It’s never been more important for meeting and event planners to create engaging, innovative experiences for their attendees and participants. While indoor venues are traditionally used for resort meetings, theres a rising demand for innovative, flexible, outdoor meeting spaces that will keep attendees inspired and engaged. Across all Disney destinations, planners will find a variety of unique spaces to get their attendees out of the ballroom and into the great outdoors. 

“People love getting out of the four walls of a meeting room for some sunshine and fresh air,” says Natalie Rice, CMP, Senior Catering and Convention Services Manager at Disneyland Resort in Southern California. “It’s something new and different, and it’s a great way to energize attendees and inspire discussion.”

Indeed, switching up meeting routines can spur new ways of thinking, as business innovator Nicole Merchant discusses in her popular TED Talk “Got a Meeting? Take a Walk.” Why? The brain loves novelty, neuroscientists tell us, and when new strategies — and settings — are used to convey information, our brains are more receptive and creative solutions and ideas are more likely to emerge. 

“We’re definitely seeing more interest in outdoor meetings,” Rice says. “Of course, our mild year-round weather is a big plus, especially in January when it’s 70 degrees outside.” She describes a recent sales meeting that held a breakout session for 30 people in the Brisa Courtyard at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, an outdoor venue surrounded with evergreen trees and offering a view of the aerial monorail from Disneyland Park. The presenter asked for a horseshoe set-up so that the group could easily communicate without microphones, and he opted to forego any audiovisual screens so he wouldn’t have to worry about glare for the 45-minute session. 

“Our team created this set-up as an alternative for this event—as we needed more breakout space beyond what was originally anticipated,” Rice explains. “But, the presenter loved it so much he now requests this space and set-up as his first choice, whether an indoor meeting room is available or not.”

A confluence of trends is driving interest in outdoor meeting space, including more focus on wellness, experiential learning and attendee engagement. “Planners are re-thinking events in so many ways,” Rice says, “and making use of more creative settings is one of them.” She adds that for team-building activities — long a staple of corporate and association gatherings — outdoor areas are more popular than ever. 

Moreover, nearby Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park offer a wide array of creative settings, indoor and outdoors, for networking events. These include Stage 17 at Disneys California Adventure, an indoor venue equipped with all the accouterments of an actual stage set and accommodating meetings of up to 400. Breakout sessions and food-and-beverage events can be set up at the locations outdoor terrace. 

Rice offers the following tips for planners who want to set up a meeting in an outdoor space or venue:

  1. Consider all of your audiovisual needs, and understand that it may cost extra to set up projection screens, microphones, laptops, etc. in outdoor venues. If a presentation is heavily dependent on audiovisual, it’s probably not a great idea to move outdoors, where it can be difficult to control lighting and ambient noise.
  2. Always have a back-up location in case of contingencies, such as inclement weather. Make sure the hotel is holding a back-up space for you.
  3. Manage expectations when taking your meeting outdoors. “There can be distractions, whether it’s an airplane passing overhead, or, as we have here in the Happiest Place on Earth”, the sound of Guests splashing in a pool,” Rice notes. On the other hand, being outdoors stimulates the senses and ambient sounds may help jump-start creative engagement. 
  4. If you are unable to hold a meeting outdoors, bring the outdoors in by choosing meeting rooms with plenty of natural light, and if possible, access to patio or terrace areas for breaks. Or just give your attendees time between sessions to get outside. Even a small dose of vitamin D can be a good mood-booster.

Bottom line: “Accessing the outdoors for your meeting can be a great opportunity to shake things up,” Rice says, “and it doesn’t necessarily have to cost you any extra money.”

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