by Sarah J.F. Braley | April 23, 2018
The second iteration of the American Society of Association Executive's experiment in meetings design, the Xperience Design Project, brought 1,500 industry professionals to the 2,000-room Gaylord National in National Harbor, Md., April 19-20.
 
To be expected with an event that aims to showcase different ways to do business beyond traditional general sessions and breakouts, the format for the 2018 show was tweaked following feedback from the 2017 gathering. Last year, the ballroom was set up in a hub-and-spoke design with a central stage and featured five concurrent sessions in the spokes, focusing on technology, learning, location, experience and marketing. This year, the central stage was surrounded by three spokes: Don Neal, founder and CEO of 360 Live Media, led the Marketing Zone; David Peckingpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events, headed up the Operations Zone; and Karl Kapp, EdD, director of the Institute for Interactive Technologies at Bloomsburg University, ran the Learning Zone.
 
Once again, the concurrent sessions mostly centered on 10-person "table" discussions (seating options included sofas, high-top tables and rolling desk chairs) comprising a leader, six association executives and three industry partners, such as hoteliers, CVB representatives and other association-service providers. Lisa Kay Solomon, managing director of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley business incubator, served as emcee for the two-day event. Participants tuned in to their zone's speaker on a three-channel FM broadcast system using individual radios from Live Sports Radio.
 
Interestingly, considering recent food trends, ASAE's decision to serve more healthy options during XDP 2017 got the axe for 2018. "We tried to have more healthy fare last year, but that didn't work so well for us," said John H. Graham, IV, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE. "So we went back to our normal meetings fare. It was a good experiment. All of this is us trying to figure out what really works."
 
The zone learning was held the first day, and attendees rotated to the second speaker after 90 minutes; the second two sessions lasted 60 minutes each. During the two breaks between rotations, two pop-up talks were featured, the first with violinist and composer Kai Kight, and the second with social roboticist Heather Knight, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at Oregon State University.
 
The high-energy event, which also featured 10 45-minute idea-accelerator sessions on the second day, was well worth the time for the association staff in attendance. Andrea Sundermann, CAE, director of continuing education for the Michigan Dental Association, brought the volunteer chair (a dentist) for her next annual meeting to XDP, hoping to get ideas to shake up a convention for about 4,500 people that hasn't changed in years. "We want to encourage younger dentists to come," she noted. "I'm very impressed with the whole stage setup, the moving within the room and the different seating. I just worry it would be too expensive to do."
 
Day two featured a business exchange between association participants and suppliers, during which 83 percent of association attendees prescheduled appointments. The exchange is not a hosted-buyer situation, which typically requires buyers to make a minimum number of appointments, yet more than 3,100 meetings were scheduled beforehand.
 
Jenny Clark, CMP, of the American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine, loved ASAE's use of a deejay during the breaks in the first day, rather than a canned playlist of bland music. "I think that got people going early in the morning," she said. Clark added it's time to mix up their 30-year-old annual meeting of 1,500 people, especially since people can look online for all the learning they need. "I'd love to be able to afford the alternative seating," she noted. "It promotes conversations."