There are three keys to success in planning the perfect association conference, meeting, tradeshow, or gala event: preparation, negotiation, and flexibility. As a meeting planner, the more you know about exactly what you need in a space, the easier the search for the right place will be for you. While we have already touched on the topic of venue screening in a previous blog article, Simplifying the Venue Selection Process, in this article I will delve further into how these keys to success will translate into finding the right venue for your event.
No venue is perfect in every way, so you will need to start preparing well in advance and negotiate for the things that will keep your event on budget and up to your standards. And if weather figures into your plans at all, you need to be flexible – it is crucial that you have a Plan B.
Before starting your venue search, make sure you know what type of show you are creating (conference, tradeshow, etc.), and if you will include a gala event or other highlights within your association event. This will dictate the size of venue and what services the venue provider must be able to deliver to win your business. For example, if you are planning a tradeshow, you will need to find a big open space for exhibitors to set up their displays, and if you want to have keynote speakers at your event, you’ll either need a stage, or a spot to place a rented stage.
Even though you’ll find your venue early in the event planning process, you’ll still want to have a rough idea in the beginning stages of what types of activities you’ll be including, the amenities you’ll require, and the needs of your team and the attendees.
Another good idea in the preparation stage is to do a reputation check of the venues you are considering – you can narrow your list of possible sites and save yourself some time by avoiding sites that have let your association’s industry down in the past.
Of course, all of this needs to be done at the earliest point, because you will want to book your venue as soon as possible to give you maximum planning time.
Once you have found the best venue for your association event, you will then need to work out the details, and in the process, you will negotiate for the best services and the best deal for your client.
For instance, if you are planning a tradeshow, this is what you’ll need to have:
- a large exhibition space
- lots of close parking
- space for an exhibitor’s lounge
- a carpeted space (save thousands of dollars if you don’t have to pay to carpet the floor)
- breakout rooms for educational sessions
- in-house catering, or the ability to bring catering in from outside vendors, and the ability, if needed, to offer revenue-based food services (coffee bar, muffins, water, etc.) for the attendees
- audio visual services – either provided by the vendor, or services you bring to the event
If you are planning an association conference, these are some of the specific items you need to attend to:
- Where will the attendees stay – in the conference hotel or nearby? (Read more on negotiating event hotel contracts here.)
- Will there be set meals for attendees, and are you providing all meals?
- Will there be other food options nearby?
- Will you need a main plenary room?
- Is there a stage available for your use?
- Do you need smaller rooms for breakout sessions, workshops, or exhibition space?
If you are planning a gala/signature event, you should search for a higher end venue, or at least the best you can afford, because a higher end venue (e.g. a 5-star hotel) allows you to charge more to attendees and will have better catering and more services to offer your clients.
Mapping Your Traffic Flow
While narrowing down your venue selection, get an illustrated floor plan and walk through your favorite venues at least once, making note of important things such as where the outlets are and where A/V equipment is or can be located. Think about the flow of traffic through your event. The kind of flow will be different for each event. What areas will be high traffic at the event? Registration? The auditorium doors? Keep this in mind when choosing your venue, realizing that how you set up the tables and decor will greatly affect this as well.
Once you have ticked all of these boxes, it is time to negotiate for the best deal and services you can get.
Here are the things you can negotiate:
- Can the service provider include security as part of contract?
- Can they block rooms for you at a discounted price?
- Can you bring in your own alcohol for meals, etc.?
- Can they provide free parking onsite, and if not, can they discount parking costs?
- Will they provide wifi at no cost?
Negotiating Food & Beverage Minimums
Some of these services can be combined in your negotiations, especially if you are willing to spend more for food and beverage (F & B) service, where venues make much of their profit. For more on calculating the true cost of food and beverages, read this blog article. If your venue offers food and/or beverages and sets a minimum food and beverage spending amount (known as an F&B minimum), ensure that the past F&B records from the previous events are in line with the minimum. If you estimate much more F&B spending than what the venue requires, it means you would be a good customer to them. Negotiate whether they can provide complimentary service (e.g. upgrade Wi-Fi or A/V support) in return if your spending reaches a certain level.
Remember: venue rental costs can be negotiated, especially if you book for off-season dates. And to avoid disappointment later on, check at the outset if you will require any special licenses for your association event activities and if there are any restrictions on noise, hours of operation, where photographs can be taken and where banners can be placed in the venue.
Flexibility is a two-way street in meeting planning. If you and the vendor can both compromise on many of these event planning considerations, then you are more likely to arrive at a deal that works for your association and the vendor. If you follow the preparation and negotiation tips outlined here, and you are dealing with a vendor who wants your event to succeed as much as you do, you will maximize your chances of having a successful event.
Finally, if you are planning any outdoor events, make sure you have a Plan B. Bad weather is the one contingency that neither you nor the venue management can control!