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May 2, 2006

It's not unusual

The one thing you don't want at a conference is jaded, seen-it-all-before delegates, so companies are increasingly attempting to keep their event attendees on their toes by seeking out more and more unusual venues. In fact, according to figures published in 2005 by MIA, in 2004 some 30% of organisers preferred an unusual venue for a meeting against 24% in 2003.

On top of this, companies are choosing venues that tie in with the theme of their events. This creates an entire live experience and strengthens their branding, as well as the messages delivered. From an organiser's perspective, these types of 'off the beaten track' venues also present an additional way of increasing an event's impact.

The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms in London are a case in point: Charles Abraham, who helps run the museum, believes they add value where traditional venues fall flat. "We have the ability to offer an inspirational interest factor for a delegate, which a hotel can't match," he explains.

"Some of the added extras that we offer include interactive tours of the museum, themed events and 1940s briefings by actors, as well as leadership seminars that use the Churchill theme. We also invite inspirational speakers, including Churchill's grand-daughter Celia Sandys."

But it's important you don't get caught up in simply trying to find yourself the most unusual venue. Although such venues can have distinct advantages, the essential thing is that your choice fits the company visions and values and the audience profile - otherwise you may find it actually detracts from the messages being delivered. The reality is that a nondescript venue that can be used as a blank canvas could be a better approach.

"We used such a venue for a major snack food manufacturer," recalls Pamela Berners-Price, head of logistics at Jack Morton Worldwide. "In the dead of winter we created an exotic beach location, even using the sound of waves and seagulls, where delegates could relax among the palm trees and indulge in some blue-sky thinking."

Also, while unusual venues, such as museums, can be breathtaking, they tend to be less flexible with access often restricted to evenings when the general public has left. This means there is less time to personalise the venue.

Berners-Price is also keen to ensure companies don't lose sight of the practicalities. "Whatever venue you chose, it's important that it is easily accessible for the audience and can gear up to whatever level of service you require, whether this is in-house staffing or banqueting."

In short, you need to consider what you're hoping to achieve for your delegates. For example, you may want to create a retreat where delegates are able to focus without the distractions of a buzzing city around them. Understanding the balance of business and leisure in an event and the intensity of the business to be conducted is crucial. Once this is ascertained, it can be down to something as simple as geography or availability.

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