Become well acquainted with the interior venue space.
Never underestimate the value of a good floorplan. Examine the interior space and determine whether it lends itself to the requirements of your event. Can the venue accommodate your technical needs? Does the room layout offer good views of the speakers? Is there a contingency for last-minute changes and can the venue accommodate for this? Ensure that once the room is set up, guests won’t have to contend with obstructed views, poor acoustics or heavy congestion. Speak to the venue managers about your intended floorplan prior to the event, to ensure that your desired configuration and setup are approved.
Recently, I attended a professional development conference held in a hotel. The room was set for the 60 people who had pre-registered, but another 45 people registered at the door. As a result, the event was hugely overbooked and half of the attendees were forced to occupy a standing-room-only section at
the back of the room. The event coordinator was devastated when she learned that the hotel could neither add more tables, nor offer her a larger room to accommodate this last-minute influx of guests. Always consider if the venue can accommodate for last-minute changes. —Jean Pierre Cartier, Director, Business Development
Always perform a site inspection.
In our modern, tech-savvy world, the Internet has become our go-to friend when it comes to decision-making. We rely on web-based maps, company websites, online reviews and web photos to tell us everything we need to know about a venue, inside and out —without leaving the comfort of our office. But that’s not enough. Taking the time to experience a venue in-person will be a critical step in understanding the physical layout of an event and help you decide whether the venue in question is right for you, your guests and all of your event needs.
Early in my event-planning career, I was helping a client plan a reception in her office building. I tried to set up a site inspection, but she insisted that my visit was unnecessary, as she could ‘walk’ me through the event space over the phone. When I arrived at the location, I was shocked to find the “guest parking” was in a pay-parking lot four blocks away, and the service elevator was out of commission, among other surprises. Had I insisted on a site preview, I would have been able to address all venue challenges more effectively ahead of time.
—Martin van Keken, CEO
Accessibility, storage and prep.
When examining a venue and its facilities, be sure to engage the on-site event manager in a conversation about accessibility. Determine if the venue offers appropriate access for suppliers and deliveries, and if so, are there any restrictions of which you should be made aware? Does the event space offer access to storage facilities or prep space for speakers, performers and talent? Will caterers have access to kitchen facilities? Will excess equipment be stored out of sight, or will other storage arrangements need to be made? How much flexibility will the venue extend to you?
A few years ago, I had a client who was launching a new series of paintings and had planned to host an event in honour of his gallery exhibit opening. As the event was to be held on the highest level of the art gallery, we had no access to storage rooms or staging areas. It was, therefore, imperative that I rented a series of “pipe and drape” dividers ahead of time, as a means of hiding storage boxes, packaging materials, extra equipment and other ‘eyesore’ items that were not in use. —Trevor Wyman, senior producer
Choose a venue that will tell your story.
Before settling on a venue, take the time to understand your “vision” for the event. Choose a venue that not only reflects this vision, but also enhances the guests’
understanding of the company or brand being represented at the event. Does the event space reflect and showcase the culture of the brand/company? Does the event space tell a story? Does the event space suit the style and tone of the programme? Remember, choice of venue is a guest’s initial introduction to the story you are about to tell, and the event that they are about to experience.
One of my clients was preparing for the launch of a high-end line of lingerie and we set out to find a venue that would reflect the avant-garde culture
of the brand. Choosing a more traditional hotel meeting room would simply not suffice. We selected a large open space, with firwood beams and columns, woodplank floors, 16-ft. ceilings and original iron- works left behind in the warehouse, on the cusp of an edgy neighbourhood in Vancouver. The client loved the venue, as they felt it was very representative of their brand, while offering guests a truly unique experience. —Laura Triay, Managing Director
Be realistic in your choice of venue.
The allure of choosing an outdoor or non-traditional location to host your event may be tempting, but the cost to erect a temporary venue may be more than you can afford. For instance, there are costs associated with permits and licensing, loading, fire and sound restrictions, limited accessibility, structural and electrical engineering, provisions for inclement weather. The venue may require significant maintenance, and you may need to rent basic furniture. Before you commit to choosing an outdoor/unique venue, assess realistically the parameters of your budget, to determine whether an outdoor/temporary venue is realistic and feasible.
While planning a black-tie event in celebration of an international horse derby, my client suggested we host the event on the field next to the derby course, so guests could watch as they mingled and dined. Although this idea seemed straightforward, the field was only accessible via a single dirt road. Everything from cables, tents, tables, chairs, catering, industrial ovens, sound systems, hand-washing stations and port-o-potties had to be organized into time- sensitive shipments onto the grounds. Because the event was stationed on farmlands, these shipments had to be transported back to their suppliers by the end of the night. —Martin
Think strategically about location.
When choosing your venue, think critically about your event’s location and expected audience, as the physical location of an event can heavily
impact your RSVP rate. Are both the venue and neighbourhood settings appropriate for your specific audience? Will heavy traffic patterns hamper guests’ access by car? Is the event accessible via public transit? Does the venue offer parking or valet service? Is the venue searchable online and can it be well identified by map programmes such as Google Maps and MapQuest? If the event is difficult to find or difficult to access, guests may lose interest in attending.
I assisted a client with her media event at an airplane hangar near the city’s local airport. Just prior, however, roads leading to the airport had been re-routed, re-
shaped and re-paved. Unfortunately, this meant that Internet map engines had not adjusted their databases to suit the new road patterns. As a result, many of the media who had RSVPed for the event followed the former (and incorrect) directions to the event. Needless to say, mass confusion and frustration ensued when guests could not find the venue. Choose an easily accessible location, and always provide guests with a clear and easy-to-follow map to the event.—Jean Pierre
Get to know your neighbor.
When choosing a hotel or convention centre facility, be sure to ask event management about neighbouring events or functions booked for the day of your event. Will the foyer or hallway leading to your venue be shared with other meetings occurring at the same time? Consider how this could affect your event. If possible, ask for a private area for your group. Be aware of sound checks, shared ‘floating walls,’ loud audio systems, and people moving in and out of the vicinity during your programme, in order to make an informed decision about whether the venue in question is, in fact, right for you.
I once attended a seminar on event contracts that was held in a convention centre ball- room that was divided by an air wall. As the speaker was presenting on event legalities, a theatre improvisation seminar was taking place in the next room. They had loud music, comic skits, laughter, and we, in the room next door, could hear it all. The guests were clearly more interested in what was happening in the room next door, and lost attention and interest in the speaker. —Laura
Ask the venue about future plans for change.
Often, meetings and conferences are planned months, sometimes years, in advance. As you get closer to your event date, ask if the venue is planning to undergo any changes, such as restructuring, renovations or room layout changes. Your contact may come and go over such a time frame and their replacement may assume you have been notified of changes to the venue. Unannounced venue changes may affect your event programme and associated costs that you may later need to incur in order to address the venue changes. Ensure there’s a clause in the contract to protect you from these situations.
Several years ago, we produced a conference in Tennessee. We did a site inspection a year in advance and were assured we would be notified if any changes were made to the venue. When our team arrived for event load-in, we discovered that the large-access load-in entrance to the ballroom had been sealed off, and we were instructed to use a small fire exit. All our production schedules, labour and timing had been planned according to the large load-in entrance access we had seen at the time of the site inspection. The load-in took twice as long and we had to hire additional labour and have all the crew work overtime. —Trevor
Expect the unexpected, time after time.
Understanding the complexity of your event is the first step in alleviating a last-minute time crunch. Consider the level of technical intricacy involved and determine
the key players required to execute the necessary tasks. Establish a production schedule with suppliers and technicians prior to the event and talk to the venue
about time allowances for move-in, setup, and tear-down. Know that venues may book clients back-to-back, limiting your access time, which inevitably leads to increased labour costs.
You can plan and schedule until you’re blue in the face, but in reality, any number of time-sensitive elements might run you behind schedule. I’ve definitely had my
share of events that have fallen victim to unexpected hurdles, which ultimately led to many anxiety-provoking situations: hold-ups on maintenance elevators,
full loading docks, deliveries caught in traffic, disabled access points, staff no-shows, equipment malfunctions, lost cargo and (the classic example) speakers’ flights delayed. The issue here is that many of these incidents are beyond your control. So, be sure to do what you can to assemble a conservatively-timed production schedule with a serious nod to contingency planning… just in case. —Martin
Choose a venue that can meet your expectations.
Ensure the venue you choose and the venue management infrastructure, services, accommodation and meeting space can support and deliver on all of your needs and expectations. You may have had great success using a venue location in the past, but what may be considered a ‘treasure’ of a venue for one event, may not be the case for another. Make no assumptions with regards to your needs and expectations. Have a thorough with all your key stakeholders and the on-site venue manager and ask questions that will cover off on all the event programme needs.
A few years ago, one of our clients booked a high- end hotel for a week-long incentive programme for executives, based on its reputation. When they arrived at the venue, they realized that although the venue was indeed very nice and luxurious, their guests have been treated to some very exclusive high-end venues over the years, and this venue was not quite at the ‘luxury’ level to which they had become accustomed. Our client realized that putting all their trust in a venue’s reputation alone
was not enough to meet their expectations. The venue had also failed to advise the client that the main secondary ballroom had been booked by another group during their programme, which led to substantial added costs. In this instance, our client had assumed that the venue had adequate space allocated for their event programme and that the facilities would offer services to their level of expectations.—Trevor