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Host Your Event at a Location to Remember
Published Thursday, April 20, 2017

Employers are looking for meeting spaces that inspire, such as The Cave at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. Courtesy Photo.

Tradition is going out the window when it comes to event planning as employers look for ways to engage employees in ways a hotel conference room never could. From moving trains and chefs’ kitchens to warehouses and barns, employers are redefining the ideal meeting space.      

The idea is simple: Engage people by bringing them to an inspiring space, the kind of inspiration that can’t be found in a hotel conference center with few windows and a coffee station at the back of the room. It’s all in keeping with a move toward more participatory company functions that boost teamwork, build motivation and foster employee loyalty.

Wow the Crowd
“People lately want something that’s going to wow their employees,” says Laurie Mantegari, owner of Hampton-based Everyday Details Professional Event Planning and an event planner of 26 years’ standing. “With a lot of people working remotely, they haven’t seen each other for a while and some social piece can be lost. They want to get their employees to have fun together and [to connect] with what’s their purpose, what’s their goal.”

Mantegari, who also teaches event planning at Great Bay Community College, says today’s executives often seek places where employees can engage in team-building exercises, which might include a scavenger hunt across an entire community, for example, or lawn games, which are “huge now” when weather allows. She has organized corporate functions at Manchester’s Currier Museum, the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, a variety of barns and several chefs’ kitchens, where employees might be asked to do something like “create a team to come up with a fabulous salsa.”   

Likewise, Amy Piper, owner of Signature Events in Wolfeboro and an event planner for 18 years, says more companies are turning to old mill spaces, barns, wine cellars and four- or five-star restaurants for work functions.

Among recent venues where she has organized events are the 1865 wine cellar at the Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield, the rooftop of the Taj Boston Hotel and the “cave bar” at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, where the stone walls and intimate atmosphere create “a lot of ambiance,” she says. She has also seen a change from one-day events to multi-day corporate gatherings, where employees might have a meeting in barn, a catered lunch in another locale and a team-building activity outdoors before spending the night on site and starting again.

“Anything interactive remains big, instead of just going to a retreat and listening to someone,” says Steve Krawic of Show Ready Events in Londonderry, who has managed events on motorcycle tracks, at fairgrounds and even on a moving train that went across Canada for a day and a half while his clients conducted meetings, enjoyed entertainment and feasted in the service car. He also sees a move toward more personal company events. “Higher-level management for companies are starting to do things in their own homes instead of keeping their personal life separate from their professional life,” he says.

Tradition with a Twist
Even in more traditional settings, Krawic is seeing more “combination seating,” such as couches placed between a podium and classroom tables, or bean bag chairs scattered in the room “to create informality, trying to reach the millennials.”

While virtually all of his customers are outside of NH, Krawic chose a Granite State venue for some team-building of his own in December, when he treated his team members and some clients to a day at Charmingfare Farm in Candia. “That was not about content. That was about connecting,” he says. “Someone started singing Christmas carols when we were about five minutes out, and the whole group joined in.”

For other companies, it’s not the venue that’s different but the activities.

Mark Dartnell, owner of Taylor Rental and Party Plus in Concord, says Amoskeag Beverages of Bow has an annual family-themed event on its own grounds, complete with a petting zoo, inflatables and fair-themed booths with popcorn, cotton candy and other delectables. And while he hasn’t had a corporate customer request anything like it, he once managed a wedding that was held in the parking lot of an old drive-in movie theater on the Massachusetts-NH border that featured, among other things, popcorn served from an old theater machine.

Of course, not every “different” venue works out exactly as hoped. Nancy Kilbride, president of Bedford-based Events Your Way, recalls managing a Maine housing conference a couple of years ago held, at the client’s request, at a warehouse in a waterfront community she declines to name. “They wanted to look at some funky architecture. It was awful,” she says, explaining the warehouse was cold and drafty.  

They turned to her again for last year’s conference. “We had it at the Hilton,” she  says. “They listened to me this time.”  

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