Are your attendees ready for something different than the same old meeting or event in a hotel with its boxy ballroom with air walls and lack of windows? Are you looking for a way to spice up a meeting or inspire some creativity in a planning session? Are you looking for a way to add an element of surprise to a special event?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then I would suggest you consider taking your event to the next level by selecting a unique or special facility for your next event. I have used everything from conference centers, museums and cooking schools to aquariums, sports facilities, city park pavilions and an innovative meeting space designed for brainstorming sessions, and each time, my attendees have responded favorably. What I like best about using these facilities is that by their very nature, they help you create events that are memorable simply because they aren’t the same old hotel meeting space.
In addition to creating memorable events, these facilities’ built-in ambience and atmosphere allow you to save money on creating a theme or booking high-cost entertainment. When there are exhibits, displays, themed décor, and activities for your attendees, that frees up money in your budget for other things. Frequently these venues have built-in technological amenities that you can incorporate into your event, which provides additional savings. I once did an event at the Institute of Texan Cultures, which has a room filled with large screens and LCD projectors. I was able to plug in and play my own slide show at no additional charge. I have an event this coming October for 600 people at the City Museum in St. Louis and because of the highly interactive nature of the exhibits, there’s no need for additional decorations or entertainment.
While you do have to pay rental fees for these facilities, many times it’s less than what you would have spent on décor and entertainers. Since these facilities are looking to maximize the usage of their space during downtimes, they frequently will reduce their rates, so be sure to ask if there are discounts that apply. If you are a nonprofit organization, many of these facilities will also offer you a nonprofit discount.
If your group is on a tight budget, you might want to consider colleges and universities, as these venues offer auditoriums, a plethora of classrooms and sleeping accommodations at a greatly reduced cost. I also like large medical centers or medical school campuses for the same reason. (MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has a state-of-the-art conference facility.) You’ll find that most academic venues are primarily available between semesters or during summer months, although some campuses have year-round options. The music or drama department on a campus will have large auditoriums or black-box theaters ideal for special performances or presentations.
Speaking of auditoriums, you also might consider hosting an event at a performance hall, symphony center or cultural venue. These venues have spaces that range in size from intimate recital halls to theaters with opera boxes that can accommodate thousands. And you don’t have to have a large group to enjoy such a venue. I once did an evening event at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas for about 150 people. We had appetizers and dinner in the pre-event space with a trio providing entertainment, then took back-of-the-house tours, concluding with dessert on stage at the end of the evening.
If your group is more into sports than culture, check out local arenas and stadiums, as you will find these facilities very easy to work with. I’ve done tailgate parties at college baseball games and taken two groups to pro baseball games; all three times I have found the event managers at these facilities to be great to work with. They will offer you discounted group ticket pricing, welcome your group on the scoreboard, conduct stadium tours, allow your group access to the field or locker rooms, and many have private party rooms, suites or skyboxes you can rent. I’ve had really good luck with baseball stadiums as it’s such a long season and they play during the week, not just on Saturday or Sunday like football. So over the course of a multi-day conference, there is usually at least one home game.
When you look at going off-site for an event, make sure you take into consideration:
- How you will transport your group (and at what cost)
- What your severe weather plan will be
- If you will need any special permits or licenses
- If there are adequate restroom facilities
- And make sure to select a caterer who is experienced in off-site catering, as everything has to be brought to the site.
You’ll need to allow extra time for loading and unloading the group, transferring them in traffic and a way to manage the crowd, so make sure the DMC or bus company you work with is experienced with this as well. I just took a group of 600 in Florida off-site for an Oceanside beach party and the transportation cost was $10,000.
The next time you are looking to elevate your event to the next level, I encourage you to consider using a unique venue or special event facility. You will find it adds an entirely different level of interest and excitement to your event, one that will have your attendees talking for years to come!