Finding a conference venue is a lengthy and detailed process. The planning can begin up to a year in advance. From the offset, you start to think of all the things that need organizing. How do you find the right speakers? Which venue will be available? How many attendees will you invite? From securing sponsors to organizing the AV and production needs, the planning process seems endless.
The main component of a conference is the venue, it’s where the main show takes place! Finding the right space which can accommodate all your needs is important. Finding the perfect conference venue can be challenging. With very specific requirements and ideas about what the venue should be, it can be hard to find a space that meets your expectations.
Although sourcing the perfect venue is paramount there are a lot of other aspects of your conference that need to be considered before your venue search even begins. These initial planning stages will help create a picture of what your conference venue will look like. It will also give you an understanding of what you require from the venue for your event.
We’ve pulled together a list of steps and processes you should complete to secure the perfect conference venue. So, here it goes, our step-by-step guide to finding the perfect conference venue. Dive in below!
Understanding the Why
Understanding the why, is all about determining why you are running your conference. A conference is an opportunity for you to be a leader of change; to collect some of the biggest and brightest minds in your industry and solve a problem you all share. The problem could be a lack of investment in technology. It may be a lack of diversity or representation or even a disturbing trend that looks set to rock the foundations of your industry. What is the biggest cause for concern among your network? What conversations are you hearing time and time again?
Conducting an initial brainstorm with the events team can determine this important factor which will ultimately guide all future decisions. This meeting will also help you organize your team. You must always keep this why at the forefront of everyone’s mind. With a clear vision, it will be much easier to pull together a cohesive conference. There’s a lot of competition for conferences. Organizing one is a big project so make sure you and the rest of your team understand why your conference is happening. Knowing the ‘why’ will help guide the rest of your planning process and will definitely affect your choice of venue.
Understanding your target audience and audience demographic is paramount. Every element of the event should come together to create a positive experience for the attendees.
For instance, a conference for people in the real estate industry would likely be very different than a conference for the tech industry. Many real estate professionals would appreciate some of the more traditional conference venues and formats. When it comes to these events familiarity is your best friend.
A conference event for the tech industry is a much more adventurous affair. Everything should be new and cutting edge. People in tech are not looking for the familiar. They are looking for the ground-breaking and astonishing experiences. This audience would expect innovative speakers and focused information on the latest technology. They would expect the organizer to leverage technology to make their experience at the conference as seamless as possible. Attendees would expect lots of fun interactive opportunities throughout the day.
Establishing who your target audience is early on. Establishing this will also help you understand what the ideal venue look like for your demographic. For instance, if you’re organizing a conference for a forward thinking or progressive company they might love an unusual conference venue. A venue which really challenges the norm and encourages participants to think out the box. Alternatively, in terms of logistics you might be expecting to invite over 1,000 people, so only the largest conference venues available will do. Considering all these things in the first stage of planning your conference will help you find the perfect conference venue with ease.
An agenda provides a guideline to your event for your own planning purposes and for your attendees. Your agenda should always link back to the reason ‘why’ you have organized the conference. If you know the problem you are trying to solve, and you know the conversations that people are having, you are already halfway there. With that information, you can plan the individual session themes, breakout rooms and beyond. Knowing why will allow you to pick the best people to speak that will truly engage your audience.
The agenda acts as a tangible plan. It will help you to create a roadmap for your event. It also acts as a planning tool and scheduling system. If you have the wireframe structure of your conference you will be able to then feed in ideas along the way and better structure your planning process. The agenda also allows you to start making backup plans in case a problem occurs during your conference.
Agenda as a vision
The agenda should be seen as your vision and flexible, not something that is set in stone. If something changes during the event you will be able to react accordingly and swap things around. You can make minor changes according to your crisis planning to help avert disaster.
Operationally, the agenda must be planned down to the very minute. How many breaks will you have? When will your speakers come on? Thinking about the long list of components to your conference and scheduling them in a way that makes sense is important. Although timing should not be too rigid, a rough idea of how long each keynote speaker has or how long the attendees can break for are essential factors to consider.
Attendees usually expect variation. They want a chance to network with the other attendees as well as the opportunity to take regular breaks. Maintaining a strong sense of focus, as well as an eye for granular detail, will ensure your conference reflects your vision. Ultimately ensuring your event runs smoothly and will make your life easier.
Planning your event budget is perhaps one of the more tedious tasks as an event planner. However, it is one of the most important steps when planning a conference. Setting a budget ensures you have exactly the right amount of money for your event. Obviously, this will directly affect your venue search. Whether your budget is ample and healthy or a little more strict, planning how you’ll use your money is key.
Make a spreadsheet listing the major cost items on your wish list including AV equipment, catering, marketing materials, staff expenses and conference venues. In this step create a checklist of everything you need. Then research or estimate how much it will all cost. When you begin your venue search you’ll be able to keep all these details in mind. This will ensure you have a venue which will match all your requirements.
Budget management tools are helpful aids when breaking down budgets and setting out clear breakdowns of costs. The traditional spreadsheet are always our go-to, however, tools such as Xero or Quicken are great modern tools to help support your main tracking document.
Accommodations are another aspect of your conference to consider when setting your budget. If people from all over the world are attending, accommodations are necessary. Having an affiliate or preferred accommodation will make the process a lot easier for your guests. Perhaps you want to pick a conference venue with accommodations on site? If you do not go that route, you need to make sure your conference venue has options nearby. Make sure the process is as streamlined and as organized as possible for attendees. Ultimately your attendees will associate their accommodations with your event. You must ensure that your standards are maintained and if the accommodations are not within walking distance to your conference that transportation is easily accessible. If the accommodation leaves a bad taste in their mouths, that affects the attendees entire experience which affects you too.
Entertainment is an umbrella term which covers so many different aspects of your conference event. All entertainment must be considered in relation to the budget. For instance, many conferences with awards ceremonies will hire a comedian to introduce the winners. Or, a conference with a more open-minded demographic might have musicians or performers during networking breaks. It is important to note, evening entertainment is expected by the vast majority of attendees.
If your guests have traveled far and wide for your event, it’s likely they will want to explore the new city in the evening before returning to the hotel. Evening entertainment may come in the form of a private dining event or perhaps an exclusive VIP area in a nearby bar or restaurant. Whatever you decide, you must first ensure its the right thing for your target audience. Secondly that you include the proper amount for entertainment in your budget.
So, now to choose that venue! If you have already completed most of the previous steps, this part of your planning should be infinitely easier. But, there are still many important considerations to think about before deciding.
The venue is perhaps the most important decision you will have to make when organizing a conference. It’s the glue that keeps everything together. You want to make sure the venue is perfect. The initial planning stages will determine what type of venue you are looking for. Having an idea of the type of venue you want is important. Have this in mind before starting your venue search. If you don’t the search will be much longer than necessary. Taking the initial steps we mentioned above will also help the venue search a lot more focused. You will now be able to make an informed and accurate decision about your venue.
The style of your conference venue is important to think about during your venue search. Does your venue reflect the image of your organization? It’s okay to challenge the norms to a certain extent, but there’s no point trying to be something you’re not. If you’re a corporate company with a formal approach to running your business a typical conference venue with tiered seating might be just what you’re after. If you do go the route of a traditional venue check out these unique seating layouts to jazz up your event.
Unusual Conference Venues
However, increasingly, unusual conference venues are on the rise and thinking outside the box has become popular. Conferences can be held anywhere. If the flexibility is there and the equipment you need is accessible, let your imagination can run wild with the types of venues. From vast, open and industrial warehouse venues to more intimate and unique cinema screens or museums, the more unusual the better.
Think Outside The Box
Thinking outside the box and having the confidence to look at a blank canvas space is a big step. When considering any blank canvas space it’s important to have an open mind. Have a creative vision to imagine what the space could become. For large scale conferences, warehouse spaces are perfect. They allow you to mold the venue into want you want. Whether you want multiple breakout spaces, several large screens or a food truck area the sky is the limit. A vast, blank canvas allows you to get creative. Perfect to really impress your guests and create a memorable attendee experience.
Similarly, you must think about the variety of people who will be attending your conference. Will the venue be somewhere your stakeholders, sponsors, and employees will be proud to go to? Will attendees understand the link between the venue and the company? Finding a happy medium is difficult, but following the initial planning steps will ensure your venue is just the right fit.
It goes without saying that choosing the right venue is essential for maximizing attendance. Consider the area or general location is an important step you shouldn’t miss. A general location should be decided before selecting a specific venue.
Ensuring the location is easily accessible by transportation links is highly important.
What’s the point in having a conference venue no one can get too? However, don’t get too hung up on location. Being flexible is important, there is a danger of being too obsessed when it comes to the zip code. It’s important to remember that a city such as London is vast yet so easily accessible.
Whether it’s by plane, train, car or on foot, ensure your venue is accessible through multiple modes of transport. Ultimately this will allow more people to come. Another important thing to consider is if there are accommodations and attractions such as restaurants or bars nearby to the venue. Choosing a venue in the middle of nowhere will make it hard for attendees to find accommodation and will definitely deter them from coming. Ultimately, making the experience as accessible as possible is key.
Sourcing a venue that has all the necessary components for your event is tricky, knowing your requirements but also being flexible on the smaller stuff is important. You must ensure you are mindful of the conference venue set-up capacities, paying special attention to seating arrangements and layouts as well as areas for your sponsors.
Using a venue sourcing platform like HeadBox to filter your venue search will streamline the process as you apply as many filters as you want. Options include: capacity, technical features of the venue has and whether or not the space has any licensing or parking. This way you can filter out anything that doesn’t match your brief. Establishing whether or not the venue has all the facilities you need is the initial conversation you must have with the venue.
Do they have the right AV equipment for your event? Are their restrictions on outside AV vendors? Is there enough power? Do they have enough seating? Are you able to decorate the space as you wish? These are things to consider when having initial talks with venues and at the beginning your venue search.
Food and Drink
Another aspect to consider when organizing a conference is food and drink. There’s nothing worse than a hungry guest. Not having enough food or drink will make your guests agitated and unhappy. Having excessive food can break your budget. Conference venues often have food packages included or as an extra option. Negotiating with the venue and understanding exactly what you are going to get for your money is vital. The type of food you provide should completely depend on your guests. The type of venue, target audience and underlying theme of your event should determine what food you provide.
Now you have all the tips, tricks and processes to consider when planning a conference to ensure you find the perfect venue for your conference. The most important thing to remember is that the initial planning steps and brainstorming sessions will help your conference venue search profoundly. It will make sure your venue is aligned with your values and aligned with your attendees, offering them the best experience possible.