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PCMA Event Design Research Sparks Ideas; New Show Floor Play Area Debuts at NatCon23

image of people playing a racing game at NatCon 23 play area

LOS ANGELES—A recent study by the PCMA Foundation, Marriott International and Corporate Event Marketing Association, “Guiding Principles in Event Design,” laid the foundation for new play areas introduced on the show floor at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s annual convention, NatCon23 — the largest conference on mental health and substance-use treatment. The show attracted more than 5,000 health care professionals to the Los Angeles Convention Center May 1-3. 

The study recommends that event designers reimagine networking and create an environment in which people feel open enough to fully participate, consider the different abilities and varying needs of attendees, and create play-first experiences. 

It was those event-design inspirations that the association — with the help of Fern — activated on the show floor, adding an extensive area where attendees could play pinball, cornhole, air hockey and video games, including Pac-Man. Some people used the casual, open area as a place to just sit on the floor and grab lunch.  

Related. New Fern Training Program Focuses on Exhibitor Success 

Elsewhere, there were highlights like puppy-cuddling and opportunities for attendees to get a massage — and even a haircut. All aligned to create a sense of joy and wellbeing, which is one of the missions of the organization that aims to promote greater understanding of mental wellbeing as a core component of comprehensive health and health care.  

Jim Kelley, Vice President, Marketing & Industry Relations at Fern, said the new play areas were well-received by both exhibitors and attendees at NatCon23.   

“Adding these areas into an event offers an opportunity to have conversations in a more relaxed environment that, for some, is more comfortable,” Kelley said. “An added benefit is that these areas provide a place on the trade show for attendees to take a break and reenergize without leaving the floor.” 

The power of play is something that Sharon Fisher knows well. As CEO of Play With a Purpose, she is a top expert in designing business games. “When we engage in play, we let our guards down and allow ourselves to be vulnerable,” she said. “Through play, we fuel our innate ability to boost our skills, flame our passions and engage with others in order to be ready for the future. It is a space where we can come together and put our differences aside to enjoy a shared moment of fun and joy.” 

Reach Jim Kelley at; Sharon Fisher at 

 Photo courtesy of EPNAC.

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