Where Should We Have This Event? A Checklist for Picking the Best Place
by Kimberly A. Edwards
Event planners know the value of booking the right property. A prestigious location beams your brand—but only if the venue functions well. To sort out prevailing needs for a meeting, workshop, or any other event, consider the following.
What is the goal of the event? What image do you want to project—economy, collaboration, community? Location should telegraph your message.
The location and facility must fit attendees’ needs in terms of:
Program. General sessions? Breakouts? How many people will rooms hold when set theater or classroom style? Are networking nooks available?
General layout. Is the space compact enough so attendees won’t feel they have to trek between meetings, restaurants, and (for longer events) sleeping rooms? Will dining facilities with adequate seating be available? How about easy-to-find coffee service, open early in the morning?
High-profile points. Directional signage and your registration table introduce you to attendees. Appearance matters. So do efficiency and professionalism. High-traffic areas for exhibitors and displays will keep partners on your side.
Logistics. Where are attendees traveling from? Is parking convenient and affordable? Is airport transportation convenient and available too? A mix of nearby restaurants scores big points at a two-day or longer event or when families are in tow.
Sleeping rooms. Will attendees or presenters be staying overnight? If so, what special rates can you negotiate with the hotel, especially for speaker/“staff” rooms you may be responsible for?
Internet availability. Are affordable Internet services available in meeting and sleeping rooms?
Competing events. Are other groups booked in the same facility on the same dates? Will they be vying for parking and restaurant tables? Insist that the hotel coordinate break times and meal times, and that no loud events take place in any room next to yours.
Staff. Has the staff handled comparable events? Do managers and staff seem to want your event to succeed?
Obviously, rates must fit your budget and your income from registration fees, vendor booths, and sponsors. Make sure that you fully understand the contract you are given to sign and that you reach a deal on whatever needs to be negotiated.
Pay close attention to the costs for:
Food. Buffets are generally cheaper than plated meals. Break service can be costly. Pitchered water, iced tea, or lemonade is cheaper than per-bottle drinks. “Bowled” items such as popcorn and chips are often cheaper than per-item orders. Find out whether the hotel will let you bring in snacks if you purchase coffee.
Ballrooms and meeting rooms. Often contracting for a meal, and especially a plated meal, will mean you can get a waiver of room charges, so press for this—or at least for a reduction in prices—especially if you can provide a guaranteed number of diners. (Go low on guarantees without taking unnecessary risks.)
Business services (for example, photocopying). Avoid using these, as costs add up quickly. Make certain the hotel and presenters understand that you will not be authorizing a business services account.
Screens, microphones, projectors, and the like. This sort of equipment will raise your bill substantially, so work out all expenses in advance with both the hotel and your presenters.
Signage. Event venues often charge to hang banners and signs. Sometimes easels and signage stands are free or prices for them can be negotiated down as part of the contract.
Sleeping rooms. If you bring in a crowd requiring a block of rooms, you can negotiate a special rate. In addition, you may get some sleeping rooms comped, in which case you might use them for yourself or for keynoters from out of town. Booking a block of rooms gives you more leverage to negotiate for better terms on other aspects of your program.
Cancellation clause. What kind of deposit is required? When do you have to pay it, and when does it become nonrefundable?
Be aware of everyone’s needs; they will differ.
• new, focused content that provides perceived value for their money
• networking opportunities
• an effective mix of meetings and unstructured interaction
• good food; a layout that is easy to navigate; meeting rooms where the temperature is just right
• advance details on presentation time, room capacity, number of handouts to bring, book sale
opportunities, equipment (such as projector and screen for PowerPoint), presenter check-in
location, parking and other travel details
• publicity that will boost their standing as leaders in the field, potential new business, and a good
introduction at the podium and in the printed program
• a greeter and/or a go-to person to help them to get their materials and their rooms and maneuver
through the crowd to connect with the right people
Partners, including sponsors and exhibitors, want:
• agreed-upon goals and maximum exposure to potential clients and industry leaders
• status that is honored and acknowledged publicly in a general session, in the program, and, if
possible, on easels or banners in key places that allow for photo-ops
And then, of course, there are your own goals. You want:
• an event that goes off well with most problems staying behind the scenes
• costs that stay within budget
• problems that can be solved quickly and few (if any) unsolvable problems
• no unexpected charges
• happy attendees, presenters, and partners
• new business
Location is more than a meeting room in a local building or a five-star hotel with a golf course. Since it becomes, in essence, a part of your brand, it pays to pick your place carefully.
Kimberly A. Edwards, who specializes in meetings, presentations, partnerships, and cultural trends, serves on the board of directors of the California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch.