by Sarah J.F. Braley | May 25, 2017
The American Society of Association Executives' new two-day Xperience Design Project, held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., exceeded the organization's expectations and will be repeated next year in the same venue, according to the ASAE. The event replaced the annual destination show Springtime that was retired last year. 
 
"When we looked at the event space in our industry, there was no event out there that brought together the people who plan, the people who provide content and the people who provide technology... looking at the broader picture of creating the entire experience of a meeting," said John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE. "Events are planned in silos. XDP is an opportunity to bring the major elements of a meeting together, co-creating."
 
XDP aimed to create a collaborative learning environment for association professionals, anchored by The Lab, held in a ballroom and set up in a hub-and-spoke design with a central stage. The daylong education schedule featured five concurrent sessions in the design's spokes. The Technology section was led by Reggie Aggarwal, founder and CEO of Cvent; Learning was taught by John Finkelstein, CEO of Credly, the digital-credential service; Location was led by Michael Dominguez, chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International; Experience had James H. Gilmore, author of "The Experience Economy," up on stage; and the Marketing section featured the tag team of Eric Kuhn, CMO of Layer3 TV, and Kiki L'Italien, CEO of Amplified Growth, a digital marketing firm. The sessions mostly centered on table discussions; participants signed up for three sections each and changed every 90 minutes; the 10-person tables (or seating sections, as there were several chair options including sofas, high-top tables, rolling desk chairs and more) were made up of a table leader, six association executives and three industry partners, such as hoteliers, CVB representatives and other association service providers.
 
When a trial of XDP was held in December 2016 for about 100 participants, speakers and attendees had some trouble with noise levels and distraction from the various elements that were taking place in the same room at the same time. That problem was solved here with a five-channel FM broadcasting system, allowing participants to tune in to just the speaker in their section using individual radios from Live Sports Radio.
 
The marketing and experience-design agency 360 Live Media helped create XDP, starting two years ago when founder and CEO Don Neal attended Springtime as a sort of mystery shopper. "We heard from almost all the industry partners that they wanted a new way to interact with this community," said Neal. "Ninety percent of association events were launched in the 20th century. XDP is a 21st-century event. It was very high risk. In the past, the way associations changed was to create better sameness. You have to have an organization that really wants to change."
 
The second day featured a Ted-style talk by each of the five "zone leaders," who encapsulated in a few minutes the learning that took place in their sections the day before. This was followed by an appointment program; attendees had set up about 3,000 appointments using the event app.
 
"This was not meant to be a hosted-buyer program," said Graham, who noted that all participants, buyers and sellers, paid to attend XDP. "But it's an opportunity for people to meet, and our people are taking advantage of it."
 
Among the attendees were association executives from 28 states, 68 percent of whom participated in the business exchange. According to Graham, 31 percent of them had not been to an ASAE event in five years.
 
When the organization announced at last year's Springtime that it would be the last, attendee Valerie Vasquez-Guzman, manager of education programs at the Independent Educational Consultants Association in Fairfax, Va., was intrigued, if a little nervous, about what was going to come next. At XDP, she said that ASAE had made the right decision and that she was actively trying to figure out how to use some of the education and design innovations at play during the event.
 

Photograph by Zoeica Images