Professional event planners are used to showing up for work in hotels and convention centers, but as an industry veteran I’m here to tell you that I no longer raise an eyebrow when asked to show up at just about any venue that can host a meeting or event. A case in point was when I was asked to work an event at a zoo. You know, the kind with animals and critters and well, you get the picture here.

Yes I was, and yes I did!

And while I do profess to love animals (the cute, warm, fuzzy kind; not necessarily the creepy, slinky, slithery kind), I accepted the challenge and off I went to work that day, with the only question in my mind being, “What should I wear?” I was indeed, there for legitimate client business and it was a professional event, but even I didn’t want to stand out like a pink flamingo wearing my basic black work suit. Plus, it was outside, and here’s the best part; I was going to be positioned right next to, um, monkey island.

Yeah, you’ve gotta love this line of work, right?

Anyway, needless to say, that was one of the more unusual venues I’ve worked at during my long industry career, but it also got me to thinking about other work areas that took me outside my comfort zone. So, being a planner, surprise! I made a list and here are some of the more unexpected venues that came to mind and took me down memory lane:

  • Library
  • Church activity center
  • Hospital, including in an auditorium, a seminar room, and yes, in a locked-door admission area to a mental health ward
  • Plush, private suites in hotels
  • Cancer center
  • Bowling alley

Many, by the way, were GCG Event Partners assignments (although it should be noted not the zoo one!). Anyway, I think you get the picture here and I’m sure some of you are also mentally adding your own unique venues to my list.

The point here is that in this climate of ‘client events can take you anywhere’, as planners we need to be prepared. Here’s a partial checklist of things to remember when you’re sent to work a job that might just be outside your normal comfort zone:

  • Be prepared to explain who you are and what you are doing there; a lot. I often find that the staff working unique venues might not be familiar with or even briefed on whatever event or meeting you’re there to work so you might find a need to repeat yourself as you slowly begin to take control over your territory, wherever that might be. This is also why it’s critical to make an introductory phone call ahead of time so they know you’re coming and to get questions answered like where do I park, what area am I assigned to, and do I need an escort to get there?  HINT: on my zoo gig, it took three staffers to get me through the gate and into my ‘monkey jungle’ location, and each time I had to explain over and over again what I was supposed to be doing; but, be aware, this can even happen at restaurants.
  • Know what equipment you need ahead of time and plan ahead (think tables, chairs, signage, extra lighting, carts/trolleys to move your equipment, etc.). NOTE: GCG Event Partners is excellent in contracting for ancillary equipment, but make sure you confirm when and where it was delivered, who signed for it, and it’s always a good idea to have a copy of that paperwork with you when you show up.
  • Think about extra supplies that are always available at a hotel but that you’d never find in a zoo!, or whatever spot you’re headed for. Things like pads of paper, ink pens, extension cords, markers for signs, tape, and whatnot. A good planner always has a supply kit handy which is especially important with unusual locations.
  • Arrive at the venue early to explore and get comfortable in your environment. Think about the ebb and flow of your event from all angles and make sure signage, registration, and greeters are all positioned to be effective for arriving attendees. Oh, and be sure to know where the restrooms are!

Finally, my last bit of advice when assigned to ‘unusual’ venue locations would be to cautiously take control once you’ve got a good handle on both the flow and program. Not all locations are used to hosting events, so be gentle but firm as you work your meeting magic!

 

Terry Matthews-Lombardo is an industry veteran meeting planner, trip director, and free-lance writer who’s seen and experienced a lot of challenges – the good, bad, great and ugly – during her professional lifetime spent in this industry. Based in Orlando, FL, she’s been a proud and active member of the GCG Network of planners since 2005. You can read more by Terry on her blog Hospitality Hive.

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