We talk to Alex Horder, manager of the Great Hall, London, about how to hire an alternative conference space. 

What is the similarity between a conference venue and a theatre stage? 

“I view any event, be it cabaret or conference, as a ‘show’. There should always be a bit of showmanship and timing for an event, even if it is simply someone walking out on stage to give a presentation. Music and lighting cues should be sharp and presentation and displays effective.

“A stage is a stage, no matter what you are putting on it. The only real difference is that there isn’t much call for trap doors and flying rigs in a conference.

“A theatre and a conference venue have the same technical setup and requirements. They both still need a front-of-house team, a stage manager and technicians.

“Essentially, the bonus of having corporate events in a traditionally artistic venue is that it allows you to increase financial stability with corporate hire rates. It also promotes the venue and brings in new customers who would not have thought about a theatre for a corporate event.”

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What would you search for in a venue if you had to organise a corporate event? 

“The two main focus points are services and style. 

“Time is critical within this industry, along with saving money. If I can find a one-stop shop that can provide a front of house team, technicians and equipment, security, cleaners and catering services, they go to the top of my list, unless I’m specifically looking for dry hire.

“Style is the most crucial feature for me. I like my venues to stand out – pack a visual punch as it were – something that is out of the norm for corporate events and venues, which is exactly what the Great Hall does. It’s a stunning art deco theatre with a classic 1930s look, mixed with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.”


How can an alternative venue change the experience for conference delegates? 

“I have been to many conferences that are set in hotels with excellent facilities. Still, their modern and generic atmosphere blend into one, and you don’t take an interest in the history of the building.

“Having an alternative venue instantly gives a focal point for guests to break the ice while networking. 

“From the moment you walk into the People’s Palace (home of the Great Hall), you can see the original building plans lining the walls in displays, along with old aerial photos of east London from before the Second World War, right up to the modern-day flyers and posters of some of the famous acts and shows to have graced the stage.

“It also works amazingly well for creatives as it is a brilliant source of inspiration and can be utilised in workshop activities for group sessions.”

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If you were the architect, what facilities would you include? 

“With some venues built so long ago, accessibility was not in the front of architects’ minds. The team behind the Great Hall has invested a lot of effort in making the building DDA compliant.

“Good security infrastructure and management can make door searches and bag checks a smooth and quick process, avoiding the feel of airport security.  

“Good Wi-Fi for guests with a simple login process is important. A venue needs either a large or separate connection that is guaranteed not to drop out for clients to live-stream events.

“Catering space is crucial. One of the issues older venues face is that, although they can accommodate a conference of 400 people, they do not have the space to provide a dedicated catering area. Spaces such as the People’s Palace can accommodate a significant number of guests for catering. In addition, the Octagon, a grade II-listed venue, is located close by as a stand-alone catering and banqueting space, offering more flexibility.”

How can you create an exciting and alternative corporate conference or exhibition? 

“My advice is to listen to your client and understand their brief and how that will work in your venue.

You should also know how to bring out the best in the building, which might be through clever architectural lighting, a strategically positioned bright and bubbly front of house team, or simply some background music to avoid flat spaces.”

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