by Deanna Ting | March 02, 2015

Paige Miller Buck, partner of Kennedy Events LLC, is meticulous when it comes to finding the right meeting facility. Based in the Bay Area of Northern California, she focuses on clients ranging from institutional organizations such as the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to various social media and crowd-funding companies. "These companies have really high expectations for their training and technology needs," Buck notes.

She says her clients gravitate toward properties like the Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF because of its robust technology services, and that they are especially happy to meet somewhere that "feels different from being in a stuffy, old-school property."

"Even facilities that have gone through extensive soft renovations still feel less sophisticated," says Buck. "Our tech audiences want something that feels new, young, fresh, and clean. This center has an aesthetic and layout that suits them; it's light and airy with lots of windows and glass. They feel like the space matches their brand, and they learn better when they're here."

The ideal learning environment that Mission Bay provides for Buck's tech clients is just one example of how choosing a conference center with the right features, amenities, and resources can elevate a training meeting. It's something many companies will be doing this year.

Training meetings are on the rise. The American Express Meetings & Events "2015 Global Meetings Forecast" predicts a 9 percent increase in training meetings -- the largest such percentage increase by category -- in 2015, and Successful Meetings' "2015 Trends" survey finds 33.7 percent of meeting planner respondents, the largest percentage, will host more training meetings in 2015.

Conference centers, in particular, are well aware of this trend. According to the International Association of Conference Centers' (IACC) 2014 edition of "Trends in the Conference Center Industry, " the greatest percentage of meetings held at residential conference centers consisted of training/continuing-education sessions (57.8 percent).

"There's a very obvious link between training meetings and conference centers," says Mark Cooper, IACC CEO. "Successful organizations with talented individuals choose the conference center over other venues because it's a key contributor to the quality of the learning. The environment is conducive to learning, and that's pivotal to the overall success of the training."

How can organizations leverage these environments to improve the training experience for their groups? Here are five strategies.

1. Get Hands On
Experience fosters learning, and often there's no better way to learn something than to try your hand at it. That's where specialized conference center facilities come in, providing simulators and other experiences that mirror real-world scenarios outside the classroom.

Archie Tew, an experiential learning facilitator based in Santa Fe, NM, works with various organizations that include British Airways, Ford, and the U.S. government, and is a big proponent of the hands-on approach. "Rather than tell people how they should respond or handle a certain situation, immerse them in an event that holds up a mirror to them so they can reflect on their behaviors and how they respond," he says. "Ask them to look at how they are responding, what they are learning, what they need to change. It makes people really think in that moment."

One type of hands-on training that Tew often conducts brings groups to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. He partners with the center to design and deliver leadership programs for both public- and private-sector groups, using the center's outdoor High Challenge Course, Low Event Challenge Course, F-16 flight simulators, and Space Shuttle simulators to help develop better leadership, crisis management, and communication skills.


American Airlines Flight Attendant
Instructor Michael Miller

At the American Airlines Training and Conference Center in Fort Worth, TX, for example, a life-size aircraft cabin simulator is used to train flight attendants, and a full-size ticket counter seats agents in training. "We try to have a training environment that's close to what they will see when they get back to the airport," explains Sheryl Black, manager of learning delivery and an asset manager for the center. "It's all about providing real hands-on experiences for our students." On average, the center sees approximately 1,000 students per week. While the simulators are for the exclusive use of American Airlines, the rest of the conference facility, which is managed by Dolce Hotels & Resorts, is open to other meeting groups.

Likewise, at conference center facilities like the Florida Hospital Nicholson Center in Orlando, FL, or the Oquendo Center in Las Vegas, hands-on experiences are exactly what they provide to medical and pharmaceutical meeting groups.

The Nicholson Center has two simulated operating rooms and two wet lab areas, as well as dry labs, and one of the largest robotic training facilities in the country. Patrick de la Roza, the Nicholson Center's executive director, says "that the kind of learning provided at the center delivers a "much more immersed experience." "You can do your traditional PowerPoint presentation here, but at our center, we'll also set up an operating room at the front of the room where you can bring in a cadaver and all of the equipment you need. It's literally live and it's happening."

He says that many medical-device and pharmaceutical companies will use the center to conduct specific lab events and have opportunities to "showcase their products in a real, live surgical environment as opposed to being in a convention center."

Like the Nicholson Center, the Oquendo Center, which is located only five miles from the Las Vegas Strip, also caters to medical and pharmaceutical group training. "We like to position ourselves as a turn-key solution," says Carin Giovanni, marketing director. "You don't have to try to find your own tissue or medical equipment provider out here. Our 66,000-square-foot facility was built to educate, to do hands-on labs, and educate doctors."