Tired of hosting humdrum conferences? Consider one of these out-of-the-ordinary venues.

If traditional conference rooms leave your meeting attendees yawning, wow them by booking a space at one of Central Ohio's nontraditional meeting locations. Choosing a venuewith a special space-or special guests-is sure to add excitement to an otherwise routine corporate event.

Researching and booking such a locale, however, takes a little more effort, meeting planners and managers advise.

"Know your audience and their preferences, then decide if a unique venue will do it for them" says Eleanor Garrison, a Certified Meeting Planner and president of Garrison & Associates.

Start with the programming. "Is it a structured session, a free-flowing social gathering or a combination of both? Meetings usually require some degree of privacy. Social events require open spaces that the group can spill into after the business session is over," Garrison says.

"Most meetings have some level of food service, even if it's only coffee and pastries. Can the on-site kitchen staff handle your needs or do they have a list of preferred caterers? Also check the site's liquor license status and alcohol policy," she says.

Garrison also suggests confirming the venue's audiovisual capabilities. Do they provide AV professionals, or are clients their own? Can attendees see the on-screen material given the room's lighting? For comfort, check on temperature control and sit in the chairs. Adequate parking is a must. Address any security concerns.

The region offers a number of unique meeting locations for training sessions, off-site retreats appreciation receptions and other events.

Here's a sampling of a few of the local offerings.

Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill
900 Goodale Blvd., Columbus
(614) 29-WOODY

Licensed by Ohio State University, Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill is a sports bar that celebrates all things scarlet and gray.

"It's a tribute to OSU athletics that encapsulates the energy and pride Ohio has for OSU. It's infectious, so if you're hosting true Buckeye fans or a Buckeye-themed event, this is the place," says general manager Chris Bee.

In a nod to the tradition of reviewing game day film, the Film Room holds 50 people for meetings. "We have a lot of all-day seminars here. We can partition it off and are flexible in how we set up the room. It has a stage for speakers and a stateart AV system that handles a wide variety of digital media," Bee says.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
4850 W. Powell Road, Powell

Things can get a little wild at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

"Most of our events are company outings or appreciation events, but we host business meetings, too. Usually the group has a working session part of the day, but leave time for everyone to visit the zoo," says Janelle Guerin, group sales manager.

The Indoor Activity Pavilion is a traditional enclosed meeting space, while the Water's Edge Event Park has heat, but no air conditioning. "Glass doors open to the outside. It's very scenic," Guerin says.

"Sometimes we're asked to bring animals to their event. Our scavenger hunts are great for teambuilding. We conduct behind-the-scenes group tours or the company uses the tours as a prize," Guerin says.

Corporate customers also can receive discounted ride wrist bands and drink bottles with free refills.

Some companies go so far as to rent an entire region of the zoo. "We can seat thousands for dinner, and many events include entertainment. Our outdoor spaces give companies a lot of options," Guerin says.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
1777 E. Broad St., Columbus
(614) 715-8000

"No matter what the weather is in Ohio, we offer blooms and green spaces all year," says Abbie Ingersoll, corporate sales assistant manager.

Franklin Park's six meeting spaces are each paired with an outdoor garden. The conservatorycan accommodate meetings for up to 100 people, 250 for a sit-down dinner and 500 for a reception. "Groups usually make time for the guests to walk through the gardens and conservatory. It gives them a real mental break," Ingersoll says.

Experiential group tours as well as culinary, glass-blowing and horticulture hands-on demonstrations also are offered. "The demonstrations make nice meeting breaks. For example, some groups use the culinary demonstration for their lunch," Ingersoll says.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio
3081 Columbus Pike, Delaware
(740) 363-1146

Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO) opens its doors to business meetings as well as educational seminars.

"It's important to connect with our communities in a lot of different ways," says communications director Danny Russell. "At MTSO, you can genuinely get away from the office, but still have the amenities of a standard conference center. We're outside the city on a 70-acre wooded campus with more than a mile of pathways. It feels a world apart here"

Given the rhythm of its academic week, MTSO can best accommodate corporate meetings on Mondays and Fridays. Several room choices are available.

"Alford Centrum is our largest space. It seats up to 200 people, and we have small desks. It's very versatile. It even has a piano and organ. How many places can say that?" Russell says.

Three classrooms can be used as meeting space, with the largest holding 50 people. Two collaboration rooms each hold eight people. "The 50-inch touchscreen computers mounted on the wall run Windows, but you can tap into your own computer or use it as a whiteboard," Russell says.

Star Lanes Polaris
8655 Lyra Drive, Columbus
(614) 468-4830

Star Lanes Polaris opened April 5, making the bowling alley among the area's newest meeting sites.

"We're a 34,000-squarefoot facility, with 8,000 square feet of dedicated event space when the six private bowling lanes are included. It's its own space that's very unique," says Doug Mechling. He co-owns Star Lanes Polaris with his brother, Jeff, and father, Mike.

The dedicated event space holds 120 people overall, or seats at 80 at round tables or 100 with stadium seating. It's part of a larger private section that holds up to 350 people. The high-definition audiovisual system can project corporate videos above the lanes.

"There's a lot of energy here, and I think that's why we're already hosting teambuilding events," Mechling says. "The scoring system at the private lanes lets teams across all six lanes compete against other. And there are different games within bowling that builds camaraderie."

Need more space? Book the entire facility and host an event for up to 1,000 people.

Studio Movie Grill
175 W. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus

In September, the former Arena Grand Movie Theatre will reopen as Studio Movie Grill. As its predecessor did, Studio Movie Grill also will have meeting and event offerings.

"Our business clients have told us again and again that events held here are memorable," says sales director Sheri Lawrence.

Studio Movie Grill locations in other cities frequently host training seminars, product launches and appreciation eventtheir meeting space: the movie theaters. "Our auditoriums are various sizes, so we can easily accommodate different sizes of groups. You won't be in a half-empty auditorium," Lawrence says.

Businesses can bring their own DVD to show on the 50- to 60foot screens. "Believe me, PowerPoint gets a big punch on a 50-foot screen," Lawrence says. The seats have tray tables for events where it's necessary to take notes or use a laptop.

"A lot of our business clients tie their meeting into a social event and movie at the end of day. We think that helps make it memorable. Hosting a corporate event here adds creativity and injects fun and entertainment," Lawrence says.

Lisa Hooker is a freelance writer.