Arranging Meetings and Conferences – Choosing the Right Venue

Booking a meeting venue or arranging a conference can often fall to receptionists, secretaries and PA’s, who may have little experience in events planning. There are many aspects to planning conferences and events, from finding the right venue, booking caterers, arranging accommodation, parking, PA systems and much more. It can seem a little overwhelming when you have the responsibility of ensuring that the event goes smoothly, and when you may get the blame if it doesn’t go to plan!

Confirming Delegate Numbers

How many delegates are expected at the event? If your company has run similar events previously, have a look at the average turnout to these past events. You will inevitably have some cancellations and no-shows, but depending on the type of event, the turnout could be 50% or even less.

As an events planner in a Leeds city centre hotel, I have organised many legal seminars for solicitors. These events run regularly and keep lawyers up-to-date with changes in the law. Events are free to attend and held on weekday evenings. Occasionally, the number of delegates who turn up to the event is less than half those who have booked – particularly during the winter when evenings are dark, cold and wet! Try to work out how many people you think will actually turn up – there is nothing worse than a room full of empty chairs or a table piled high with food for a handful of attendees.

Of course, for other types of events, attendance will be much higher. If delegates have paid for tickets to the event, for example, or if the event is an awards ceremony, a rare or specialist event.

Location

Once you have an idea of numbers, think about the ideal location. If you are organising a meeting for colleagues who all work in the same office, then a nearby hotel that they can all walk to would be ideal. However, if people are going to be travelling from around the country to your event, a location close to a train station, or near a motorway junction and with plenty of parking, would be more suitable.

Budget

The price of meetings venues can vary wildly, so ensure you have a budget before contacting any potential venues. If you are arranging catering, it is likely that this will be charged on a per-head basis. Meeting rooms may also be hired out by the hour, day or half-day. A day delegate rate (DDR) may be offered, and should include everything from room hire to catering and refreshments and sometimes an overnight stay.

Don’t forget, prices are often negotiable – particularly if your event is coming up soon. Any venue would prefer to have a discounted conference booked in rather than nothing at all.

Some days of the week are more popular than others, and if you choose a less popular day you may get a better deal. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the most popular days for corporate events and meetings. If you are able to hold your event on a Monday or Friday, it may work out cheaper. However, there is a reason why these days are less popular, and you may get a lower turnout to your event if you choose a less convenient day. School holidays are also a quieter time for most meetings venues. Again, you may have a lower turnout if people are away on holiday or have booked time off work to take care of children.

Booking Agents

Most large cities will have booking agents who can send your enquiry to several different events at once and send you a summary of the prices and availability. This is a good way to save time if you are arranging an event in a city you do not know; or if you are simply overwhelmed with choices. Try contacting the tourist board or local council office to get in touch with agents. You can let them know the details of your event, the date and budget without having to repeat yourself to many venues over and over again.

Catering

This will often be taken care of by your chosen venue, who may have chefs or good relationships with local caterers. Think about when there will be breaks during the event, and what refreshments should be available. It’s a good idea to make sure water is on hand at all times. You may also be surprised at how many cups of tea and coffee delegates can go through at a day conference! Let the venue know the timings of your breaks, so they can make sure that tea, coffee, biscuits, cakes, bacon sandwiches – or whatever you choose – is ready and waiting.

Equipment

Provide your venue with a list of equipment required prior to the event. Venues may not have a supply of flipcharts, projectors or a PA system on site and might order the appropriate equipment from an external supplier. Ensure you have the pricing details for additional equipment too, as it may not be covered by the room hire charge or day delegate rate.

Final Preparations

It is a good idea to communicate with the venue the day before the event, to ensure that they are clear about your requirements, the number of expected attendees and the timings of the event. If it is going to rain, is there a set place for coats and umbrellas? Is there somewhere for delegates to wait comfortably if they arrive early, and will they be able to get a cup of tea? It is much easier to iron out any issues the day before than when you are surrounded by hungry/thirsty/squashed delegates!