Plum Musings

5 Great Locations to Hold a Business Conference

As soon as people find out that part of my job is to produce and stage large business conferences and corporate meetings across the country – and around the world – they inevitably ask the same question: “What is your favorite city or event venue?”

When you’re talking about coordinating a corporate meeting or event, the answer is, “It depends.” Because these gatherings are more than a PowerPoint and a projector -- we’re talking staging, lighting, sound, scripting, theming, hiring entertainment and producing video -- each city and venue has its appeal.

Before I reveal my picks, let me set the stage (yes, pun-intended).

The ballroom is critical and needs the following features:

  1. A secluded location that is insulated from outside noise, and away from hotel rooms so that our event doesn’t disrupt other guests.
  2. High ceilings that contain plenty of rigging points for stage lights.
  3. Reliable power.
  4. Accessible docks and service corridors to easily load in and out.
  5. Controllable house lights so that we can use our lighting designs to the best advantage.
  6. The ability to move “roadblocks” such as large, low chandeliers without charging us huge fees.

Beyond the ballroom, a great location also needs to be accessible by air or ground travel, have high quality rooms and great food, and offer plenty of free-time activities. No, I don’t handle all of those details myself. I work alongside excellent companies that provide the travel, rooms, staging, lighting and more. We work together often, have vast experience at staging events, and share a love of emailing each other spreadsheets and floor plans to orchestrate those mind-boggling details. No, seriously.

Now for my choices

Las Vegas, Nevada

Yes, I know. You love it or hate it. But the fact is, Las Vegas is built for putting on a show. Hotels have big ballrooms. Ceilings have built-in rigging points to hang lights. Plus, when your attendees are not in meetings, there are plenty of off-site options to keep them entertained. With that plug-and-play kind of infrastructure, why would you go anywhere else? Cost can be a consideration if the venue is a union shop. Traffic is another factor. We bring in trucks full of staging and production equipment, and any traffic delays send our schedules tumbling like a house of cards. A rushed set-up leaves less time for technical rehearsals. That’s where we methodically check our systems to uncover those devilish details that can derail a live event. If you’ve ever had a static-filled microphone, a row of lights go dark, or a video that didn’t play as expected, you know what I’m talking about.

I recently produced and directed an event in the Chelsea Ballroom at The Cosmopolitan. We had more than 18,000 square feet of space and created a Cirque du Soleil-type of show with acrobats, balancing acts, and other unique stage performers. One of the aerialists required special rigging so we could raise and lower her on a 25-foot silk over the audience’s heads. We wrote a custom script for the program that tied in the energy of the Cirque acts with key corporate messaging. Las Vegas was the perfect place for this kind of theme. Despite any minor challenges, the city offers so many event-planning opportunities, it has to be near the top of the list.

Ellis Island, New York

By day it’s a national park open to the public. But in the evening, Ellis Island offers a magical setting with glorious views of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline. I produced a corporate event there several years ago, and I still hear from people who say it was one of the most inspiring evenings they can remember. Our theme –from set design to script -- played off the historical setting. We had a live stage band, hired actors to portray immigrants from the late 1800s, and wowed the crowd with a performance of colorful Chinese drummers.

The challenge at Ellis Island was working around the park schedule. Normally we begin setting up a day or two before an event and leave our gear in place. That wasn’t possible because Ellis Island needed to be open to the public, so we came up with another solution. We pulled 3rd shift on two consecutive nights and set up our gear in sections. Once a section was in place, we blocked out positions, tested the technical systems, took meticulous notes, and then moved it out-of-sight before sunrise when the building opened its doors. On the evening of the event, we slid our gear into place, conducted a quick technical rehearsal and went live. The set-up at Ellis Island was one of the more harried experiences I’ve been through, but totally worth it. In case you’re wondering, transportation of equipment to Ellis Island was as challenging as Las Vegas, if not more so. One footnote to this location. Ellis Island was closed indefinitely following the Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. I hope repairs will allow it to reopen again soon.

San Francisco, California

This is a beautiful city for an event with the added appeal of the nearby wine country. This city is also the location of what I feel was the greatest transformation of empty space into memorable business theater. Our ballroom was not a ballroom at all. It was an inconspicuous warehouse located on a wharf in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. The location and size were perfect, but the space was completely lacking the usual ballroom amenities.

In addition to our staging and production gear, we had to bring in all the chairs, tables, linens, food and entertainment. The transformation was amazing. We turned the warehouse into a night-club atmosphere with a huge projection screen and lighting scheme. Even the venue managers couldn’t believe their eyes. The audience was blown away by the location, the atmosphere and the entertainment.

Tucson, Arizona

One of the reasons this place stands out is the warm, sunny location, but also the hotel’s customer service. We were working at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and the account executive assigned to us completely understood what our event was about and how to support our production team. Little things matter, like following our specifications to the letter and helping us find a local florist at the last second on a Saturday night. The other reason this event was memorable was the way we got attendees to participate. Not far from Tucson is a western movie set. We arranged to take the guests on a tour of Old Tucson, and helped them create their own movies. The park offers production services, but we wanted a customized experience for our corporate client. So we wrote scripts, provided additional production crews, and broke our group into teams. The only thing our guests had to do was act, and this competitive group really got into their roles. Once we shouted “It’s a wrap!” they returned to the hotel to relax, while we edited the footage overnight and into the next day. We debuted their films during the awards ceremony the next evening. Incidentally, that program kicked off with an executive arriving onstage on a horse. This was no small feat because of the paperwork and insurance involved – not to mention locating a trained horse that could perform in front of a boisterous crowd. If you’ve got a western theme in mind for your event, Tucson is well worth the effort.

Marbella, Spain

This was yet another beautiful location that suited our global attendees perfectly. They visited Marbella’s beautiful Old Town, the Gibraltar Strait and the Ronda Gorge. The scale of the production and staging at Hotel Gran Melía Don Pepe was more simple and understated. Whenever we coordinate business meetings, we often hire local crew members to supplement our team. Even though our industry has a “language” of its own, there are still challenges working with a diverse team. Try directing a live show in two languages! Fortunately, I speak just enough Spanish to communicate, and most crew members had some English skills.

One of the other challenges when taking a business meeting overseas is dealing with the differences in video formats. North America uses NTSC, while Europe and many other part of the world display video in the PAL format. I hate surprises. So to be sure our videos would play correctly once we got to Spain, we acquired some PAL playback equipment to test it out. The event went off without a hitch and the client was delighted.

These are just a few of the memorable locations where I’ve produced and directed large business meetings. There are plenty more I could have listed, and they vary depending on the size of venue and the number of attendees. If you’re on an event planning team and looking for ideas, give us a call. Plum has the experience and expertise to guide you through the details of putting on a flawless corporate meeting.

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