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North American participant at Meeting Design Practicum

As the only North American participant at both Meeting Design Practicums, Mike Van der Vijver asked me to write about my 2017 experience from the perspective of my national culture. Of course, what “U.S. culture” means is a matter of some debate, and I should mention that I was born in England and lived there for 25 years before emigrating to the Northeast United States. Nevertheless, here goes…

Each year, the Practicum has joyfully reminded me of the incredible range of assumptions and responses to shared experiences that different cultures exhibit. In the U.S., cultural behavior changes slowly over distances of hundreds or thousands of miles, while the European Union has led to a familiar melange of cultural experiences and expectations, formerly contained to some extent inside largely pervious national boundaries.

Although I’m not a typical U.S. citizen (70% of us have never left the country!) I suspect that many of my fellow citizens would be uncomfortable with the kinds of experiments and willingness to suspend assumptions and judgement that were routine during our 48 hours together in Barcelona and Lloret de Mar. It’s this discomfort with the common and understandable fear of doing something new that all meeting designers grapple with as we try to introduce new ways to be together to our clients, stakeholders, and participants.

Threaded throughout this year’s Practicum was the use of specific familiar cultural experiences to move people into a new yet familiar way of being. The idea of “tasting” our experiences was a theme that all of us could relate to, in the same way someone in the U.S. might be persuaded to try out the food at a new kind of restaurant.

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Four highlights:

I loved Manuela Prina’s 4-corner game played (literally!) in the kid’s sandbox outside our hotel. She took a child’s game, with movement, simple rules, and moments of playful competition and used it to brainstorm ideas about a problem the group was working on.

The Lloret de Mar portion of the Practicum opened with an exercise I’ve refined over many years: The Three Questions. I’ve primarily used this with North American audiences, so it was great to receive valuable feedback about the session, immediately afterwards, from the multicultural perspective of so many meeting designers.

Our surprise evening with Lloret de Mar families in their homes was clearly a highlight of the Practicum. All nine groups had unique and very special experiences. Ours included — after a spectacular home cooked meal in which we participated — a sneak preview of a float for the Lloret de Mar Carnival that our host was organizing. This was truly an example of how simple, facilitated connection can create genuine long-lasting experiences for everyone involved.

Finally, I think all of us greatly enjoyed and appreciated the progressive revelation of each portion of the program. Only Eric and his trusty cohorts knew everything that would be happening (I don’t think anyone expected to be whisked out of Barcelona for the majority of the meeting). The rest of us only knew what Eric had asked us to do, and the anticipation of what would happen next added unique spice to our time together.

Bio: Adrian Segar is a meeting designer and event facilitator with over thirty years experience, and an energetic champion for participation-rich and participant-led meetings that uncover and satisfy attendee needs for relevant learning, connection, engagement, and action.

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