Global Innovations in Conferences: Planting the Seeds of Creativity

Written by: Mark Cooper - Friday, July 14, 2017

When it comes to creativity and innovation, it’s hard to say what is most likely to stimulate new ideas. Is it the setting, the food, the weather, or the wall colors? But one thing that can be certain, a relaxed atmosphere fueled by open sharing and a sense of fun is the key to sparking the imagination.   

That is exactly the sort of environment IACC is creating at the upcoming IACC Europe Knowledge Festival in London September 22-24. Held at the completely renovated, recently re-opened (in January 2017) and historic County Hall in London – which shares a riverfront location along the Thames with the iconic London Eye – it is the perfect setting for a conference designed to foster innovation.

The venue itself is an inspiring example of how to bring meetings into the future, while retaining the most important and inspirational elements of the past.  

Merging innovation, inspiration and sharing 

You never really know where a new idea will come from. Great ideas may be small things – a slight change in the way food service is delivered, adding some lighting or pulling down a wall could change everything. The innovations shared by IACC members at annual conferences can range from the unexpected to the very simple, but often make a difference in terms of staff, environment and profitability.  Sometimes they even prompt members to think, “Why didn’t I think of that before?”    

The ideas that inspire a venue owner or meeting planner are usually very unique and individual.  It's not something you’d necessarily pick up from reading online media about trends or what’s happening in the global conference industry. The inspiration comes from discussions with other people and thinking outside the box to solve the specific needs and offerings of each location.   

IACC members tend to be very entrepreneurial and are always looking for new ideas and ways to stay up to date. Members come together to work on improving the meeting experiences they provide and share best practices with others in the industry. This open atmosphere of sharing is unique to IACC, and not often found in the industry.

Both big and small ideas create unique experiences

Sharing ideas will be a key element of the innovation workshop at the upcoming IACC Europe Knowledge Festival in September. Similarly, members shared some of their most innovative solutions with fellow members at the workshop held in Los Angeles earlier this year.    

For example, taking the ideas of openness, collaboration and flexible meeting spaces into consideration, Marriott introduced the World’s First Hotel Innovation Incubator – M Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center with a multi-use open serving area for gathering, social spaces for collaboration and an overall casual feeling that helps foster creativity. 

“As the leader in the premium full-service category, Marriott Hotels is transforming the traditional hotel experience.  We are inviting guests to be part of the innovation and decision making,” said Mike Dearing, managing director, Marriott Hotels.  “M Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center is a forward-looking testing ground for exciting new concepts as we constantly evolve and challenge our way of thinking.”   

Marriott Hotel Incubator

Chubb Hotel and Conference Center transformed the idea of an outdoor meeting space with flexible and innovative furnishings, using modular tables and nature-inspired materials.

Outdoor meetings nesting tablesoutdoor meeting modular nesting tablesLive edge tables outdoor meetings

Creating a unique setting

One message that clearly comes out from IACC research (see Meeting Room of the Future Report) is that delegates and customers want more of a unique experience than they do safe comfortable, boring meeting rooms with a traditional auditorium-style setting.   People tend to crave something different. 

For example, when you look at the top properties on Airbnb, they are often pretty wacky or crazy and much more experience-oriented than about comfort.  Similarly, a conference venue in Holland created a tree-house room, thinking it might be something fun to offer, but it turned out to be the most requested conference space. The demand for it now exceeds capacity.  

Unexpected offerings can spark the imagination. A meeting venue in New York City placed a wardrobe in front of a conference room with the name “Narnia” so attendees would have to walk through the wardrobe to get to the room. Another venue set up a room to look like a pirate ship. Google has slides in their offices. Why? It stimulates the sense of creativity – an effect that can last beyond the immediate session. 

When there is something fun and unique about an experience, it makes everything else presented in the conference or meeting more memorable. Spending an entire day in a different or unique environment stimulates attendees to share more, may make them more open to creativity and makes the experience of what happened at the meeting more memorable. They may also feel more comfortable being open and networking with other people in a less formal or more relaxed, fun environment.

Creating your Narnia

So what do you take away from that?   

Mainly, you’ve got to do things differently. You’ve got to think differently, not just recreate typical meeting spaces or food and beverage.  Create a setting that allows people to take risks.   

Venues can find inspiration and creativity in the ideas shared by other members at IACC conferences. Even if your facility doesn’t lend itself to building a tree-house, the exposure to new ideas and ways of approaching meeting venues can help you come up with a unique idea the will set your venue or meeting apart.  

A venue to inspire you – London County Hall

Etc Venues County Hall Renovation Open space

You can also expect to be inspired by etc.venue's space at London County Hall – the host location for the IACC Europe Knowledge Festival 22-24 September 2017. A historic building dating to 1922, London County Hall was the headquarters of London County Council and later the Greater London Council for 80 years before it was vacated in 1987. The building is on the South Bank of the River Thames next to Westminster Bridge and the London Eye.  

IACC member company etc.venues began renovations of the space in May 2016, and opened a new conference and meeting venue in January 2017 after a complete overhaul of 42,000 square feet that took the space down to “shell and core.”   etc.venues thoughtfully created a state-of-the-art conference facility that retains much of the original character of the building, crafted design features out of the original brick and beam work, while adding in modern touches such as open multi-use exhibition bar/serving areas, a one-LAN system for digital signage, media walls for branding, LED lighting capable of showcasing corporate colors, and design plans that foster collaboration.    

"The large open floor plan for catering and exhibition floor allows us to mix the food and drinks area with exhibitions,” said Dominic James, Venue Director of County Hall for etc.venues. “Exhibitions/sponsorships are the money makers for events, and sponsors get more time with attendees that way.”   Get ready to be impressed with the carefully planned details at this beautiful, state-of-the art facility conveniently located in the heart of London next to Westminster Bridge.  

Have an idea to share at the Innovation Workshop?

If you have a great innovation in conference or meeting design that you’d like to share with fellow members at the upcoming IACC Europe Knowledge Festival in September, please email kbacon@iacconline.org.

Innovation Award Nominations

In addition, IACC is looking for examples of the most creative or innovative ideas in meeting design and presentation. Submit your nominations by July 31. Awards will be presented at the Chapter Meeting, Europe Knowledge Festival in September. 

Register to attend IACC Europe Knowledge Festival

Register now Register now for IACC Europe Knowledge Festival
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