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Most Innovative Meetings 2022: Workhuman Live

The human resources software company's annual conference highlighted local culture, featured extensive charitable components, and used its unique layout to foster human connection.

Most Innovative Meetings 2022: Workhuman Live
"As our event continued to grow year after year, we transitioned from a typical conference center in 2017 to a larger convention center venue in 2018 and beyond," explained Geoff Albro, VP of creative at Sparks. "This provided the opportunity to combine general sessions, meal spaces, activations, demos, and other interactive areas into one space that serves as the core of the event."
Photo: Courtesy of Sparks

BizBash's 10 Most Innovative Meetings 2022 is sponsored by Quest EventsMyClearTextAccessLOOP, and GTHER.

The basics: Workhuman, a technology company focused on making employees feel more appreciated and socially connected at work, hosted the latest edition of its Workhuman Live conference from May 16-19 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. The event, which drew 1,500 attendees and was produced by Sparks, was the brand's first live conference since 2019. 

An engaging layout: The 72,000-square-foot show floor was arranged into a bustling community space, with all of the general sessions, meals, activations, demos, and more in one large area. "As our conference is all about bringing humans together to share ideas and connect, we feel the communal approach allows our attendees to do just that," explained Geoff Albro, VP of creative at Sparks. "We take great care to design the environment to feel welcoming and approachable, with large carpeted pathways connecting each area and creating a park-like experience that is easily navigable."

Spaces included an artist’s corner—where local artist George F. Baker III created a custom mural during the show, with guests invited to participate—along with a pop-up cafe featuring local vendors and local musicians. There was also an all-digital bookstore that used QR codes for fulfillment, along with a headshot studio and an area for brain dates around specific topics. 

"Some activations are metaphors for the outcomes and emotions that our products evoke, [and] some are fun ways to explore data and technology that help our audience feel more comfortable taking deeper dives about our software," said Jill Kazanjian, Workhuman's senior director of experiential events. "Tech isn’t usually in the wheelhouse for human resource roles and we aim to make it more accessible to them, and some activations are just professional value-add like headshots. ... We like a good mix of inform and delight."

The show floor also included a 21,000-square-foot general session area with seating for 1,500, as well as jumbo LED screens, a prominent stage, back-of-house green rooms for talent, and a COVID-testing area. Most Innovative Meetings 2022: Workhuman Live"As our in-person event returned this year, we employed a flexible approach to demos and seating areas that allowed guests to interact in multiple settings based on their preferences—creating intimate 'one-on-one' spaces, slightly larger 'one-to-some' communal areas, and finally 'one-to-many' environments for those who felt comfortable in larger groups," said Albro.Photo: Courtesy of Sparks

Paying it forward: But the focal point of the show floor was a “Gratitude Bar” that featured a large, 20-foot-tall LED column surrounded by a series of demo areas. A series of four curved LED screens surrounded the central installation above each demo space, where guests were encouraged to engage with Workhuman’s social recognition product.

"Our product is robust in features but super simple to use—which can make for a complicated sales story. It sounds like a software, because it is, but it is also hugely emotional, so it’s easy to tell great stories about," said Kazanjian. "The emotion versus tech story can feel disjointed. ... The best way for us to show people what our product can do was just to let them use it for themselves."

Guests could nominate their peers for recognition using the event app. Once an attendee received a nomination, they visited the Gratitude Bar for redemption, where they chose a charity for Workhuman to donate to on their behalf. Guests then received a ribbon and visited a series of three recognition trees, each representing a different charity, and placed their ribbon on a tree. The trees filled up with recognition during the course of the event. "We select local-only nonprofits that will specifically help the community of the location the event takes place in—our take on 'leaving a place better than we found it,'" added Kazanjian. 

In another charitable initiative, guests on-site could also get their own Fill it Forward bottles, illustrating Workhuman’s commitment to sustainability. Fill it Forward is a QR code-based sustainable water bottle initiative that helps provide water for communities in Africa; every Fill it Forward product comes with a sticker that connects it to an app, and each time users refill their reusable, they can scan their sticker to donate to a water-based project. Most Innovative Meetings 2022: Workhuman LiveThe show floor also featured a headshot studio. "We found in our research over the first few years of the event that people in our core audience rarely have a professional headshot," said Jill Kazanjian, Workhuman's senior director of experiential events.Photo: Courtesy of Sparks

Honoring the host city: The team also made it a point to incorporate the spirit of Atlanta into the event. "One of the goals of the event is to expand geographic awareness of the brand, so we move the conference annually. Our brand is human-centric, and humans are influenced by their geography, and the history and culture of a particular place," explained Kazanjian. "By moving our event around the country, we shine a light on how the context of people and place over time shapes everything—including work."

The team works hard to include local elements in all of their events. For Atlanta, that meant honoring how it's a hub for travel and business, but also the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Programming included an executive forum reception at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights on the first night, where Dr. Bernice King—CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent and Social Change—served as a panelist. 

"The undeniable legacy of the King family seems to transcend political divides—even now when race and politics have become so polarizing. We highlighted Black excellence and Black joy in a place where there has been struggle and a history of violence," said Kazanjian. "The performances and inspiring words from Dr. King served as an example of continuously overcoming adversity in that community. It shows our audience that we can overcome bias and racism in organizations, as well by celebrating the unique experiences and contributions of marginalized populations."Most Innovative Meetings 2022: Workhuman LiveThe Jonesboro High School drumline marching band performed at the end of the third day. "Cities, like their people, can have a 'fingerprint.' Atlanta is a hub of travel and business, but also the birthplace of the civil rights movement. ... We highlighted Black excellence and Black joy in a place where there has been struggle and a history of violence," said Kazanjian.Photo: Courtesy of Sparks

Other elements included a performance by local glee club the Morehouse Choir, which kicked off the programming on day two, while the Jonesboro High School drumline marching band performed at the end of day three—entering from the rear of the facility in brightly colored uniforms and marching down the aisles toward the front. 

"Going to a conference somewhere cool, only to be stuck in a dimly lit ballroom watching presentations, is no fun and attendees will skip content in order to make use of the travel opportunity," said Kazanjian. "So, we like to bring in the art, culture, food, and when we can, speakers." 

Lessons learned: "COVID has changed people," said Kazanjian, noting that while guests are eager to get back to live experiences and networking, they're a bit out of practice. "Next year, we are planning for more facilitated networking, workshops where people can be actively participating, and longer breaks and transition times so attendees can reflect on their experiences, spend time with new and old friends, or just take a minute for themselves."

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Learn more about our sponsors:

Quest Events is a go-to event rental partner for industry professionals based in North America. With locations across the U.S. and service capabilities in Canada, look no further for effective and efficient pipe and drape services, as well as scenic, decor, and furnishing solutions across the AV, hospitality, corporate, wedding, and exhibition industries.

MyClearText elevates events no matter the format with high-quality human captioning in real-time. Thanks to the team’s 50-plus years of technical expertise, MyClearText captions are produced at the speed of up to 300 words per minute, delivered at 99% accuracy contextually and grammatically.

AccessLOOP is a leader in adding accessibility features to all livestreamed and virtual events (think: human captioning, live sign language, translations in more than 100 languages, and more). It’s a simple workflow—the browser-based software links to your source stream and stream destinations, loops in your preferred providers, and allows you to set your on-screen layout. 

GTHER is a next-gen event experience platform that’s designed to evolve with the ever-changing industry by bringing virtual event functionalities into one place. Referred to as “the Swiss army knife of virtual experience platforms,” GTHER allows its users to chat, livestream, stream real-time content, host networking sessions, create a custom-branded space, and so much more.

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