ASAE's Third Annual Design Event Continues to Innovate

The Xperience Design Project, held at the Gaylord National, welcomed more than 1,300

Scott Stratten

The American Society of Association Executive's experiment in meetings design, the Xperience Design Project, now in its third year, brought more than 1,300 industry professionals to the 2,000-room Gaylord National in National Harbor, Md., April 11-12. As with past iterations of the show, feedback from last year's event was used to create this year's. 

XDP aims to showcase different ways to create meetings, offering design, content and networking inspiration through its speakers as well as via the overall design of the event. Last year, a central stage was surrounded by three spokes -- the Marketing Zone, the Operations Zone and the Learning Zone. This year, due to some space/time constraints (ASAE couldn't access the event's usual main ballroom until late in the afternoon before XDP began), the main presentations were in a much narrower room, and the round stage design of the past two years was turned into a half wheel, with seating still radiating out in a sort of half hub-and-spoke style, with experience, strategy and community areas that could feature three speakers at a time. Attendees used radios tuned to different channels to listen to the presenter of their choice; the devices were provided by Live Sports Radio
According to Amy Ledoux, CMP, CAE, senior vice president of meetings and expositions for ASAE, the association decided to flip everything upside down when the usual room proved unavailable, and show attendees that you don't have to have three separate ballrooms to do three sessions. "A previous year, more than one attendee said they could never use a big jumbotron with a round stage," she noted. "So here we wound up with a proscenium stage with a bit of thrust."
The 10-person table discussions in the general-session room of last year also were ditched for a less formal seating style, with theater seating enhanced by couches, swivel armchairs and high-top tables provided by Steelcase. This year's emcee was improvisation and creativity expert Dan Milton Klein from Stanford University. 
Registration fees were quite fluid for 2019, and ASAE won't know what the total revenue for the event is for awhile. "We asked, how can we eliminate the barriers of attendees having to say to their boss, 'Hey, listen, I want to go to this $1,000 conference,'" said Ledoux. "So we made the decision to let people register and then afterward we will invoice them and say, what did you feel the value was? On Monday we have a form going out that basically says, what did you find valuable with this event?" A base price of $295 was set; it remains to be seen if any attendees decide to pay more.
One fun element added this year were "free-wheeling" conversations using National Harbor's riverside Capital Wheel, a Ferris wheel with enclosed pods that were used for groups of five to conduct 15-minute topic-targeted chats as they enjoyed the scenery. "We've talked about how to use the location that you're in to enhance the experience for your meetings," said Ledoux. "And we've really wanted to do something at the Ferris wheel ever since year one." About 250 people signed up for the option, which was sponsored by Choose Chicago.
Providing event-design ideas for attendees is the main goal of XDP. For instance, a pop-up talk during the business exchange on Friday featured representatives from 360Live asking listeners to try to stump their designers with event challenges. 
For Subrina Ghorashi, manager of education for the Arlington, Va.-based Healthcare Distribution Alliance, inspiration came from first-day speaker Anthony Vade, experience architect for Canada's FMAV audiovisual firm, who suggested having space set aside at an event to get real-time feedback from attendees. "We're always talking about how to get more information from our surveys, because we really use it," she said. "I think that might be a great way to hear from attendees, even if it's just 10 minutes."