A meeting of minds

Why bother with meetings? Surely there is no need for them in this high-tech world of instant face-to-face communication? Why make the effort to get everyone together in one place, when systems like Skype can keep them all involved without the expense of a conference?

So much more can be done for so much less – or so the thinking goes. Yet this could prove to be a short-sighted approach. Savings made could turn out to be costly with a small return, while the price paid could be the loss of big ideas and wider, creative thinking.

Competition in the marketplace is fierce and companies need to see that there is no room for complacency. To get the best out of high-powered, imaginative people, there needs to be interest, involvement and a desire to up their game. Such people thrive when set against their peers.

So what should firms do if they want to get the most out of their best operators? Sitting in front of a screen while throwing out ideas is unlikely to generate the gems that will send profits soaring.

What should industry be thinking when planning the meetings that matter? There are some guidelines for getting the best results:

  • It’s important – the setting should reflect this
  • It’s elite – only the top people are invited
  • Expectations are high so bring out your best
  • It is expensive – so no time wasting allowed

Staff who see from the setting that the company is serious and values their input will be engaged more readily. They will also be able to look around at who else is there – all the big wheels – so immediately become aware of the need to up their game and strive to impress, both their bosses but also, crucially, their colleagues. They want to be seen as high flyers and so will dig deep to come up with the right answers.

With the important controls in place, ie an agenda to be adhered to and a facilitator who is experienced in keeping the pace brisk, much more can be achieved than may be possible in a less formal setting.

Also, companies who value their best brains do not want to bore them. They want innovative solutions to old problems, that spark of genius instead of the same old end game. They want energy. So inspire them. Take the meeting out of the ordinary and somewhere new. Somewhere to excite the interest of all taking part. A talking point at the very least – but also a valuable marker, a sign that says, this is where it all happens, here, where the stakes are high and where every decision counts. Performance should rise to the occasion.

So, are there places that can send a shot of excitement through the participants?
 
The Shard in London

This is a building that says the only way is up and up and up. The tallest building in Western Europe, it was opened in the summer of last year and its only role is to impress, which it does effortlessly. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, The Shard screams for attention. It is 309.4 metres high and has 11,000 glass panels, yet boasts that 93 per cent of the materials used in its construction were recycled. Iconic yet caring – it’s a powerful message.

That is not what awes most visitors, however. They see grandeur, scale, expense, yes, but also majesty, a towering example of what can be done even when times are tough. The message here is: take a look over this city, see what has already been accomplished by great minds, and then come together to generate your own magic.

The tower has offices, restaurants, winter gardens and the Shangri-La Hotel. The Shard is convenient but it does not compromise. It is unique, seriously special, but most of all it is a huge and spectacular symbol of success. A meeting there will spell that out loud and clear.
 
Fire their interest

Everybody knows that meetings can be dull – many dread them. Conferences that drone on and on while achieving little are a waste of everyone’s time and intellect. How much better if delegates arrive stimulated by their environment, excited to see something new and surrounded by objects that spark their interest? Jaded thinking flies out of the window as they swap impressions of the wonders around them.

This is what is on offer at the British Museum, home of some of the most fascinating artefacts to be found anywhere in the world. Special exhibitions bring pieces that strike awe in the beholder, while the galleries are always full of inspirational works.

A spokesman for the British Museum said: “Guests and delegates enjoy state-of-the art facilities. During opening hours they have access to the collection and also special exhibitions for inspiration, relaxation and motivation. We offer a range of additional bespoke services to make your event unique, including room dressing and lighting design. Our dedicated staff can offer access to translation services as well as catering for everything from light refreshments to three-course meals.

“The Museum’s unique Grade I-listed public galleries are complemented with a suite of contemporary conference facilities designed by Lord Foster, for daytime or evening events.”

As a place to impress, the British Museum would be hard to beat. A meeting here speaks volumes about solid values that have stood the test of time, looking back over a wealth of admired heritage while pointing clients to the potential for greatness to come. It spells confidence – and business goes nowhere without it.
 
Take it to the Tate

Packing a similar punch is the Tate, the place to which every visitor to London makes a bee line. Rightly so, but it is possible to hold meetings and conferences there, too, with 600 people catered for comfortably. Gallery 9 is a beautifully-proportioned Victorian gallery displaying magnificent British romantic paintings from the Tate collection.

A Tate spokesman said: “An impressive and imposing space, this gallery creates a spectacular atmosphere for any event, allowing guests to be entertained in the company of great artists such as JMW Turner, John Martin and Francis Danby.

“The Manton Foyer, with its Italian limestone floor and glass atrium, offers a contemporary space within this Grade II-listed building, and with the Linbury Galleries adjacent, guests are able to enjoy a private view of the current exhibition during the course of the event. The Rex Whistler Restaurant is a beautiful and intimate room which features the artist’s exquisite mural, specially commissioned by Tate in 1927, and summer events benefit from direct access onto the north lawn.”

Hold a meeting or conference here and soak up the sense of quality all around. To be at the Tate is to be in the presence of genius. Will it rub off on your guests? It’s worth a try and at the very least it is seriously special.
 
Factor in some fun

Looking to be in the heart of London but also aiming for something different? The London Transport Museum has undergone a two-year, £22.4m refurbishment to give it a new, more vibrant and modern feel. Always a firm favourite with visitors and helped by its central location in Covent Garden, the museum is close to the many West End attractions.

The Transport Museum can also offer boardroom spaces while celebrating one of the capital’s much-loved talking points, the red London bus. It is different, light-hearted and most of all, fun. A meeting here brings everyone on board and gives them a renewed sense of energy and optimism. It tells them they are going places in a good way.
 
Out of town

Middle Britain can rightly claim to be the birthplace of British industry, with both Manchester and Liverpool playing their part in driving this island’s fortunes forward. Both are attractive cities and offer great venues for meetings, but for a slightly different slant a castle could fit the bill and Peckforton Castle in Cheshire is close enough to both cities to make it a contender.

It’s interesting, in that although it has a gatehouse, portcullis, dry moat, turrets, towers and windows designed to repel arrows, it is quite modern by castle standards, having been completed in 1850.
In 1858, Sir George Gilbert Scott said it was: “The most carefully and learnedly executed Gothic mansion of the present. It was executed to the highest standards and is one of the great buildings of its age.”

It was built for John Tollemache, the largest landowner in Cheshire at the time, and praised by many as the greatest estate manager of his day. It cost £60,000 to build, about £5.4m of today’s money, and while hugely successful, Tollemache was also considered to be seriously eccentric.

These days the castle can impress with the grandeur of the Great Hall, along with six individually-designed conference suites for up to 350 guests – the Hall alone can seat 180 – so this is a setting that shows what one great man can do when he sets his mind to it. Tollemache knew what he wanted and he got it.

A meeting here tells delegates to go with what works best, forget fashion, take the best of the old and bring it bang up to date with your own individuality and ideas. Aim for what will stand the test of time and as the building itself demonstrates, a little eccentricity can be a very good thing.

For somewhere stylish and very different, imagine a drinks reception in the torch-lit Roman baths at Bath in Gloucestershire, with its steaming waters and Roman artefacts. Guests will not fail to be impressed.

The Pump Room at Bath sits in the heart of the World Heritage Site and is a place that has attracted the fashionable set for centuries. It was built as a focal point for Georgian society, and as a meeting point for visitors from all over the world who came to sample the famous waters and enjoy convivial company. While graciousness abounds, and fine living and dining are assured, great things seem possible here as the place works its magic.

Bath has pulled off the trick of bringing all the right people together in one beautiful, historic and decidedly grand place for a very long time. What it did for those seeking the right contacts of the past it can do for business today – and in such wonderful style.

Article courtesy of Stream magazine

This was published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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