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.

Adrian's picture

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.

As a girl from Taiwan

As a girl from Taiwan, which is famous for its diversity of food, we know about taste! We also have a very varied vocabulary to describe taste in mandarin, such MA(麻) to describe the feeling on the tongue similar to spicy but caused by sichuan pepper not chili. But how can we taste a meeting? And what does it mean to say it tasted authentic?

The 2017 Meeting Design Practicum started in a market, which impressed me a lot. The market tasted tasted super crunch. It made sounds, a little bumping in the month, and usually happy food. That is how we began the journey of authentic taste about meetings.

The following two days, we sometimes sat in a dull conference room but played like teenagers. In this laboratory, everyone was the scientist, conducting experiments about new formats of sessions. When you need to taste something you never tried before, it is natural to turn on all the senses so you are able to share. And just like that, everyone of us created and tasted so many new sessions. Some are full of nutrition but tasteless, some are sweet but simply a comfort food, and others can be the next trendy dish for meetings!


Nevertheless, some things we did were the most authentic dishes on the MD table. They may not be as fancy as Michelin-starred restaurants but they provided the homemade flavors on the corner of your house. Which is the food you would try to make at home.

Like meetings, we perhaps remember wow effects for lifetime, like eating Michelin, but it would not make any change in your life. MD Practicum, on the other hand, is that kind of small restaurant to give the simple and basic food, which we would try to do again or imitate with our creation for our own version.

I grew up in Chinese culture mixed with some Japanese lifestyle in Taiwan so that we are good at fusion. But now, when we need to bring the very Western concept of Meeting Design into the traditional Asian meeting industry, we first need to understand the authentic flavor and how it is usually used in a meeting dish. To serve a great fusion of meeting design in Asia, we first tried to give the authenticity of the concept for presentation but failed to cater for the taste. Therefore, we tweaked to adjust the portion of Meeting Design in one event and make it light for beginners. I wouldn’t say it was entirely successful already, but it worked in some way.

Last year, I designed a camp for those interested in event industry, especially in conferences, congresses and meetings in Taiwan for a vocational training association. We called it Watermelon Camp and it was a great success! Instead of making loud on promoting Meeting Design as a main product, we marketed Watermelon Camp as a new learning approach. In this manner, the participants tended to open their minds, absorbing the ideas we wanted to share. This year, we move the focus to exhibitions and while I was thinking about the program, I joined the tasty practicum, which provided me so many ingredients to cook for this camp. We will, again, attack the market with mild flavor of meeting design but stay authentic!

Would you like to have a new taste of your meetings? Try to add Meeting Design to be more Michelin-starred!

by Pairry Chiang, Meeting Designer, Asia Concentrate Corporation

My Spanish Khichrdi! (pronounced khi-ch-r-di)

Having gotten my VISA on the day of travel, I didn’t have much time to set expectations before landing in the beautiful city of Barcelona for my first visit to the Iberian peninsula.

Most of my expectation setting happened at 34000 feet above ground and despite being closer to the heavens, it was like a staple Indian rice dish, the Khichrdi!

Khichrdi It basically is a rice-based dish with lentils, vegetables and pretty much anything that comes in a hand’s reach, mixed up. So Khichrdi is a synonym for when things are mixed up, entangled, spiraled and so on. You get it! Incidentally it has a long lost cousin in the Spanish Paellla, but this I learnt only on my travels.


With 16 nationalities being represented in a group of 30, the average International-ness of the Practicum would put any leading International Association’ biennial congress to shame, that is almost every second attendee was of a different nationality! Try beating that!!

So, the expectations were mixed: Looking at the attendee profile, I knew there would be some learning in it for me, an opportunity to transform some long standing acquaintances into friendships, break new ground, make new friends and so on…

Meeting Design is a new discipline, one that I have placed my bets on, making it one of the solution pillars of my start-up agency in India solving attendee engagement and creating more value for meeting owners off their events. Like all new entrants, it is trying to find firm ground and develop an identity, all its own, and in years to come. It sure will. However, it is as experiential as it gets, so I would spare my reader of reading my personal experiences and learnings from these pages, urging them to close their eyes and rack the left side of the cortex (usually used for imagining things).

Since ‘taste’ was much the ‘rice’ (binding bridge) of this khichrdi, let me draw an anomaly that the International reader of this blog will be more able to relate to.

My Practicum experience was no less than the magic potion of Druid Getafix (borrowing a character from the Asterix series) and pretty much stood for what it is: No one really knows what goes in but what comes out is a magic potion with secret ingredients that give superhuman strengths to who drinks it. In other words, it provides tremendous unimaginable value personal to the consumer. This is pretty much my experience at the Practicum 2017, put up together by the indomitable Eric De Groot and his friend & partner Mike van der Vijver.

There were new experiences, some learning and unlearning, but what stood out was overarching moments – some abstract, some profound, some remote, some clear, some foggy, some relaxing, some unnerving. A high point was an inter-personal evening, a unique and fulfilling experience for all of us, and that really brought in the essence of this event and its design!

Lalit Chadha, CMP, is Chief Curator, for SEES, Strategic Engagement & Event Solutions, India

The Meeting Design Practicum 2017

Fourteen adults from 8 different countries are standing in the four corners of a sandbox in a children’s playground. Coloured sheets of paper are strewn all over the sand, kept down by little hillocks because the wind is strong and chilly. At the command of a fifteenth colleague, they all run around until they have swapped corners. It looks like a scene from a madhouse – in fact, they are figuring out how to best market Meeting Design services.

“Time to send in your scores,” shouts Eric de Groot. He is referring to people’s subjective vote (on a scale from 1 to 10) expressing how “authentic” the experience was they had over the previous hour. After two days, the averages per hour produce an “authenticity graph” with meaningful peaks and troughs, connected to the activities participants had at that time.

Just two activities that characterize the 2017 edition of the Meeting Design Practicum. On behalf of MindMeeting, Eric cuddled his brainchild for the second year in a row, inviting thirty professionals from all over the globe for 2 days of experiments. They all came to Barcelona and Lloret de Mar in Spain, to subject themselves to a series of unique and sometimes unsettling experiences.



The Meeting Design Practicum is a living laboratory. In it, participants test formats, experiences, activities and content. The point is to learn more about what would work in the design of meetings, and what wouldn’t.

The Practicum is not about satisfying participants hospitality-wise. Not at all. “Raw and rebellious” are two key words Eric uses to describe its spirit. In the sense that in order to find out what works to influence the behaviours of human beings in large groups, you have to try things and feel them yourselves. Some experiments produce enthusiastic reactions; others openly fail. That doesn’t matter: the learning is in the shared assessment of why you obtain one or the other outcome.

In the course of the next couple of weeks, we are proud to share three blogs from Practicum participants: Lalit Chadha from India, Adrian Segar from the US and Pairry Chiang from Taiwan. Each of them shares a unique peak into what happened in their lives during two extremely intense days with thirty totally committed professionals.

Enjoy the read and tell us what kind of experiments you conduct to help your profession along!

Mike van der Vijver, Managing Partner of MindMeeting.


Contribience, no Google hits yet!

Helsinki, 6th of October 2016,

A new word was born on this day. During a Keyshop for Meeting professionals in Helsinki, Finland. The word is contribience. We made it up because there is no good word for what we wanted to cover in the Keyshop: the trend for attendees to become actively involved. More and more people demand to leave the passive role of being an audience. They want to contribute. They do that on YouTube (Broadcast yourself!), on Facebook and in Wikipedia…so why not during meetings?

The title of the Keyshop was “From audience to contribience”. The word Audience refers to the Latin verb for listening: Audiens. So an audience is a group of people that listens. A contribience, however, is different. Its meaning is this: meeting attendees that contribute. Why do we, meeting professionals, need a new word for this?

MindMeeting introduced new words and expressions earlier. The notion of Venue Message helps to talk about the influence of venues on meeting processes. Content Flow refers to the dynamics of processing content. A Keyshop, as a new format, dsecribes the option to deliver a Keynote and working formats for large groups at the same time. It turns the traditional one-way communication in a Keynote into interaction and knowledge exchange. These words support the understanding of the very core of the meeting processes. Words can help options to materialize, imagination to flourish and understanding to grow. That is why we need new words, every now and then. Contribience is the next new-born.

The word contribience helps us understand meetings as an instrument to harvest what a group of people has to offer. The potential of an audience of – let’s say – 1,200 people, in ideas, experience, solutions and relationships, is staggering. Not harvesting that potential is not very intelligent. You could put it differently: it is stupid. Having these 1,200 people listening is not enough. Calling them a contribience is the first step to unleash the potential.



The second step is to understand what will make them contribute. In the Keyshop we identified these factors:

  • give attendees the bigger picture
  • get the buy-in of their boss
  • interview them to know their allergies and deep wishes
  • offer them a safe environment, the guarantee that they can speak out without negative consequences
  • give them space to diverge at first, and later help them to reach conclusions
  • capture the results
  • decide who owns the results, who is responsible for processing the results after the meeting
  • and plan follow-up communications carefully

 In the Helsinki Keyshop we asked which of these requirements is most difficult to fulfill. What would be your answer for your country? The Finnish answer was interesting. It revealed the forces which, in Finland, may obstruct participants’ contributing. Of course, we had a number of solutions ready. But our input was not necessary. We asked the Meeting professionals themselves to answer their own questions. And they did! The answers were very, very useful. How come? A contribience in action!


“The Rachabanda: An Elementary Meeting in India”

Last year, we visited the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Bangalore, introducing Meeting Design to this vast and impressive country. It was an exhilarating and inspiring experience, generating fun and new insights.

During one of our workshops, we presented participants with a design assignment. They had to show a format design for a situation which required leadership. One of the groups came up with a fascinating solution: they enacted a Rachabanda, a typical meeting every Indian knows (of course, we didn’t…). Its purpose is that of solving controversies, especially in rural communities. A Rachabanda takes place underneath an ancient banyan tree or strangler fig. Stone benches stand around the tree trunk. They are the rightful place of the village elders. The parties to the controversy – the complainant, the presumed culprit and anybody else involved – gather under the tree, explain their version of the issue and their interests. The village elders hear everyone out, deliberate in public and in the end decide how the matter is to be resolved, in the best interest of all.

The Tree for...

It works a bit like a court hearing in the West, but with more wisdom and a lot less formalities. In India, everyone knows how the Rachabanda works, what is the appropriate behaviour and the appropriate role for all the people concerned. It is a perfect example of what we call an Elementary Meeting. The banyan and the stone benches are the markers that help to generate that behaviour. (You can find an extensive explanation of Elementary Meetings in our book “Into the Heart of Meetings.”)

During our last weekend in India, we had the privilege of visiting the village in the countryside where our Indian counterpart Vishala Reddy had grown up. And indeed, in a relatively central spot in the village we found the banyan tree surrounded by the benches: the site for the Rachabanda.

The day before we left, we checked out the highly modern Bangalore Exhibition Centre, as the possible venue of a couple of meetings we would be working on. Outside one of the huge exhibition halls, we found what you can see in the picture accompanying this blog. Doesn’t that look like…? Yes, it does, doesn’t it?

The Director of the Exhibition Centre explained that they had several of these banyan trees on the grounds. When building the centre, they had kindly moved and re-planted them because they were in the way of some of the halls. They had even constructed the benches around them!

When asked if they ever used these trees on the grounds for Rachabandas, the Director looked very puzzled. He didn’t really give me a clear answer and that left me equally puzzled.

Controversies exist in urban life, too. Similar to the ones Rachabandas solve in rural communities. It was hard to believe that no-one had ever thought of using these wonderfully specific meeting venues right there in the Exhibition Centre for solving business issues. They had a gold nugget on their grounds but they seemed unaware of it. Or perhaps there was something I was unaware of…






“People like people. Sometimes”

Not long ago, Meeting Association MPI held its annual EMEC Conference, this year in delightful Kracow, Poland. I had the rare opportunity there to conduct a session under the title “The Meeting Lab”. It involved a number of experiments about the behaviours of meeting participants and how to influence these behaviours. The experiments were real, so we had no idea what the outcomes would be. Session participants kindly acted as guinea pigs (if any of the participants read this blog: thanks for being a sport!). There was actually one participant with a weak spot for guinea pigs, so she had the unique chance to feel like her favourite pet for a while – but this is beside the point.

In one experiment, I wanted to test whether it was possible to influence feelings of benevolence participants would feel towards one another. This is roughly how it went. Together with co-presenter Chema Gomes Merino, we made two random groups, without any particular introduction. Group 1 sat in theatre style and for five minutes listened to a presentation, defining altruism. Group 2 went to the other side of the room and for the same amount of time did a simple physical exercise. They performed it rhythmically and all at the same time.Group dancing

At the end they all answered this question: “How close are other people to you?” They independently expressed the feeling they had in that moment, on a scale from 1-10, where 1 represented not close at all and 10 very close. The average score for Group 1 was 6.2 while Group 2 produced a score of 7.8.

Although we didn’t perform the experiment according to rigid scientific and statistical criteria, this is still a striking difference! And even if we are not entirely sure whether it is a statistically significant outcome, it is still worthwhile to think of a tentative conclusion.

Neuroscience research suggests that people who take part in rhythmic group activities, such as line-dancing and Tai Chi, produce more oxytocin than those under “control” circumstances. Oxytocin is a hormone that is considered a stimulant for so-called pro-social behaviour. In words that my auntie Mary would understand, it helps people to like each other. So, if in meetings you want to align participants and help them to achieve shared outcomes, it may be a good idea to offer them an hour of rhythmic, physical group exercises. If only people weren’t so hung up about formalities, they could try this at the next peace conference for some regional conflict…

Of course it remains to be seen whether the effect really translates into more benevolent behaviour of real meeting participants. That sounds like a fascinating experiment to try during a next conference somewhere! Any meeting organiser out there willing to try??


“Cube with Quirky Message”

Not so long ago, I paid a visit to a lamp manufacturer’s site. Not simple light bulbs or the run-of-the-mill ceiling tubers you can find in any home, no: the spectacular design stuff that makes your mouth water.

From the outside, the building presented itself as a quirky, black cube with some unpredictable lighter lines. It wasn’t entirely clear where the entrance was and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Once inside: Gosh!! Behind each corner there was some unexpected room or space where part of the lamp collection could be shown. In one of these spaces the ceiling reached directly to the roof, three floors up. It contained a huge metal frame that held a five-metres-wide roll of paper. Rolling it down, it could alternatively function as a projection screen and a mammoth flipchart. And at the same time, as well!

The core of the cube was a neat roof terrace garden, directly connected to a gourmet kitchen. Every day, a serious chef prepared Italian food for both staff and visitors.

A fly-over led us over and across the production department (with daylight throughout). Over at the other side, people were working out on cycling machines that generated power for the building. There was no end to the imaginative surprises.

The purpose of the meeting was for a group of potential clients to discover the lamp collection. “Come and discover me!” said the building. And that is what the participants in this remarkable meeting did. With wide-open mouths and wide-open minds.

Rarely have I witnessed a better harmony between a building’s Venue Message and the objective of a meeting!








“Venue Message Continued”

As a designer of meeting programmes, it is vitally important to capture the messages that buildings whisper in your ears. I introduced the notion in a previous blog. How does this work? Imagine wearing a kind of huge butterfly net on your head that allows you to capture elusive stuff from out of thin air. Or having an out-of-the-ordinary large pair of ears. When you enter the building, somewhere in the wall a huge mouth opens itself – as in a Harry Potter movie – and the mouth says something. To you.

In practice, you often find that when you are called in to design meeting programmes, the venue has already been arranged. In many cases, the message the venue communicates to the meeting participants doesn’t fit the objectives of the meeting. That is annoying. At that point, as a designer, you have two choices: either you convince the meeting owner to review her choice, or you will have to sink your teeth in the venue and adapt its message to your purposes. Often this can be achieved with surprisingly simple means.

Take the picture below. This is a meeting in a somewhat drab hotel, around 10 kilometres beyond the limits of a medium-sized, typically nice European town. The organisers want their participants to have an open exchange about conflicting issues and to work out shared insights. When they enter the meeting room, they hit on a large table, filled with bowls containing a wide variety of herbs, spices and other ingredients for magic potions. The whole place smells like the Egyptian spice market in Istanbul. The treasure trove of overwhelming smells contrasts neatly with the lifeless surroundings. That contrast opens up unforeseen windows in the minds of the participants, as proven by their rich discussions. Participants use the ingredients to brew the magic potion that will solve the pending conflicts, but when they enter they don’t know this.


It is a pity that so many buildings used for meetings and conferences have such unexciting venue messages. Numerous conference hotels say: “I used to be better.” Or: “I’m tryinghard to look posh.” Meeting facilities in large exhibition centres often seem to say: “So, what are you doing here?” or: “Gosh, you’re small!” or: “Today I look like this, but tomorrow I’ll look a lot different.”

Many meetings are held to inspire people, or to help them hit on new ideas together. At least, that is the intention of the programme, but most of the messages delivered by venues are not a great help in achieving that. The solution I most often see to modify the message of a venue is the potted palm tree. I will not say anything about that, because you obviously already know where I’m going…



“What was that you said?”

At times straightforward and up-front, at others modest and demure; sometimes distant and aloof, but on occasion flashy and flamboyant. As a designer of meetings, I listen to the messages expressed by buildings. What buildings say is important because it influences the behaviours of meeting participants. And in turn, those behaviours can make meetings more or less successful.

Let’s take a powerful building, the Palace of the Doge in Venice, for instance. When stepping inside the vast Council Room, people instantly change what they were doing before: they slow down, lower their voices, take their children by the hand – like when you enter a church, although the ceiling is that high. Very clearly, certain things are not done in there: children don’t run across the Council Room and it’s not the place for a passionate French-kissing session with your lover. Why not? What makes us so aware of what is appropriate and what is not?

I don’t know the exact mechanism but without any doubt it is connected to our receptiveness to the signals we pick up from our surroundings. In our heads, these signals are directly forwarded to a kind of toggle for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. For my work I am not so much interested in understanding the mechanism in detail but rather in the phenomenon as such.




The point is that virtually all meetings are held in buildings and it is my experience that buildings speak to people. Not only to people who are willing to listen, but to everyone. What they say is called the Venue Message. Usually, the building invites you to do something; it exudes an assignment. The message sounds like a sentence taken from a theatre dialogue and you, the visitor, respond to the signal, to the stimulus. Without consciously noticing it. Thus, the Council Room in the Palace of the Doge in Venice says: “be humble in the sight of the wealth I have gathered in many centuries!” Anybody with half a bit of common sense simply “gets” that message and literally incorporates it with due respect.

And due respect and French-kissing don’t go together.