It’s all too easy to picture the perfect venue in our mind’s eye; perhaps it’s a grand ballroom, a quirky art gallery, or an idyllic park. Or maybe it’s just a really well-appointed conference centre that has a great restaurant within walking distance. We can see just how it would look, and imagine how impressed and pleased our guests will be as they arrive.

But then we snap back to reality: there’s that budget that already seems to be reaching its tipping point, the geographical constraints that keep us from getting too explorative, or the delegates who have certain expectations for the amenities that simply must be on-site. And, of course, we usually have a very specific set of dates that we must accommodate, which means not every local venue will even be available. Finding the perfect event location amidst all those factors is much more difficult than it appears at first glance.

Don’t let that glimpse of reality scare you off though! Just because it can be difficult doesn’t mean it is impossible. If you’re just starting the planning process (or if you’ve made it this far and are stuck), we’d like to offer a few tips that might help guide you through the process.

  • Be clear about what you want
  • Identify resources that are available to you
  • Understand your budget (and its limitations)
  • Brush up on your negotiating skills by looking beyond dollars and cents

Now that we have an idea of the factors we’ll be looking at, let’s break it down a little further.

Be Clear About What You Want

Back in April, we had written about the importance of strategising as part of the event planning process. We encouraged you to develop a clear vison for WHY your event is happening, WHO your ideal delegate is, and WHAT the event objective is.

Being clear on the WHY, WHO, and WHAT of your event really helps bring a sense of clarity to your ideal venue search.

For instance, gathering a group of locals for a one day conference with a single keynote speaker is going to be a very different event (with very different venue needs) than one in which hundreds of delegates from across the country have been invited for a full weekend of various speakers, breakout sessions, and perhaps even evening entertainment.

Or, as you envision the type of person who will be in attendance, you may realise that a rural retreat center in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t be nearly as appreciated as a trendy downtown location that offers access to plenty of shops, activities, and cafes for after conference hours.

Finally, being clear about exactly what will be happening at the event allows you to imagine the kind of flow you’ll need: it may suddenly become obvious that you’ll want something small and tucked away in order to promote a sense of connection that will take your intimate networking event to the next level. Conversely, you may realise you need something spacious that will allow for a lot of movement, including whole group keynotes and smaller break-out sessions.

And of course, more and more often factors such as access to strong WIFI and the ability for presenters and guests alike to use technology throughout the day (and charge it all up as it starts to die!) is becoming a key factor when booking a business event location.

In addition to considering WHO, WHAT, and WHY, you’ll also want to have some awareness of the level of formality warranted by your event, as well as your brand’s persona. The ideal venue will elevate the experience without feeling out of step with who you are as a business.

Identify Resources that are Available to You

Of course you have the internet (imagine the pain of those of us who were planning events with only our phone books and rolodexes as companions!), but basic searches for things like “conference centres” hardly ensure that you’re maximising your budget and finding the absolute best option available.

At Auaha, we often notice that the magic of the Convention Bureaux is sadly under utilised. These sources contain a wealth of knowledge, and offer helpful information sorted by region, which ensures you’ll find just what you need while staying in your own neck of the woods.

According to the New Zealand Regional Convention Bureaux, they offer*:

  • “Free and unbiased advice on New Zealand conference and event facilities whatever you budget or number of delegates
  • Information and assistance in the development of partner’s programmes or incentive activities
  • Introductions to support services
  • Bidding support when vying to host national or international conference
  • Coordination of site inspections and appointments with venues and suppliers
  • Collateral and promotional material on their region”

*Services copied from New Zealand Regional Convention Bureaux.

These services are available to anyone planning an event, and we cannot overstate what a powerful (and often ignored!) tool this site can be.

Understand your budget (and its limitations)

You’ll want to have determined your entire event budget (and planned for how it will be allocated) before you start pricing out venues. Often people plan for a certain percentage of the budget to be held for the venue, and use that amount to inform the venues they seek out.

However, it isn’t quite as easy as having X amount set aside for the conference centre because many sites dedicated to hosting events have a range of package options that can include everything from keeping the coffee jug topped up to providing fully catered meals and off-site activities. As you’ll soon see, there is so much to consider!

Due to these package rates (which may or may not be a factor at the venue you contact), you’ll want to have a good handle on the amount you have to invest in food or other event “extras”. That’s why knowing the full scope of your budget is an important factor in the venue search!

Even with a good grasp of your numbers, this part can get a bit tricky. You might find that Venue A has a flat rate for their event center (and it sounds like a great deal!), but that Venue B (which is priced higher) would have saved you money on caterers and other local providers. And of course Venue C is offering a deal that would make your event the talk of the town (maybe like this well designed donut wall). Comparing apples to oranges all day can get overwhelming quickly!

We would encourage you to use the convention bureaux site mentioned above as a resource for identifying costs and finding facilities that will fall within your budget. We would also note that a good Professional Conference Organiser may offer assistance in that particular area, since many PCO’s are very familiar with local service providers and the discounts they are willing to provide.

No matter what route you take, we guarantee it will be a much smoother process if you have a firm grip on your budget!

Brush Up on Your Negotiating Skills

As tempting as it might feel to rush through the venue selection process so that you can move on to sending invitations, creating promotional materials, or booking speakers, please don’t! We encourage you to really invest some solid time and energy into not only identifying venues, but also exploring the special offers they are willing to provide.

Gather a variety of price estimates, and be sure you understand clearly exactly WHAT a venue is offering. If you find that you have a preference towards one venue but that it’s a bit out of your price range, you can often approach them and agree upon some sort of extra service or offering that may allow you to access money from a different part of your budget to put towards the total  venue cost. In addition, understanding extra perks being offered by other local event venues gives you an advantage when it comes to negotiations, and makes it clear to the vendor that you do have other options in hand.

To truly negotiate the best venue deal, you’re going to have to consider factors that go well beyond the physical space you’ll be using!

Securing a venue is such an important piece of the event planning process – it can be overwhelming, but it can also be a great opportunity to explore your local community and discover new places!

We’d like to leave you with these final steps:

  • Create an event strategy BEFORE you attempt to book a venue
  • Utilise resources that are familiar within the area (such as a local PCO or a regional convention bureaux)
  • Remember to think beyond the venue itself when clarifying your budget and seeking estimates

And remember – the perfect venue is out there, just waiting to be discovered!

Mā te wā!

Sandra Julian
Event Director

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