups to problem-solve, address and/or discuss the highest-rated topics," she added.

3. Spectogram

Using a Spectrogram model is a unique way for attendees to gain new perspectives and even source a live expert panel from the audience, according to States.

“Ask participants to line up in your space according to set criteria that forces them to make a choice,” she said. “For example, ask your attendees to choose meat or vegetable—“all meat” attendees and “all veggie” attendees will stand at the extremes, with all others standing somewhere in between.

“No one can choose the middle,” she added. “Then, ask those on the far ends of your line why they have made such an assertive position. See if you can move the attendees towards the middle.”

To source experts in the room, States said you can ask your audience to stand in a line based on their subject matter expertise on a topic.

“Find your experts and ask them questions, or even ask them to sit on an impromptu panel while attendees work in groups to come up with questions for your experts,” she said.

4. Story Slam

Storytelling is an impactful way for attendees to share their experiences and learn from those of others, according to States. In a Story Slam format, she said, audience members can present best practices, innovations or even “horror stories” to their peers. 

“Set a line up or have an open mic (with a couple of stories pre-planned to help your audience feel comfortable with the format) and see how your attendees laugh, cry and learn together,” States said.

“Or create a sponsorship program and offer the time to your suppliers to share real-life stories about how they have turned a customer’s challenge into an amazing opportunity—just make sure that they know the difference between stories and pitches,” she added.

5. Space Race

A Space Race offers learners the opportunity to create their own educational environment, giving them a sense of ownership over what happens in the room, according to States.

“Place all of the (light-weight) furniture and decor in the center of the space before the start of your meeting (check if union rules apply)," she said. "For small programs up to 15 people, assign jobs to groups—such as signage, seating and decor—and have them work together to design a custom learning environment.

“For larger events up to 50, assign teams to design a space on a flip-chart or butcher paper and present it out."

In the end, everyone votes to come up with the winning environment, and the winning team manages the execution of the space.