Thinking Beyond the Traditional Meeting Space

How one organization utilized non-traditional venues for a creative, memorable conference experience.

For years, events have been held at tried-and-true locations like convention centers and hotel ballrooms. But as attendee demands and desires increase, creativity must also increase. And that means rethinking the location of your next conference.

The rise of non-traditional meeting spaces has been supercharged in recent years, as meeting planners look to cut costs and attendees continue to seek unique, memorable experiences. In fact, demand for nontraditional meeting and event facilities was expected to increase by 3.8 percent in 2017, while demand for other spaces remained flat, according to an Eventbrite report.

While numerous cities are prioritizing this trend for meeting planners, Indianapolis has long been home to non-traditional spaces utilized for meetings and events. Several unique locations sit within the borders of Indy, including the following:

  • Georgia Street, a three-block outdoor street and walkway that connects the Indiana Convention Center, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Circle Centre and several restaurants and hotels.
  • Monument Circle, the geographic and iconic heart of downtown Indy, surrounded by cafes and attractions.
  • Artsgarden, a seven-story towering glass-enclosed dome hovering over one of the city’s most popular intersections.
  • Bankers Life Fieldhouse, an award-winning retro-style arena that is home to the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever basketball teams.
  • White River State Park, 250 acres downtown of green space, trails, trees and waterways. The park is home to the Indianapolis Zoo, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the Indianapolis Indians baseball team’s Victory Field, the NCAA Hall of Champions Museum and National Office, Indiana State Museum, amphitheater, memorials, and much more.

In fact, White River State Park was the unique site for the Forbes AgTech Summit in Indianapolis, which was held last week on September 26–27, 2018. Forbes was looking to build on its AgTech Summits held in Salinas, California—outdoor events held under large white tents.

After meeting planners visited White River State Park, it immediately became their first choice. Hosting the event in a beautiful, green, outdoor space fits in with the agriculture industry. The summit’s 500 participants include farmers, investors and other stakeholders of the agribioscience ecosystem.

“People really love getting out of the conference center or the hotel ballroom,” says Paul Noglows, Founder and Executive Producer of Forbes AgTech. “This is a very participatory, interactive conference. We don’t do long intros, we don’t do prepared remarks, we don’t do PowerPoints. What we do is we try to go out and get the best and the brightest in the industry to discuss issues that are topical and timely, but we also very much include the participants.”

As participants walked up to Celebration Plaza in White River State Park, they passed a large tractor as they headed toward the registration tent. After registration, a connecting tent featured the innovation showcase, where approximately 50 startups had exhibits. Connecting that tent were steps leading up to the main tent, where the presentations and panels were held.

“We love hosting this event outside of a typical conference room setting because it really brings the event to life and creates a much more exciting attendee experience,” says Lindsay Ezykowich, an Event Manager at Forbes.

Forbes took advantage of Indy’s walkability and held events at two nearby unique venues as well. The opening reception was hosted at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, and a sponsor breakfast was held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

While Bankers Life Fieldhouse is known for basketball, it also hosted nearly 500 meetings and events in 2017-18. “Bankers Life Fieldhouse provides a versatile venue to host opening and closing receptions, as well as other general sessions for national conferences,” says Rick Fuson, President and Chief Operating Officer at Pacers Sports & Entertainment.

Most recently, the Fieldhouse hosted the opening reception for the National Recreation and Park Association Annual Convention and will host general sessions for FFA in October. At Gen Con 2017, the Fieldhouse hosted a popular They Might Be Giants concert.

“Not only is the Fieldhouse a destination in its own right, but it can transform to host a variety of special events—including ice skating, beach volleyball, swimming, rodeos and concerts,” Fuson says. “Our venue provides national conference meeting planners great opportunities to customize and tailor events specific to their needs.”

Venues that were not created for traditional meetings often have bonus amenities that meeting planners might not know about initially. For example, the Indianapolis Artsgarden hosts over 250 performing artists a year. As such, it has an exceptional sound system that can be a strength for any event.

“Unique venues offer a change in environment from meeting rooms, which can immediately offer relaxation and a catalyst for positive social interaction,” says Artsgarden Director Mike Prusa. “For traveling attendees, a unique location can provide a more intimate perspective of the local community and offer a memorable city visit.”

No matter the city or unique venue you chose to hold your meeting, it’s important to consider the personalities of your attendees and vibe of your conference before selecting the venue.

“I think it’s always helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the attendee,” Noglows says. “If it’s not exciting or interesting to you, it’s probably not going to be exciting or interesting to someone you’re actually trying to get to pay money to come to the event. Create something that you would want to go to yourself.”

Visit Indy proudly serves as the official sales and marketing organization for USA Today’s “#1 Convention City in the U.S.” Learn more at