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Unconventional Event Spaces

Choosing a venue becomes even more complicated the moment you realize that an event space isn’t just a place for people to sit while someone talks on stage. It isn’t just locale to dine or share some drinks. The venue is a major part of the experience.

Unfortunately, predictable locations are big contributors to the overall “sameness” of events and can lead to declining attendance and results. Let’s face it, once attendees arrive at a venue, most meeting rooms and ballrooms are basically alike. But what would happen if you built in some surprises and did the unexpected? What would happen if you broke the mold and knew how to design fresh, unconventional events?

Four Rules of Unconventional Events

  1. Find a location or environment that will be the most effective to meeting your objectives.
  2. Define the space so attendees understand where they are.
  3. Fill it with things, staging, people and experiences that relate to the location, the theme and the objectives.
  4. Give attendees things to see, hear, do and learn in unexpected ways.

Take Attendees Away

The first thing to do is break free of all those pre-conceived notions of event planning. That doesn’t mean you have to follow the same established, standardized ideas of an event. In fact, research shows that attendees want new experiences, information and people.

Changing Spaces

Attendees want something different – something they haven’t seen before. They want memorable meetings in unique spaces. Most of the time, this means venues that weren’t designed for events. Just an inside tip: If a venue has an event package, it isn’t unconventional.

Before you start looking at locations, stop and look at the audience experience. Is it a structured session with presenters and media? Is it an open, flowing network opportunity? Is it a social event with food and beverages? Is it a combination of everything?

Here are some of my favorite ideas for unconventional event spaces. They all follow the Four Rules of Unconventional Events and will help fuel your imagination.

Parking Lots

There is always a parking lot near the biggest, most expensive venues. Park food trucks in a circle to define the area. Put a live band in the middle and you have a party. Add tents and you can handle even more people.

Parking Garages

The top level of most downtown parking garages is open and often has the best view of the skyline. Take the same ideas you could use for a parking lot and do them on the top. An added bonus is attendees can park below, eliminating that problem.

Nightclubs in the Daytime

Most of the hottest nightclubs sit empty during the day. All the lighting, sound and food facilities are there – plus loads of ambience. Transform your presenters into content DJs and deliver an “idea mix.” Add a real DJ and you can transform a simple luncheon into a spectacular event.

Airport Tarmacs & Hangars

If you want to launch a product, program or division, forget a ballroom – use an airport tarmac. Many small, suburban or commuter airports close at dusk. So you can stage the event right next to the runway.

Urban Graffiti Party

This works wonderfully in vacant buildings, warehouses or converted spaces. Ask local graffiti artists to decorate some of the walls with the theme, company name, product, etc., to define the space and the character of the meeting.

Budget, Budget, Budget

Of course, the moment you start contemplating non-traditional venues, the “big budget assumption” always kicks in. Clearly, budget is always a concern. But so is value. Here’s how to calculate your return on investment. Ask: What will the audience gain versus the production cost? You may find that planning an event in a unique space takes more time and effort, but might not cost any more than using a hotel or conference facility – and can deliver a much bigger bang for the buck. You never know until you price it out.

Your goal is to create a valuable, memorable experience. Once you know your audience, search for the venues that will suit and engage them. Just follow the Four Rules of Unconventional Events.

There will always be a need and a demand for traditional event venues. There are practical and communication benefits to keeping everyone together. Still, your attendees could learn and remember more if you can break away even for just a part – one session or afternoon. Suddenly, the context of the entire day changes. The attendees are viewing everything through new eyes. Paying more attention to what’s happening around them. Thinking. Talking. Getting involved … and taking your messages back home.

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