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The venue for a meeting or event may seem like a trivial detail, but it has an outsized influence on the psychology of attendees and the overall success of gatherings. As meeting designers, we must recognize that space shapes experience. The venue we choose sets the stage for collaboration, innovation, and human connection.

Every venue intrinsically communicates symbolic meaning, as proposed by meeting designers Mike van der Vijver and Eric de Groot. They coined the term "venue message" to describe how the space subconsciously conveys the importance and purpose of the event and how it influences the behavior of the participants in the meeting or event.

Venues have an ambient environmental impact that unconsciously primes attendees the moment they walk through the door. A trendy coworking space immediately signals creativity and innovation. The hushed halls of a university inspire the intellect. Even a simple conference room decorated intentionally with art and accessories can transform sterile corporate energy into something fresh and inspired.

As meeting designers, we can leverage the power of environmental psychology to our advantage. If the goal is relaxed camaraderie, an informal setting like a lounge may work best. For focused work sessions, a traditional boardroom with a door that closes may limit distractions. When choosing a venue, reflect deeply on the emotions and mindsets you want participants to embody. Then select a space that naturally evokes those states.

As designers, we can amplify or reshape the innate venue message through décor and theming choices.

The Power of Set-Dressing: Transforming Through Aesthetics

Set-dressing refers to the intentional styling of a space through lighting, colors, textures, furnishings, artwork, floral arrangements, linens, stage craft, and visual branding. This aesthetic enhancement layers meaning onto the existing venue message.

Soft lighting and nature sounds promote calm, while bright colors and modern furniture inject energy. Diverse art and cultural symbols reinforce inclusion. Set-dressing allows us to adapt universal hotel ballrooms into bespoke environments that align with event goals.

Crafting Distinct Sceneries Through the Journey

Most meetings have distinct segments, requiring different energy levels, mindsets, or group configurations. It may be impactful to visually demarcate these shifts with set-dressing changes.

For example, vibrant music and cocktail tables may suit a lively opening reception. Transitioning to muted colors, warm lighting, and banquet rounds covered in linens signals it is time for focused work. Distinct sceneries crafted through set-dressing provide psychological cues to keep participants present in the experience.

The Logistics of Layout: Optimizing Interaction

The physical layout and seating arrangements of a venue significantly impact the dynamics of participation. Thoughtfully mapping the room to suit session formats is key. For example, classroom-style rows work for informative lectures, while clusters of round tables facilitate group discussions.

Also consider sight lines, acoustics, proximity of participants, and ease of movement from one configuration to another. The goal is to remove logistical hindrances to participation.

Making Meetings Mobile: When Venues Must Accommodate Versatility

Sometimes meetings must adapt to multi-purpose venues not designed exclusively for the event. This may limit layout possibilities. In these cases, utilize creative room dividers, seating arrangements, and audiovisual equipment to optimize the existing setup. Strategically place leaders at the front to draw focus. Seek ways for all participants to face one another during group sessions.

Portable furniture is invaluable for transforming standardized ballrooms and auditoriums. Modular stages, screens, risers, and seating allow you to customize spaces for any meeting format or activity. Take time to reimagine how a space could shape the desired experience, even if it wasn’t originally designed for it.

Virtual Venues: The New Landscape for Remote Meetings

In remote and hybrid meetings, the virtual platform becomes the venue. This digital environment should provide the same psychological and logistical benefits as a physical space. Consider an inspiring virtual background image that sets the tone. Use breakout rooms as "spaces" for small group collaboration. Position cameras so speakers make "eye contact" with remote participants.

While virtual venues lack the sensory experience of in-person spaces, elements like music, videos, or slideshows can enhance ambience. Reimagine virtual meetings as immersive experiences where participants feel transported, not disconnected.

The venue may be unseen, but its impact remains. Structure virtual spaces to spark inspiration, engagement, and human connection.

Make the Venue a Co-Designer of the Meeting Experience

Venues influence behavior, mood, participation, and ultimately, outcomes. They shape the arc of the attendee journey. As such, we must treat venues as co-designers of the meeting experience, not just containers for other elements. Consciously select, craft, and enhance spaces to align with desired experiences. Recognize the power of place. When venue complements purpose, meetings transform from mandatory to meaningful.

Picture: Cynthia Magana on Unsplash

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