Not just any top five list: Innovative and interactive learning formats according to you

On May 23, Destination Michigan hosted its annual Michigan Meetings Expo at the Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth. This year, instead of a traditional keynote session, the opening general session comprised five different speakers – each delivering one of five top Michigan meetings trends in five minutes or less.

Trend topics were solicited from local, state and national media outlets, as well as various social media channels, last year’s attendees and registrants of this year’s event. Once a comprehensive list was compiled, the program’s advisory board added in their two cents and settled on a top five:

  • Hybrid/virtual meetings;
  • Innovative/interactive learning formats;
  • Unusual/creative meeting spaces;
  • Mobile meeting apps; and
  • Comprehensive marketing: using print, web and social platforms.

Industry experts were then secured to speak about each hot topic. The five-minute presentations focused on the following four key areas:

  • What is the trend?
  • Why is it hot?
  • How do you replicate the trend efficiently, effectively and within budget?
  • Resources for more information.

I had the pleasure of developing content for a trend that’s near and dear to my heart: Innovative and Interactive Learning Formats. Highlights of this presentation included advanced instructional strategies, successful transfer of learning activities, how to create an engaging onsite experience and contemporary adult learning principles.

Certainly, the presentation was informative and fun (I somehow managed to compare “learning in the round” with Michael Jackson, Billie Jean and a “dance on the floor in the round”). Nevertheless, the real fun was had in the follow-on idea swaps.

In 20 minutes intervals, participants would select and participate in one of 19 table discussions – each assigned a specific meetings-related topic, including food and beverage trends, green meetings and corporate social responsibility. Throughout the morning, attendees engaged in four different idea swaps. Each table was assigned a facilitator who would pose questions, synthesize discussions and encourage participation, but the bulk of the content was generated by the participants themselves.

Additionally, each table would identify a scribe. This person would take notes throughout the session in the expo’s very own mobile meeting app. Following, I’ve created a top five list of best comments/notes taken during my idea swap related to innovative and interactive learning formats (with a bit of editing and editorial remarks thrown in for good measure):

  1. Check out this resource: How Speakers Deliver Return on Attendance. It will make you think about learning – and how you engage with professional speakers – in a new way. (Thanks Cathleen Hagan for the recommendation!)
  2. Associations should have both a meeting planner and an instructional designer on staff. Learning is as big a part of the meeting and attendee experience as is the food and beverage, a/v and the venue itself. As most associations only have access to a skilled meeting planner, I would recommend enlisting the support of a professional development leader within your industry or a cost-conscious instructional designer/consultant to support your planning efforts.
  3. Understand that the meeting should be more about the attendee than the speaker. In most cases, we’ve got the RFP process all wrong. We should begin by identifying the learning needs of our target audience and then select speakers who can effectively address those topics. Also, we can and must help speakers think more creatively about their delivery options and identify how flexible they are willing to be early in the selection process.
  4. Think outside of the meeting room – and know that the environment plays a significant role when it comes to creating a comfortable and engaging space to learn. Whenever possible, maximize spaces (both inside and outside of your venue) to encourage learning and to promote creativity. Utilize non-traditional furniture (such as club chairs, couches and exercise balls) to get the creative juices flowing.
  5. Experiment with a small event or a small portion of a larger event. Add a new instructional strategy, learning process or session format alongside the more traditional methods and allow your attendees the opportunity to test the waters (as opposed to cutting out what they’ve “always known” and replacing it with something altogether different). Over time, attendees will adjust to and embrace the changes, and will appreciate not having it forced upon them.

So, my question to you is this: If you attended either the general session or the follow-on idea swaps, what other “aha moments” occurred to you as you considered the role learning plays within your own organization’s events? For those who didn’t attend the expo, what other “lessons learned” would you share related to the implementation of innovative and interactive learning formats?

2 Responses to “Not just any top five list: Innovative and interactive learning formats according to you”

  1. May 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Aaron, thanks for sharing the Expo Top 5 Trends! I think the new format was very well received and I thank you for your part in that new concept! The more we can engage people to share their own knowledge, the more they will get out of these sessions. I love the innovative learning formats and am incorporating them into every aspect of my life!

  2. May 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm


    It was absolutely my pleasure! I always enjoy participating in that event. I agree that this new format was very well received by the attendees. I think both planners and suppliers alike gained a lot from the idea swaps – and they appreciated the opportunity to direct their own learning experiences.


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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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