Trends in Meetings Drive Unconference GrowthThe unconference has grown in popularity in part because of the overall trends in the meetings industry described by the AmEx report. Smaller, shorter meetings that are regional in scope, incorporate technology, have a lower cost for attendees and planners, and which are put together with much shorter lead times lend themselves to the unconference model. Another trend mentioned in the report is the desire to find non-traditional properties to host meetings. This too has been a characteristic of the unconference. Venues that have never been in the business meetings market before can now offer themselves as potential hosts for these participant driven events. Restaurants, collaborative workspaces, museumsâ€”any facility with open space and free Wi-Fi is a potential unconference site.
Different ExpectationsImage courtesy of Pedro Lozano The unconference is not intended to be a â€œfree for allâ€ but rather a structured way to allow participants to help shape the exchange of ideas. The expectations of conference attendees have changed over the past 10 to 15 years, and interactive technology has made participation and access to information easier. Venues that play into these different expectations have an advantage over traditional conference facilities. The non-traditional venue is also desirable for unconferences because it sends a message to participants that theyâ€™re not attending â€œthe same old meeting.â€ Planners choose these sites to encourage participation in the dialog and exchange of ideas, recognizing the value of the setting in driving the event.
Every Organization Can BenefitSome businesses or associations may see the unconference as too unstructured, but even large firms such as Booz Allen Hamilton and major meetings like the Big Data Analytics Unconference have successfully employed the participant-driven model. Far beyond the tech world or nonprofit organizations, the unconference is taking hold and has been called â€œthe future of meetingsâ€ by Meetings Magazine. Tapping into the ideas and problem-solving skills of participants while embracing the overall changes in meetings and events, the unconference is an idea that is here to stay.
Rachel De Marte: Culinary Director of Venue One
Itâ€™s not often that you meet someone whose personality is as bright as her talent is impressive, but this is certainly the case when it comes to Rachel DeMarte. A go-to event planning, styling and catering expert, Rachel uses her reputation and successful years in the industry at her very own events company RachelDeMarte.com and as the Culinary Director of Chicagoâ€™s all-inclusive meetings, weddings and special events center Venue One.
Photo by Choking Sun on FlickrNow is the optimum time to get your team together and plan for the New Year. Think about it. Before long, you'll be knee-deep in end-of-year strategies, fourth quarter planning and the run-up to Christmas (yikes). So before you and your team get snowed under, now's the time to arrange a re-grouping exercise. And the more interesting and inspirational the setting, the more likely you are to have a successful meeting that's memorable for all the right reasons.
Why should setting matter?For regular team updates, your room at the end of the corridor might do the job. But when you're looking to fire up your team and get those creative juices flowing after the holiday lull, sometimes it's worth thinking a little bigger. You want something that's inspirational. After all, we're thinking 2014. You need to start the New Year with a bang, so why not pick out a meeting or conference setting that's motivational and gets your team in the right frame of mind - right from the start?
How to choose the right spaceIt's important to align your choice of meeting space with your company culture. For instance, a Fortune 500 or a highly corporate multinational might not go for a bohemian style workspace, unless you're looking to shake things up a bit. Equally, why host a meeting with young creatives or fresh-faced graduates in a stuffy corporate skyrise? There are all sorts of different look-and-feels you can go for. There's the slick city space in a corner room on the 20th floor with killer views. There are back-of-beyond retreats in rural settings with exposed beams and creaky floorboards. How about a woodland escape with a spot of raft-building thrown in? Or, you could opt for an historic place with boardroom grandeur.
Make it memorableWhen planning something big - like starting the New Year - you should make your planning session memorable. And, we don't mean memorable because the CEO tripped over a loose corner of carpet. Your choice of venue should provide a setting that's conducive to good business, that fits your culture, and sticks in the minds of your employees. A meeting that's easily forgettable isn't the best way to plan for 2014 - or anything, for that matter. On that subject, why not make it an 'away day'? When you're planning something big, a room-based meeting doesn't always pack enough punch. You could tie it in with some team-building activities, which will really make your meeting a memorable one. Check out some of these suggestions for away days:
- Team-building and collaborative activities, like a treasure hunt or bridge-building.
- Sporting activities, like go-karting.
- A team dinner with daytime or early-evening activities thrown in, like chocolate-making or wine-tasting.
- A day spent volunteering, helping in the community or working at a charity.
- An educational visit or tour, perhaps to a regional office or plant.
- A weekend retreat to a beauty spot, mountain range, forest or coastal town, complete with team activities and planning sessions.
Depending on what type of event you are organising, small event spaces are a dime a dozen. But although small venues aren’t hard to find, how do you ensure you make the most of the space and choose the right one? To give you a head start, consider the following points when choosing your venue.
Unlike finding a venue for 1,000 people, organising an event for 25 to 50 people gives you a much larger range of venues and styles to choose from. It’s important to remember that when choosing your venue size, a small fluctuation in the number of guests, from 50 to 75 for example, could require a change of venue. For this reason it is best to go for a venue that has the capacity to deal with your highest estimate of potential attendees. Due to the small numbers of guests being dealt with, if you don’t hit your maximum number of guests, the space should still feel busy.
If you are hosting an event that encourages people to be sociable and network, try to choose a venue that has large windows with lots of natural lighting. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a small room which is poorly lit with unnatural lighting. A room with lots of natural light will create an open and more welcoming environment. Alternatively if you are hosting a party at night, when natural light won’t be important, go for mood lighting as apposed to overhead fluorescent lighting. This will improve almost any event space!
Make sure you remove unnecessary clutter from the room. It is important to have enough furniture available for the use of all your guests, but try not to supply more than is needed. You want to ensure there is still open space available and people are not struggling to move around. An excess of tables and chairs will create the impression of a small and overcrowded event space.
If you’re holding an event that will involve group work, networking sessions or tea and coffee breaks you may want to consider hiring more than one room to facilitate these sessions. Enabling people to get up, move about and experience a couple of different small spaces will keep the event fresh, especially if it’s an all day affair – people will appreciate new surroundings. This will also help you keep your main room clutter free which, as mentioned above, is vital for creating an open space.
If you want to create the illusion of an event space larger than you have available, while still ensuring it looks full with people, then mirrors are your friend! Strategically placing mirrors on the larger walls within your venue will open out the space and create a larger more airy feel, particularly if your venue is full of natural light.
Hopefully these tips will help you when you’re on the search for your next small event space, and ensure you get a venue that helps you host an event your guests will love!
About the Author: Jonathan Butler works for Virtual Venue Visit, an online venue finder that allows you to take virtual tours of a range of event spaces.