Coming soon to a movie theater near you? In addition to the latest superhero sequel, it very well could be your company’s next big meeting. According to a recent New York Times article, movie theaters increasingly are being used as a venue for large meetings and small conferences. It makes total sense, too.
Many movie theaters have been transformed in recent years to include stadium seating and comfortable reclining seats. Plus, you can’t beat their state-of-the-art projection technology, excellent screen visibility, superior sound quality and free parking. Then there’s also the uniqueness factor. Unique venues for business meetings are expanding beyond the movie theater as well.
As coworking office spaces like WeWork continue to grow in popularity and hotels modernize their lobbies and meeting rooms into trendy working environments, more and more meeting planners are wandering off the beaten boardroom path. After all, one of the secrets to a successful business gathering is staging it in an impressive environment, one where attendees are inspired to create and innovate. Of course, there are special considerations to take into account when selecting an alternative site.
Whether you’re striving to mix it up for the annual board meeting, seeking a fun place to train new employees or searching for a special venue to wow 500 guests, below are some questions to help whittle down the choice. Oh, and for more inspiration on where to stage your next event, check out some of the out-of-the-rectangular-box ideas Banks Sadler, an event management agency that American Express Global Business Travel acquired this year, serves up in its blog.
Who are the attendees and why are they coming?
More than any other, the answer to this question will help pare down the options considerably. Not only is it important in determining if a venue has the capacity to accommodate the number of guests you anticipate coming as well as the type of room layout you need (i.e., theater, U-shape, square, etc.) but also if the setting is appropriate for the type of event being held. A nightclub with edgy decor isn’t exactly an appropriate choice for a shareholders meeting. Likewise, a long, narrow room occupied by an enormous conference table isn’t ideal for a networking soiree. We’ll even say you should narrow down a location based on the VIP level of your attendees; a meeting comprised of Fortune 500 CEOs should feel much different than one for professionals 10 rungs down the corporate ladder. When selecting a venue, remember: it’s better to err on the larger side. You don’t want guests to be crammed in so tight that are more focused on the physical proximity with those they’re mingling with than the conversation. Plus, if it turns out fewer people do show up, you always can make a room feel less empty with partition walls, tall plants and additional décor.
How accessible is the venue?
In selecting a site that is geographically desirable, bear in mind how easy it will be for attendees to get there from work or home since this will impact your head count. If the venue is in a big city, is it near a public transportation system that’s running before and after the event? If not, how is the parking situation? If it’s in an inconvenient location, are you ready to supply shuttle service? You also should consider how accessible the venue is itself. Is there an elevator or will guests have to climb four flights of stairs? Will any attendees need wheelchair access? Is there a separate entrance for outside vendors who will be schlepping large trays of food or equipment?
How will food and beverage be handled?
Especially if it’s a sit-down luncheon or after-hours cocktail, this one is a biggie. You certainly do not want to leave a bad taste in attendees’ mouths by serving mediocre food. Ask yourself: Does the venue have an on-site kitchen or will you have to hire an outside caterer? If the venue does offer its own food services, how’s the reputation? Not so stellar? Then will you be allowed to hire any outside caterer you like or are there restrictions? And depending on what kind of event it is, are there any limitations surrounding liquor?
Will the space accommodate your event’s specific needs?
Before signing on the dotted line, it’s imperative to conduct a site inspection to see if the venue truly is The One. Scope out any areas attendees will encounter, from the parking lot to restrooms. Study the layout and floor plan and envision if it will work for your needs. Is there space for registration tables and food stations? Does the venue provide chairs and tables or will you need to rent them? Will the entrance and architectural structures enhance or interrupt the flow of traffic? Will you need to play with ambient lighting to make the space more alluring and mask uglier features? Speaking of which, schedule the site inspection during the time of day when the event will be taking place so you can see what the real lighting situation will be. Also test the acoustics. Is it a room with a low ceiling where noise quickly fills it up or an expansive, open-concept space where sounds reverberate? If you’re having keynote speakers, is there a stage and does the venue provide working audiovisual equipment?
Who will be there to help you?
Finally, when organizing an event at a place that doesn’t play host too often, try to get a read on how supportive and professional the service staff is. There are always unexpected hiccups when planning any affair. When they do arise, you’ll want competent, friendly hustlers who will be your problem solvers, not creators.