by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Immersion, Connections, Conversations
The Event of the Future was co-hosted last week in New York City by Livestream, Sli.do and Convene, three relatively new arrivals onto the meetings industry scene. Leaders from each of the 3 companies looked into their crystal balls and gave TED-style presentations on “the event of the future” before a live audience of 150 guests and a further 2200 on-line participants. Jesse Hertzberg, CEO of Livestream stated that the event of the future would be all about immersion and viewer control; in a pre-event interview Ray Chang, Director of Marketing at Convene said the event of the future would foster connections between people – “micro-tribes” – outside of and after the event; Peter Komornik, Founder and CEO of Slido claimed the event of the future would be conversational.
Convene – the Meeting & Event of the Future
I was fortunate to spend time both before and after the event with Chris Kelly, co-founder of Convene. He’s a generous, engaging, inspiring conversationalist so I peppered him with a continuous flurry of questions as we walked the breezy streets of New York City from one Convene location to another. By the end of the evening I’d gained a deep insight into a company with a laser focus on excellence in meeting and event delivery, an uncompromising commitment to customer service and a leadership team that I’d be proud to be part of.
Convene locations are, by and large, in contemporary urban settings, often occupying the entire floor of a multi-storied building. In lay-out and functionality they recall the etc venues in London or the Chateauform’ locations around Europe – albeit Chateauform’ is often in rural environments. There’s a shared philosophy with etc and Chateauform’ around the “holistic” approach to meetings, how meeting room design must serve meeting objectives, how food is not a mere optional extra, how meetings and events must engage the senses.
Informative, Generative, Evaluative
Kelly explained how Convene breaks the umbrella term “meeting” into 3 quite distinct and different categories or types – informative, generative and evaluative. Knowing whether the objective of the meeting is informative or generative has a massive impact on the physical space so Convene offers appropriate choice. Informative meetings are TED talk or town hall style and work well in conventional spaces, ie, seating arranged theatre style, stage centrally positioned, large screen or screens to display text or images. Generative meetings, on the other hand, need informal space as their objective is to generate a flow of ideas. Generative meetings involve brainstorming, whiteboarding, thinking outside the box – it’s difficult to simulate that type of thinking in an all-beige, all-bland setting.
The Convene Experience
Needless to say there’s no beige at Convene. The setting is exciting and dynamic like typical modern co-working spaces but, at the same time, this is corporate and sleek, not shabby chic or edgy. There’s a large common area at the heart of each location with the various styles and sizes of meeting space – called Studios, Hubs and Forums – located around the perimeter.
Meetings rooms have copious power outlets to cater for a uber-connected generation of meeting attendees. WiFi is ubiquitous and lightning fast too. Rooms are configured with projectors and screens or LEDs, depending on size, and tables are simply set without pads and pencils – these, however, are available at the back of the room along with a plethora of other essentials such as paper clips, staplers, glue, post-its etc. One wall in each meeting room is decorated with intriguing bric-a-brac, providing visual interest and stimulus in what otherwise could become a sterile setting.
Food – not an optional extra
Food presentations are available at meal times throughout the day in the Common Area with barista-style coffee and snacks on demand at Nourish, the self-service units located adjacent to the meeting rooms. The common area makes for easy networking and connections between colleagues but also, potentially, with other users of the spaces.
The presentation and service of food, indeed, is an integral aspect of the Convene experience. Menus are scientifically researched and presented to delight the palette but also to enhance the overall productivity of the event. The kitchens are run like award winning restaurant kitchens, not canteens and a strict farm to fork philosophy is adhered to. If meetings are about “convening” folks together then there’s no more powerful way of doing this than around a shared food experience.
“Food is over-arching, a key element that binds us all together”, says Kelly.
At street level at one midtown location Convene has an impressive partnership with For Five Coffee Roastery. There they’ve installed the Modbar Espresso system which allows the barista retain eye contact with customers while crafting the perfect macchiato! Pure class!
The Meeting & Event of the Future
Convene is “the nation’s fastest growing network of meeting, event, and conference venues that combine technology, culinary, production, and human-centered design into a transformative user experience.” But, according to Kelly, it is also right on the pulse of a radical transformation in workplace demographics where high performing millennials are forsaking the corporate Law Firms and Consultancies in favour of Google, Apple and Amazon. These new Tech firms offer a highly desirable, blended work / life environment with community spaces to connect with colleagues, well stocked fridges with cold pressed juices, catered breakfasts and dinners.
If you’re late “in the office” then there’s a pay back as the office space is congenial, aesthetically pleasing, conducive to hanging out. Food is on demand, nourishing and free. You’re less resentful of time away from rest and relaxation because the work environment is actually pleasant – there’s even a gym, a dry cleaners, fuzzball and table tennis.
To compete with the cool Tech firms, US corporations are now asking Convene to come to their building and set up special spaces where colleagues can congregate, connect and … convene.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training.