A Charleston conference center offers space for real conversation.

Laura Prisc knows how to make people talk.

She’s a trained “strategic thinking partner,” so it’s her job to help businesses and organizations find better ways to communicate and solve problems. That’s how she discovered a problem: Bosses often hold workshops away from the office hoping that going “off site” will make the discussion more productive. But most conference spaces don’t really make for good conversation.

The chairs are uncomfortable. The lighting and decor are “corporate sterile,” in Prisc’s words. Plus, renters charge for everything from Wi-Fi to projectors to dry-erase markers. “Your $300 room turns out to be $1,200,” she says.

So in October 2016, Prisc opened her own conference center: Great Expectations THINK SPACE. It’s located in a former furniture factory in Charleston’s warehouse district, just across the street from Appalachian Power Park. “I wanted space with character,” she says. Although the building has been completely renovated, Prisc kept the 100-year-old wooden floors and exposed brick and beams as hints of its former life.

Great Expectations offers four rooms. The Un-Bored Room—with its purple walls decorated with ironing boards, washboards, and board games—cribs an idea from King Arthur by putting guests at a round table. “It invites more collaboration,” Prisc says. The aqua-colored Breathing Room doesn’t have a table at all. The space is dominated by a semicircular couch, and there’s no convenient place to use a laptop. That was intentional—Prisc says electronic devices sometimes get in the way of important discussions.

The Story Room and the TRAINing Room are larger, more traditional conference rooms, although the tables are on wheels for easy rearranging, and each room offers a lounge area to help participants get away from their work when necessary.

All of Great Expectations’ rooms come with projectors, whiteboards, Wi-Fi, snacks, bottled water, silverware, and Fiestaware plates, all for no extra charge. Prisc also includes a selection of board games—she recommends regular playbreaks to help everyone clear their heads—as well as fidget toys like Koosh balls and tangles, because she has found people engage more when their hands are busy.

Groups wanting to work on their communication skills can also hire Prisc as a facilitator. She offers a variety of workshops, including one centered around the business board game FreshBiz. Great Expectations is one of only about 30 places in the United States where the game is available.

Prisc says open, honest conversation can be the difference between failure and success. “Everybody in the room digs out everything they’ve been carrying around with them. It changes the whole tone of how people move forward.” 1216 Smith Street, 681.265.9465, greatexpectationsthinkspace.com

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Zack Harold
Written by Zack Harold
Zack Harold is a southern West Virginia native. He covered education, health, and government at the Charleston Daily Mail before becoming the newspaper’s features editor. He joined New South Media in 2015, became managing editor of WV Living in January 2016, and took over as managing editor of Wonderful West Virginia in July 2016.