Inspiration in a Box From One Traditional Meeting Venue

How one organization used a traditional venue to create an unconventional, out-of-the-box experience at their inaugural winter meeting.

The buzzword in event planning is “experiential,” with planners turning to unconventional meeting venues — such as art galleries, factories or parks — to provide attendees with experiences they cannot have in any other destination. So, naturally, experiences are inherently tied to the specific meeting destination and its offerings, a fact that is backed up by recent findings from The Experience Institute. Therefore, it’s the destination that is often the determining factor in whether or not attendees decide to travel for a meeting.

When developing experiences unique to a destination, however, you might not consider the city’s convention center. According to a report from Eventbrite, half of all meetings will continue to take place in hotels and convention centers — regardless of additional offerings. So, rather than considering a hotel or convention center as uninteresting, consider that those spaces often permit a relatively high level of flexibility and support for you to create out-of-the-box experiences inside … well … a box.

The Evolution of An Experience

Jason Welch of Kent, Ohio wanted to create an event that celebrated his home state and raised money for a good cause, The Adam S. Hamilton Academic & Athletic Scholarship Fund in honor of the Kent, Ohio-native US Army specialist who died while serving in Afghanistan. Welch, an independent nurse anesthetist and owner of the gym Crossfit Cadre in Hudson, Ohio, helped organize Crossfit Hero workouts at the Kent State University Field House to raise money. But he wanted to do more.

“How do we get not just Crossfit, but wellness, to the community,” he would ask himself. As his thought process evolved, he began to envision everyday athletes, not just the ripped competitors often seen on TV, having the opportunity to challenge themselves with tough workouts while competing in their own hometown version of the Crossfit games.

Thinking Inside the Box

When Welch sought to make the event a reality beyond the reach of the field house, he turned to the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland.

“A Crossfit gym is typically a box, a warehouse space,” Welch says. “The ultimate warehouse space is a convention center.”

To be clear, Welch is not a professional meeting planner or event manager. But, thankfully, the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland was instrumental in walking him through every step of the planning process while ensuring he’d have all the necessary support to run a successful event.

“The convention center staff was extremely helpful with everything — from soup to nuts,” Welch says. “They helped me figure out how to mitigate costs and address logistics that I hadn’t even thought of.”

The 2018 IACC Meeting Rooms of the Future report, points out that leading venues can embrace their roles as strategic consultants in experience design by assisting meeting planners as true partners in creating memorable events for attendees.

Traditional Space for Non-Traditional Events

As for Welch’s event, with help from the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, he successfully hosted the inaugural Winter Classic.

Sponsored by the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic Sports Health program and the national Crossfit organization, the first-time event featured 300 competing athletes from seven different states running on self-powered treadmills, climbing ropes and lifting weights. The event encompassed 20,000 square feet of convention space not filled with trade show booths and demo products, but rather $200,000 worth of fitness equipment provided by Ohio-based Rogue sporting equipment.

The athletes’ friends and families watched the competitions, while all attendees browsed various products in the vendor village featuring national and Cleveland-based sporting and wellness businesses. Internationally known Crossfit competitors Margaux Alvarez and Jessica Griffith, a finalist on NBC’s Titan Games, joined athletes in Cleveland for the event.

The Convention Center Advantage

With the help of the Huntington Convention Center, the Winter Classic did what the best meetings tend to: it connected attendees to the destination and provided opportunities for attendees to experience all the things that make the destination special.

“You had high-quality fitness experiences and vendors in one space,” Welch says. “No one had to go outside in Cleveland’s December cold.”

Now in its third year, Welch anticipates more than 500 competitors at his next event.

“This is a unique opportunity in a conventional space to create a destination event that showcases everything this city has to offer.”

To learn more about Cleveland, visit

(Handout photo)