Ballroom? Check. Podium? Check. Powerpoint? Check. Engaged conference attendees? Unlikely.
It used to be that the standard meeting set-up was fine, but conference attendees today are looking for more from the events they attend. They expect to be inspired, to connect, and come away having gained some insights that will help them professionally. And hopefully get a chance to see the city beyond the ballroom.
Studies show that changing an attendee’s environment creates better recall, allowing them to absorb more information. Smart planners are taking heed and weaving a range of learning opportunities and networking events through various non-traditional venues.
The result? Guests who are having fun and learning more.
The following are 10 tips to help you up your venue game and make your conference a “can’t miss” event.
AM/PM Help your guests avoid that sinking feeling after lunch by using a different venue for morning and afternoon sessions. Splitting up the day will help keep guests alert and remember the content that was delivered.
Get creative. Brainstorm unique venues that don’t traditionally cater to meetings professionals. That awesome new bar that opened up with the beautiful interior? Chances are they’re closed during the day and would love the opportunity to host your education event. Your local culinary school? See if they want to partner on a hands-on cooking competition.
Pick a theme. Select a conference concept and choose venues that reinforce it. In recent years our own Unconvention has explored a number of themes and locations:
Break a leg. Consider using local theatres and concert halls. They still allow you to get out of the ballroom, but can accommodate larger groups and often have AV built-in.
Skip the buffet. Give guests a chance to stretch their legs and get them out of the hotel at lunch. Take them to a nearby restaurant, offer a to-go meal and a field trip, or enlist a local food truck for a picnic in the park.
Go back to school. Many universities and colleges have downtown campuses which can provide a great environment for breakout sessions or round table discussions.
Play with layout. If you can’t switch rooms, set yours up differently to get the same benefits. Throughout the conference switch from round tables to classroom setup, from computer labs to theatre-style. The tables aren’t nailed down for a reason!
Use the whole property.If you have to stay on site, work with what you’ve got. Create themed ballrooms. Host sessions in the restaurant, on the rooftop patio, by the pool, or in the garden.
Bring it to me.If transportation costs, limited time, or accessibility concerns preclude heading offsite for evening events, bring interesting experiences to the hotel. Local suppliers can offer escape rooms, mixology sessions, wine tastings, chocolate-making courses, yoga, karaoke, and more.
Surprise them. Everyone loves a good surprise. Keep your venue details secret until just prior to the conference.
Jeff Duncan is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Meetingmax, the largest provider of online group housing reservation technology in Canada. Meetingmax’s software is used by travel organizations in dozens of North American destinations and by organizers of high profile events including South by Southwest, TED Conferences, Cisco Live, and Oracle OpenWorld. Meetingmax’s user conference, The Unconvention, takes an unconventional approach to your typical conference. Meetingmax.cc