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Rachel Parker, director of the Association of Event Venues, offers advice on how to choose the right venue to match your needs.
When planning an event, the one decision that will probably have the greatest impact is the venue. The variables are enormous, ranging from size to location, style to capacity, facilities to access, and this is why it may appear to be the most daunting decision that you will have to make when planning your event.
There are four key factors that will help you to narrow the field. Time is an important determining factor, as desirable venues with specific assets or unique surroundings will be booked quite far in advance, so if that is an important aspect of your event then you need begin planning well in advance. Three other factors that will help narrow your choices of venue are your budget, anticipated attendance and the type of event that you are going to be holding. With these factors established, then the search for a venue becomes significantly simpler.
With a date set you can start to put together a time-line which will identify the key milestones you need to reach in order to deliver a successful event. The longer the timeline, the greater chance you will give yourself to build your audience.
There are a few short-cuts you can take when looking to find your ideal venue, certainly we can help at the Association of Event Venues (AEV) and there is a list of all member venues on our website as a starting point.
Now we have a method of creating a longlist of venues from the multitude of options available to you, it comes down to shortlisting and final selection. To help you do this here are some key considerations that will help whittle the list down.
If you haven’t already, you should set up a spreadsheet to break your costs down. This will help you manage your budget and keep costs under control. By doing this you can quickly see how changing factors at differing venues will affect the overall budget. Managing cost is essential and a lower hire cost may allow more room in your budget for other items in the event like marketing and promotion. Knowing exactly what is included within the hire fee and what is extra will help you to compare venues effectively. If you can be flexible on the day and date of your event, it can be a great negotiating tool, as certain days of the week and time of year tend to cost less than others.
Location is a central factor to the success of an event. A convenient location means different things for different events. Your event may be aimed at international audiences, in which case the proximity of an international airport and accommodation are important factors. On the other hand, an event whose attendees are within a limited geographic range, a venue within a reasonable distance from most attendees’ homes or places of work may make sense. However, if many attendees will be travelling from out of town, hosting the event at a venue near the motorways or mainline railway stations are ideal. If you are expecting attendees to drive to the event then parking needs to be considered – if you want to provide free parking then that has to be factored into your venue selection or negotiated with your venue of choice. If you have delegates arriving from overseas, you may want to consider their accommodation – is it available at the venue you are choosing or will they be staying in nearby hotels? Can you arrange a group buy or will they be arranging their own accommodation? Some attendees may require business and secretarial services if they are staying overnight so that could be another consideration.
You will have a good idea already of the number you are intending to invite to the event. Numbers are important because they will have an effect on the food and beverages provided at the event, often known as F&B. Your venue may be offering you inclusive food and beverages within the overall hire fee (known as DDR daily delegate rate) but you will need to confirm what the F&B minimums are. Simply put, a food and beverage minimum is the specific amount of food and beverage that you, the client, must meet.
If your event has a certain brand atmosphere then there is probably a venue that will suit you. This is the bit where I suggest that it really is well worth the time and effort of a site visit. Experience it at first hand and pay special attention to the existing décor inside the venue. Does it fit with the brand values of your event and those attending? What will it take to change the décor if it is inappropriate? The further the existing venue and its décor vary from a given theme, then the more budget and work will be involved in creating that branded environment.
In addition to the appearance of the venue, consider the services and amenities that the venue offers. Does a venue have a kitchen and in-house catering, and can it provide catering to your event? Some venues may not have kitchens and, if you are to feed your attendees, then an outside catering company will be needed. Some venues without kitchen facilities may have a partnership agreement with a tied catering company that you may be required to use, or you may be free to bring in your own caterer.
Event furniture such as tables, chairs and linens are important in dressing your event. Again, a venue may have these in house or may bring in an external supplier, or you may need to organise this yourself. It’s also worth bearing in mind the provision of a crew to set up the venue and de-rig, if the event is sufficiently large and complex. There may also be litter or waste services to consider once the event is over.
Even though you will be finding your venue early, if not at the start, of the event planning process, it is still important to have some idea of the types of activities that will be included in the event. These will require resources to support them. When moving from longlist to shortlist it will be helpful to get an illustrated floor plan of each venue. Visit and walk through your favourites at least once if possible. If not, technology should allow you to see a video of the interior at the very least, and some venues even have quite sophisticated fly through models where you can see the entirety of the venue.
The layout and floor plan will also allow you to plan things such as audience flow. How the audience will flow before, during and after your event will vary. You will need to know where areas of high traffic will be located, how traffic will move from entry through registration, into the auditorium or around a feature or catering area.
If you are planning to have keynote speakers then you may need a stage, lighting and sound – the venue may have one or you may need to bring one in. Demonstration areas are also a consideration to be factored in, as would be any displays of products or services. Event AV or audio-visual can range from simple projectors and screens to full multi projection facilities on a purpose built set, with interactive systems for audience participation – there is almost no limit to the application of event technology but they all come at a cost, so plan carefully.
If you are having catering, this should be accounted for, as a buffet will require different layout to a café style arrangement. You may require formal or fine dining if there is an evening event during a multi‑day event, and you may also want to consider how relaxed or strict the timetable of the event will be to cope with overruns and timing changes beyond your control. Always expect the unexpected and build in some contingency.
Health and safety
Health and safety will be a key factor throughout the planning stages of your event. To assist you in this process, the AEV has produced a document called the eGuide which provides guidance on the health, safety and operational planning and management of events, which has been adopted by many AEV venues, and is a good reference document irrespective of venue. This can be downloaded from the AEV website.
As you can see, there are many things to consider when choosing a venue and this list is not exhaustive. In my experience, if you take the above into consideration when doing your research, I’m sure that you will find the perfect venue for your event.