Issue #54

Unexpected Venues

Meeting planners combat ballroom fatigue with adventurous venues.

Ballroom fatigue: it’s the meeting world’s elephant in the room. Despite the efficiencies that a ballroom-style event offers planners, today’s attendees with their thirst for new experiences want to spend their time — and money — in a venue that will excite and inspire them. 

For meeting planners, it means letting go of familiar rigging points and embracing bold logistics. Meetings continue to adopt themes and strategies from consumer experiences to liven up the status quo, like moving to private homes, waterfronts, and even parking garages. 

Take software brand MobileIron, which for years hosted its annual MobileIron LIVE! conference in a ballroom. This year, however, the brand made a strategic and bold move by taking over three beautiful homes across the United States, including a townhouse in New York City, a lake-side estate in Austin and a modern Bel Air mansion. In essence, the conference became a three-city roadshow. Keynotes took place by the pool, networking took place in the living rooms, partner exhibits activated on the rooftop deck or in the foyer, and breakouts convened in comfortable master suites. The strategy was two-fold: Encourage attendee interactions in a more intimate atmosphere and drive attendance by hosting the event in hubs of customer activity. 

Oath (formerly AOL and Yahoo, now unified under Verizon) for its industry-facing NewFront events once hosted media buyers in urban loft spaces and special events venues. Two years ago, the brand embraced festivalization, hosting a NewFront block party” in South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. This year, Oath took over New York’s Pier 26 creating an atmosphere for business deals with a decidedly consumer feel — think: bucket drummers and street food. The move followed Google’s festivalization of its I/O user conference from a massive convention center-based event at Moscone Center to an outdoor amphitheater in Mountain View, CA. 

And if meeting planners are leveraging traditional venues, they’re doing so in a transformative manner. Marriott International for its biannual Americas Leadership Summit transformed its Atlanta Marriott Marquis venue, the hotel atrium, conference rooms and restaurants, into a series of immersive experiences reminiscent of Refinery29’s 29Rooms Instagram museums. The experiences allowed attendees to immerse themselves in the character traits of all 25 Marriott brands in order to be able to sell them better. No stodgy ballrooms there. 

Unexpected venues encompass spaces that may not even count as a venue: a waterfront cruise, a parking garage (Uber and American Express did this one year), a museum, or, multiple venues. For meeting planners, it’s all about breaking habits for attendees, being a little disruptive and venturing off the beaten path. 

Unexpected Venues is part of our obsession with:

Event Experience Design

The art of designing memorable moments.

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