Have you ever been to a party that was so jammed with people you kept getting jostled? Or at a reception that could have been amazing, if only it hadn’t been held in a long, narrow room, or one twice the size the event needed?
Venue choice matters. The right space can allow an event to flow and for the guest experience to be a seamless pleasure. The wrong venue, on the other hand, can make for cranky, confused and disconnected attendees. Choosing the right one is critically important; it’s also a challenge, because plenty of great venues will be wrong for your event.
Before you begin the hunt for the perfect venue, get clear about your needs. Are you planning an intimate executive retreat where camaraderie and introspection are top objectives? Or do you need to rally the spirits of hundreds of salespeople? Clarifying who is attending and what they need to get from the experience will help to guide your venue selection.
Once you’ve done that, here are additional factors to consider:
- Service. Planning a major event takes months, sometimes years, and requires intense collaboration between venue staff and planner. You should be treated attentively from the start. Trust your gut – if your calls aren’t returned promptly, or you can’t get a competent answer to a question, redirect your search. The sales staff is a venue’s front line. If they’re not skilled professionals, then the people who will be helping your guests likely won’t be, either.
- Location. For the most part, you want to focus on convenience and general appeal. Pick a spot central to a majority of attendees, and easily accessible by plane or highway. (The possible exception to the convenience rule would be for a retreat, where ease of arrival can matter less than a location’s distinctive setting.) Also, pay attention to the location in relation to your event’s date. It’s amazing how many conferences are held in sweltering hot states in the summer. No doubt you’ll save some money with such a booking, but poor registration rates might mean you save a lot more than you expected. The goal is for potential attendees to open your invitation, note the location and say, “Nice!”
- A/V. Drill down with the staff on the venue’s A/V capabilities. Everyone likes to say their system is “cutting-edge.” There is no inherent meaning to that term. Make sure you know what you’ll need and that a venue can provide it, from LED ballroom lighting to meeting room smart boards.
- Nearby amenities and attractions. Increasingly, event planners are incorporating side excursions into their agendas. Try to find a location that offers distinct experiences near your venue. Options might include architectural walking tours, brewery tastings or outdoor adventures.
- Space that fits your needs. Carefully assess whether a venue offers the size and adaptability you need in a space. Ask to see images of past events with similar numbers of people and events that used layouts similar to what you have in mind.
Once you’ve whittled the list to three or four finalists, be sure to visit each venue before making a decision. This seems obvious, but do it even if you know a venue well. You’ll want to scrutinize it with an eye for this event, not rely on memories of ones you’ve attended – or even planned – in the past. Soak up the guest experience as much as you can before making your decision. Your own guests will be glad you did.