Finding the perfect venue
There are lots of things to consider when looking for a venue, including:
Get a clear brief
Establish the meeting objectives, who is attending and what are the key criteria. This is particularly important if you are not the final decision-maker as a lot of your time could be wasted if the requirements change. Find out what the parameters are and what flexibility you have to manoeuvre.
Where are the attendees coming from and how are they travelling? Would the event be better held in a city or in the country? Will delegates travel by car and is there plenty of parking? Consider the access by rail, air and bus. Does the venue have any transfer coaches or are taxis required? You’ll be off to a good start if everyone has an easy journey!
Style of Venue
There is a huge variety of venues available: hotels, conference centres, management training centres, castles, museums, racecourses. What would best suit your event? Is the venue the standard your attendees would expect? Do you need accommodation? If so onsite or nearby? Do you need outside space for team-building? If the meeting is held over several days, what additional facilities are available to entertain the delegates?
Generally a daily or 24-hour delegate rate will offer better value than paying for room hire, catering and accommodation separately. Check the difference especially if you don’t require everything that’s included in the 24-hour rate. Work out how much you have to spend and be clear how you’re going to manage it. Do you have a fixed date, as you may be able to negotiate a better deal on a less popular day of the week or time of the year? Get your cost estimates in writing and create a spreadsheet to keep track of them. There are not only the venue costs to consider but promotional material, production equipment, speakers, transport and printing of documentation. Include a contingency budget, as something always pops up at the last minute.
The meeting room
How many people are attending and what layout will work best? Do you need break-out rooms and how should these be laid out? Will you need to set up the day before, consider rehearsals and the production requirements?
Go on a site visit
Before you book the venue you need to understand how your event will work there and the only way to do so is to see it for yourself. But also think about which venues have been used before, what was good about them and what you would change.
An experienced venue finding agency has inspected hundreds of venues and the staff there are running events on a daily basis. Ask what they think would work best and what’s worked or not worked for other people.
The key to a perfect event is planning - the more you do before, the better everything will run on the day!
Meeting Room Layout
One of the most important factors for your meeting or event to run successfully is the comfort of your delegates and part of that is making sure the room is laid out in the right style.
Everyone needs enough space, a table for writing notes, a clear view of the speakers and a screen if there is a presentation. If the room is set up correctly, it is more likely that the objectives of the session will be met and the learning experience of the attendees will be improved.
Appropriate for large groups and short lectures that do not require extensive note taking. This is a convenient set-up to use before breaking into discussion groups or for role playing because chairs can be moved.
Considerations: will water be available for delegates during the meeting? How and where will refreshments be served?
The most desirable set-up for medium to large sized meetings. It requires a relatively large room. Tables provide attendees with space for spreading out materials and taking notes.
Considerations: how large is the group and what are they doing? A two-day training course for 20 people will have different needs to a 2-hour presentation for 150 people.
Appropriate for interactive discussions and note-taking sessions for fewer than 25 people. Many hotels have elegant boardrooms with fixed boardroom tables and ergonomic chairs. This style can also be used for private dining. The illustration shows a closed boardroom style. If a presentation is needed, then one of the end places can be removed.
Considerations: think carefully about how many people will be attending and whether a microphone will be needed by the speakers.
Appropriate for groups with fewer than 40 people. Maximum interaction is ensured with the leader seated at the head of the set-up. Audio-visual equipment is usually best placed at the open end of the seating.
Considerations: how much interaction is there between the delegates and the speakers? Will there be discussions between the delegates themselves? Do the attendees need to split into smaller groups? Will people be moving around and does the room suit this?
Generally used for meals and sessions involving small group discussions. A five-foot round table seats eight people comfortably. A six-foot round table seats 10-12 people. A dance floor can be incorporated when required, although this does reduce the number of tables that can be accommodated.
Considerations: if you are organising a dinner, think about staging, whether there is a top table, microphones, speakers and presentations. If back projection is needed then it will reduce the usable space for attendees. Ten or 11 people around the table is ideal, when 12 are seated it can be quite squashed.
Useful if you need smaller groups around one table but audio-visual equipment is being used at the front of the room. This set-up allows all delegates to see without having to turn around.
Considerations: is there a presentation? What audio/visual equipment is required and can everyone see the screen clearly? How much space will this take up in the room? A six-foot round table seats 6 or 7 people.
Buffet reception style
Ideal for shorter events where eating and socialising is required. Tables are usually taller cocktail tables which allow people to stand around easily.
Considerations: what sort of food will be served? Is it a finger buffet or will attendees need to put drinks down while they are holding forks and plates?
Front/Back projection style
Many room set-ups can be adapted to incorporate projection onto a screen. Front projection takes up less space but the screen size is often smaller, e.g. using an LCD projector. Back projection can involve a larger screen, often with a stage and lighting, but takes up more space.
Considerations: ensure appropriate ceiling height to accommodate production style, consider how many speakers there are and how long are they speaking for. What other equipment do you need in the room - white board, flip charts do you need a top table, staging, lectern?
Planning a Conference
There are plenty of things to consider when organising a meeting or conference. The following will give you an idea of what to think about when planning an event.
Ask plenty of internal questions:
- Ask the budget holder about the location
- Request a profile of the attendees
- Is there any flexibility in the chosen dates
- Find out the purpose and what they want to achieve from the event
- Consider how the success of the event is going to be measured
- Think about how the audience is going to be invited and how will they reply
- What is the risk
The key issues that can affect your venue are:
|Dates||Layout and Style of your meeting rooms|
|Setup time||Experience of the team running the event|
|Timings of the event||Pre-event organisation|
|Day of the week||Most of all - communication|
|Complexity of turnarounds|
This is not exhaustive but gives you an idea of what to look and plan for:
• Pre Event Research • Registration System
• Collateral • Administration of Bookings
• Invitations • Advertising
- Venue hire • Accommodation, Guests & Crew
- Catering • Entertainment & Speakers
- Equipment • Transport of support staff & literature
- Production • Transport logistics
- Badges • Webcasting, videoconferencing & interpretation
- Delegate packs • Event management and on site management
- Theming • Insurance
- VIP upgrades
Potential event income:
- Exhibitors • Advertisers
- Sponsors • Charging delegates
Post Event Evaluation:
- Questionnaire either online or paper
- Production of post-event replies
- Telephone feedback campaign
- Collation of replies
- Non arrival of speakers
- Costs of venue not being available (e.g. due to flooding or fire)
- Loss of production set or literature
How to find the best suppliers:
- Testimonials from potential suppliers
- Speak to the venue directly
- For creative events, ask the supplier to present you with previous work
Prepare an event checklist to cover
- Equipment supplied & works • Accessibility/Disabled access
- Accommodation & rooming lists • Cleaning & inspection
- Speakers schedule • Pre-event team briefings
- Delegate packs & badges • On-site team briefings
- Delegate numbers • On-site event manuals
- Catering/Dietary requirements • Security (equipment & human)
- First aid kit/First aider • Presentation IT compatibility
- Risk assessment • Conflicting Events & timings
- Health & Safety policy • Suppliers: AV, production
- Public liability insurance • Communication, walkie-talkies
- Car parking & signage • Transport & taxis, coaches
- Event signage • Cancellation criteria
- Event branding • Comprehensive event contingencies
Key points to consider
- Achieving the event objectives
- Contract; checked by legal professional & signed
- Delivery of materials: literature, delegate packs, badges, exhibition stands, etc (using reliable couriers is essential)
- Check all accommodation arrangements
- Give the transport company a full schedule of pick-up times
- Set up: all suppliers briefed on logistics schedule and fully aware of timings
- Briefing meeting: meet all the suppliers involved: AV, Entertainment, Venue & event co-ordinator, chef, bar staff, waiting staff, etc
- Final Check: registration table, conference room layout and set up, dining tables, presentation, equipment in working order, correct event name on the venue reception, signage, delegate packs, entertainment & theming
- During the event: important to keep to the logistics schedule and make sure that it is running on time (for larger events it is a benefit to have walkie-talkies to keep in contact with all suppliers)
Feedback Questionnaires before departure gives a higher return rate, but you could also carry out a telephone questionnaire, or email an online link after the event. Offering an incentive for returning the form increases the return rate
Getting the best from a site visit
A site visit is your opportunity to understand how your event will work at the venue, so make sure every room or area you are using is available for you to see. Arm yourself with a checklist to make sure nothing is missed.
Remember to ask searching questions until you get the answers you need. After all you’ll be paying the bill!
Here are some of the things you need to consider:
- Is the venue easy to find, is the signage clear?
- Check the distance and travelling time from the airport and railway station by taxi and bus
- Is there sufficient parking?
- Is it in a safe area? If security is required, can the venue meet these needs?
- Does the venue look welcoming, attractive and clean?
- Are there plenty of staff in the reception area to check-in or help and direct guests?
- Is it clear where the meeting rooms are and how will they be signed?
- Where will this be located and is there adequate storage?
- Is there enough space for staff and attendees? Is it a private area or will people attending other events be passing through?
- Do you need a telephone, power points and internet connection?
The Meeting Room(s)
- Which floor is it on and how will attendees get there?
- Does it meet the size and layout requirements?
- What equipment is in the room and is there space for additional production equipment to be brought in?
- Check: lighting, soundproofing, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, power supply, internet access, wi-fi, ceiling height, door aperture and if there are any pillars to get in the way
- Are the chairs comfortable, what size are the tables?
- Is water provided for the delegates and what is included in the package?
- Where do attendees leave their coats and bags?
- Where are the nearest toilets?
- Is the venue fully accessible for disabled delegates?
- How many tea/coffee breaks are there and where will they be served?
- Where will lunch be served and how easy is it for the attendees to get there?
- Check the lifts and stairs and think about how many people will be moving around at the same time
- Is the standard of food good, is there a choice of menu? Have a meal and try different dishes before committing
- Can the restaurant accommodate special dietary requirements?
- Are drinks included in the menu price or extra?
- Are there plenty of staff to serve the food quickly?
- How many food stations will there be?
- How many are there and are they doubles/twins/singles?
- Are they clean and well-maintained? Is there disabled access?
- Are there designated smoking and non-smoking rooms?
- What time can attendees check in and out?
- Check the lifts, stairs, corridors and fire exits
- Are the staff friendly and helpful?
- When were the venue/meeting room/bedrooms last renovated?
- Are there any refurbishments due?
- Have any of your competitors booked a meeting at the venue on the same date?
- Is there a gym/swimming pool/golf course or other leisure facilities and are there additional charges to use them?
- Is there a business centre and what other services are available for guests?
- Who is trained in First Aid and where are the nearest medical and dental facilities?
- Ask about the venue's insurance and crisis management procedures
Remember the venue represents your organisation and you need to make sure it upholds your standards and reputation. A well-run and enjoyable event can only enhance your company’s image.
There are very few perfect venues and every organiser’s technical requirements differ. The key to running an event smoothly is close communication with your agency, the venue and the production company.
There are four pieces of information that a production company will need to know:
- What is the available access into the meeting space
- The dimensions of the meeting room or area
- The power distribution in the meeting room
It’s very simple for you to walk to the function room from Reception, but how does the production company bring its equipment in to the meeting space? The venue will have an idea of what should be used. There is a large variety of equipment which could be brought into the space depending on the requirements for that particular event.
Assessing this information has improved dramatically with the internet, as venues now have websites with downloadable floorplans. But look out for pillars that don’t appear on the floorplan and also the accuracy of dimensions. Make sure you check the height and width of doors and ceilings, and beware of chandeliers.
There are other production requirements to bear in mind, such as facilities to hang equipment from points in the ceiling and the dimensions of the room. A venue may say they have capacity for 400 people, but is this for a dinner or a conference? The big difference here is understanding the technical requirements and using the correct size screen for the audience.
Three-quarters of events will need addition lighting, normally in the form of three or single phase power. Often this is not fully understood by venue staff and it could become an expensive mistake if they don’t have the correct power requirements, as you’ll end up with a bill to hire alternative power options. So ask to check with their technical staff.
Not an obvious question, but this will become complicated if the venue has multiple bookings with different companies setting up and de-rigging. The time it will take can only be estimated once the venue has been seen and all the technical equipment has been booked. There is also the issue of booking the crew, based on budget and the amount of time allowed to set up for the event.
The main objective is to find the right venue and to do this the organiser needs to talk to everyone involved, so they all understand the requirements before the venue search can start. Site inspections are important so make sure you ask the right questions!
Businesses and individuals are increasingly considering the environmental impact of their offsite meetings and bringing them in line with their company policies. There are various things to think about and a lot of them are common sense.
Choosing your destination
When choosing the country for your event, select one with a good environmental track record. It is possible to check how different countries rank according to sustainability on websites such as the World Economic Forum. Scandinavian countries usually come out ahead of the rest of Europe with their environmental policies. But also consider where attendees are and pick the country where most of them are located to avoid unnecessary travel. Consider offsetting carbon emissions when flying to the destination.
Then find out how green the city is. The Convention Bureau should be able to provide you with information about the policies and how they aim to become carbon neutral. Choose a venue that is connected to the airport by good public transport or if you need more than one, that they are they within walking distance of each other.
Choosing your venue
Ask for the venue’s environmental strategy. It is possible for venues to calculate the carbon emissions per person for a day meeting or overnight stay, so ask what they are and also what their policies are in the following areas:
Energy: do they use low energy lights, is heating and air conditioning turned off when the rooms are not in use and do they encourage guests to reuse linen? Does the venue have solar panels, use renewable energy or harvest rainwater?
Waste: do they use crockery, cutlery and glasses that are washed rather than disposable? Is general rubbish separated and recycled? What is done with food waste?
Food: is it locally sourced and seasonal wherever possible, do they avoid individually wrapped portions, how much is free-range or organic and is water provided in jugs rather than bottles? If it is a new venue, have they used sustainable materials in the building and when purchasing the fittings and equipment?
Communicating with attendees
Use paperless technology whenever possible. Create a conference website where registration can all be done online. Emails are the quickest method of communication, but try and discourage the attendees from printing them. Hand materials out on memory sticks or email them to attendees after the event, but if printed materials are needed, then use recycled paper and card with vegetable-based inks and print on both sides of the page. Choose displays and badges that can be reused.
Lastly provide the venue with your company’s environmental policy or ask for theirs to see how they compare, but also check that things are actually put into practice when you go on the site visit.
Return on Investment
The bottom line for measuring Return On Investment (ROI) is that it is all about time and money. Positive ROI can be achieved once you know what the meeting objectives are and how they can be met. So, when you’re planning an event you need to know why it is being held. All events should have a measurable aspect, otherwise what is the point of holding them?
Whether the objectives of the event are to increase sales, spread knowledge, improve productivity, promote brand awareness, reward clients, motivate staff, promote best practice; there is still a goal.
Here are some points to think about when planning, to make sure you get the best results:
Identify key stakeholders and what they want
- The budget holder
- The venue
- You, the organiser
- Sponsors, speakers, content providers
Questions to ask in your organisation
- What should be achieved from the event?
- How is the success going to be measured?
- What is the profile of the attendees?
- What is the delegates' current understanding, knowledge and awareness of the issues to be discussed at the meeting?
- Can you conduct pre-event research to verify this?
- Can you conduct post-event research to measure learning, application and business impact following the meeting or event?
- Who needs to know how effective the meeting has been?
- Who is going to produce the meeting report?
- What is needed from the venue/location?
Questions to ask the venue
- Would the venue include any extras to improve the experience?
- Can the venue add any value to support the objectives?
Listen to expert advice
You don’t have to take it, but it could be useful. So who can you talk to:
- Venue Finding Agencies
- Event Management Companies
- Production Companies
- Destination Management Companies
Research Companies can help with questionnaire design, response analysis and report writing.
Why they will add value to your event:
- This is their core business
- They are professionals in their own field
- Their experience should save you time and money
- Their expertise will provide a professional and smoothly run event
- The success of an event lies in the importance of not losing sight of the big picture - which is to achieve the organisation’s strategic objectives while reducing costs and controlling spending