Lobby Learning: Not Just for Latecomers Anymore

AJAXWorld Conference and Expo
You know the drill.  You arrive late for a play and theater doors are already closed.  At least you can stand in the lobby and watch a live feed on an LCD monitor until there is a break when you can be seated.

But what if I would rather live in the lobby?  What if instead of sitting in the general session room for a major keynote speaker at the annual meeting, I prefer to watch it broadcast to an alternative location?  What if that location could offer a variety of seating configurations, ones conducive to real-time conversation with others about what the speaker is saying?  What if there was food and drink and beanbags and couches?  

No need to completely wonder "what if?" when conferences like TED and the AJAXWorld Conference and Expo have already modeled the way with their Simulcast Lounges.  Each has featured its own unique combination of the ingredients listed above, and the lounges themselves have often been paid for by sponsors who are able to promote their services in the lounge, essentially using the lounge like the world's largest exhibitor booth.

TED Simulcast Lounge • ted.com
While many meetings and conferences have previously put extra tables in the hallway and broadcast a speaker on TVs, they did so for overflow reasons when the main room was already at capacity.  But what if we stopped thinking of this as a temporary solution to an attendance problem and instead viewed it as a possible innovation opportunity for our main event?  Maybe there ss no general session room with a live speaker, but instead multiple viewing rooms for a speaker broadcast in from a remote location, rooms perhaps targeted for people with shared demographics like job responsibilities or organizational size that make it valuable for them to converse with each other?  This format mirrors typical university distance-learning to satellite campuses or what we do for webinars when registering as an offce, but imagine the possibilities it might hold for a more engaging learning experience at your meeting, as well as potentially reducing speaker costs because of travel time and expense being eliminated?

Yes, there is value being in the same room at the same time with the entire conference community, but that is no less true when we disrupt that norm and try something different. What used to be a temporary solution might just be a source for more permanent and useful value.


Adrian Segar said...

I like the idea Jeffrey, and think it would work really well if the speaker provided questions/activities regularly for the viewing room audiences to discuss amongst themselves. Feedback from each group could then be provided via Twitter or some other channel for the speaker to respond to.

It will be interesting to see how this works out at Event Camp Twin Cities (6 cities and 2 corporate remote pods) next month.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Those are great suggestions Adrian and ECTC working with its pods will be a good case study as you note.

One of the things TED would do is send someone to the Simulcast Lounge with a camera and microphone to get comments and questions that were then broadcast back into the main hall. Given TED's lecture-only format, it is probably particularly conducive to a broadcast format.

Dave Lutz said...

Wow Jeff, this is bazaar. We have been discussing this idea with one of our clients. Neat to see we're having similar thoughts!

Many groups have attempted sessions that are meant to continue the conversation. I say, why not openly discuss while it's live and keep the dialogue going when the general session is complete?

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

It's a bazaar of bizarre (sorry couldn't resist).

The failure to allow discussion to ripple out after a major presentation is one of the most consistent conference shortcomings I will never understand.

Maybe we can help people change their thinking.

Joan Eisenstodt said...

This is exactly what I've done w/ a bunch of clients for years -- having other places to learn while, and immediately after the 'main' or other gigs. (I begged PCMA to do this last year v. moving the conversation to somewhere else) and failed.
AND do you all remember ASAE in Boston not that many years ago? Instead of having to sit in the GS room (which I hated), they had all kinds of cool seating outside the room in the ballroom foyer w/ flat screen TVs for us to watch and discuss what was going on .. or just discuss.

The NEXT challenges
1) Get other learners to understand that the purpose of all this is for ease of discussion and that "shhshing" people is not part of it.
2) Help facilities (and fire marshals) understand how to use space smartly.

Joan Eisenstodt said...

One more thing..Who wants to join me in storming the biz partner community - venues, AV cos., production folks, etc. - and helping them understand this? We'd bring in the fire folks to ensure we did it right!

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks for the comments Joan. I'm glad some of your clients are already doing this. I wasn't present the year ASAE was in Boston, but I've heard you speak fondly of some aspects of the experience.

And while many are talking about this as a supplement to the main meeting room or for discussions right after a general session, I think in some cases, it could BE the general session. Instead of having community with a capital C (assuming that happens because all conference participants are together as one), it would offer community with a lower-case c, letting people connect in smaller affinity groups to make meaning of the general session speaker's content in real-time.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

AndI'd be happy to join a flash meeting at ASAE to discuss this and perhaps also talk about how we can get room set flexibility that is affordable for planners to do more turns, but doesn't unnecessarily tax hotel of convention center staff members.

Joan Eisenstodt said...

It could be the general session/general learning community, Jeffrey and it could be a whole combo of things to reach different kinds of participators. I'm always cautious about assuming my great ideas and what works for me to learn will work for all. Having options make it nice for anyone to participate in the way that suits them at that moment. (I might, like I did at ASAE's Global Summit on SR, want to stay in my room and only communicate live electronically!)