It’s time to move beyond the basics of four walls and create a connection with our customers, clients, and community members, says Lisa Gareau
Eleven moves. We did the math. Over their short lives my girls – now adults – moved with me from house to house and even city to city 11 times. Some moves were deliberate and desired. Others caught us off guard, as life had a way of throwing messy curveballs now and then.
Moving is uprooting. Moving is unsettling. Moving is messy. But moving was also a chance to restart and refresh what we knew about what mattered to us. For the three of us, each move brought us back to the basics of four walls and a life yet to be created from the inside out.
With each move, my immediate goal was to help them snuggle into their new environment. But I held out hope that – in time – their personal space would be the jumping-off point from which they could stay engaged with me and express themselves in the big wide world.
On the Move to Your Ideal Event Space
When I considered where to unpack our little family with each move, it brought up many questions.
Some were practical. What area of town is it in? Would all our stuff fit in our new house? Would the dogs have space to run? Would there be schools nearby? Would I be able to find work where we were going?
Some questions went deeper. What – and who – would we be leaving behind? Was our new house in a safe location? Would the girls be able to make friends? What would “home” become if we chose this house?
As you move to find a location for your next event for your business, organization, or group, you may be faced with many of the same questions!
The venue you choose will become the place where your clients, customers, or community members will connect meaningfully with you, your team, and others in the room. Or not! Sometimes we forget that the meetings, events, and gatherings we plan also need to be a place where our guests can feel at home.
Our teams are tired of the same old meetings in the same old ways. Our investors are watching more closely where their dollars and their time are spent. Our community members are desperately looking to reconnect but are still unsure how. Your venue choice – and your attendees’ ability to co-create how it’s used – can make all the difference.
There’s No Place Like Home
Each event has a unique, overarching purpose, but that purpose must be grounded in a physical place from which our guests can expand their experience with our ideas, products, or messages.
Have you ever been to an event that feels like home? You show up and you know what to expect. The elements in the room feel familiar and safe. You know you are among friends or surrounded by those that could become friends.
As someone planning a meeting, gathering, or event, you know it’s your job to choose a venue that will help your guests feel ready to fully participate. But the spaces available to you – and within your budget – might not seem like anything special. They have four walls, a couple of doors, and a bathroom down the hall.
It’s your job as the planner to determine what “home” means to your business, organization, or group so your event can take shape. But before choosing a venue, we must take the time to consider what “home” means for our guests too.
Co-creating a Place for Connection
A few years back I heard the term “placemaking” and got curious.
Placemaking is described on Wikipedia as “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that improve urban vitality and promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being.”
What better reason to take the time to sift through the vast venue options and choose one with the potential to promote the health, happiness, and wellbeing of your guests!
I have long believed that any event can become a meaningful “connection point” where customers, clients, or community members can gather and grow. What if you could also transform the transactional task of booking a venue to an intentional connection-building activity the way a developer would plan to “improve urban vitality”?
As I did when I managed the many moves with my girls, it’s time for you, as an event planner, to “unpack” what an event home could feel like by asking yourself some key questions:
- Why does my event matter to me and my team?
- Who will be in the room and what do they need from me to feel comfortable, creative, or challenged to get more out of the connection?
- What do they need to feel a strong connection with me, our organization, and others in the room?
Making Sure Your Venue Meets Your Needs
Now that you’ve considered what it means to create meaningful “connection points” through your events, let’s look at how to choose a venue where both your event and your guests will feel at home. Asking yourself these questions will help you trim down your choices and add the favourites to your shortlist!
- Who is my main contact and what is their role at the venue?
- Does the space have room for my ideal number of attendees?
- Is it available on my chosen dates at the times I need it?
- Would I have enough time for setup and tear-down?
- Where is it located? How would my guests arrive to the venue?
- Are there transit stops, parking lots, and accessible entrances?
- Is there any flexibility on how I would use the space?
- What kind of design and décor would be accepted in the space?
- Who would be arranging and managing the sound and light?
- Would there be a cost to bringing in my own service contractors?
- What insurance, licences, security would be required?
- What areas of the venue would I have access to, when?
- What venue rules would guide my setup and tear-down?
- Is there onsite storage? What can be stored, where, when?
- How and when would deliveries be received, by whom?
- Is there an onsite caterer or could I arrange outside catering?
- Would there be easily accessible amenities, services, or activities?
- What are the venue fees and what would be included in the quote?
- What percentage of my overall event budget is going to our venue?
- When does the contract need to be signed and deposit made?
- What changes can be made to the contract during my planning?
- What are my options to cancel if my circumstances change?
- How would this venue help my guests feel at home?
- Would this space allow their collective personality and purpose to shine?
Placemaking for the Everyday Event Planner
My girls became masters at creating elements in their rooms that made them feel at home.
Likewise, your guests may welcome the opportunity to co-create the space they will inhabit when they attend your event. We can’t expect our guests to lean into our wider event purpose without allowing them a space where they feel comfortable to engage before, during, or after our event date.
To create a vibrant place of connection, we must be willing to widen our search. You’ll be surprised – when you choose a venue from the inside out, just the right space will reveal itself as the perfect place to make your guests feel at home.
Are your guests most happy and themselves being outdoors and breathing in the cool mountain air? Choose a tucked away retreat center with wide, walkable paths or a restaurant atop a mountain gondola ride.
Are your attendees socially conscious – most comfortable when they can share new ideas with each other? Choose a room large enough to hold your group, but create comfortable, cozy corners for dynamic discussions over drinks.
Are your registrants concerned about their career advancement and being seen by the right people? A grand entrance with a red carpet and a livestream to a big screen will set the stage for everyone to be seen. At my sister’s wedding, musicians were stationed at the door, ready to launch into a playful tune each time a new guest arrived. Now that is setting the stage for everyone to feel important and a part of the energy!
It is your work as the one bringing your guests together to choose a venue that feels like home while co-creating a jumping-off point to explore what matters to the community you are looking to build together.
Choosing to Connect from the Inside Out
In 2010, the girls and I did one more move: a big 14-hour move from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Calgary, Alberta. Once again, it started out as a happy shift but turned out to be a hard reset of our life trajectory. By now, my girls and I knew the drill and dug in to create a space where we could heal together and find happiness. We found our feet and have now been happily grounded in Calgary for almost 13 years. (You can hear more about our many moves on my podcast, The Connector Next Door – Podcast for Planners, where my daughters, Sharayah and Journee, join me for “A Road Trip Chat with My Girls”).
Moving is uprooting. Moving is unsettling. Moving is messy. But moving can also be a chance to restart and refresh what we know about how to gather our guests.
As event planners, it’s time to move beyond the basics of four walls and create a connection with our customers, clients, and community members from the inside out.