When a company or organization decides it is going to host its employees for an off-site meeting or event, the first — and arguably most important — step is selecting an appropriate venue.
Think of it this way. Envision yourself as the venue and you are inviting the parents of your husband or wife-to-be over for the first time. Make a bad impression, and you are in for a rocky road ahead.
That is because the venue sets the tone for the entire event. It is the very first impression the attendees get when they walk through the door. The first thing they’re going to notice is the venue’s appearance, amenities and tone. If the venue is drab and boring, they are going to dread the hours ahead of them. But if the venue is stimulating, fun and vibrant, the hours will pass by quickly and successfully. And just like those potential in-laws, everyone will unite together as one big — albeit corporate — happy family.
“Selecting the right venue starts by fully understanding your clients’ needs, wants and wish list,” says Connie Tinney, CMP, national director, event management for KPMG Canada.
Rose Timmerman Gitzi, president of RTG Special Events, says she factors in her group’s make up when deciding what their wish list entails.
“For example, with my women’s groups, I may try to find a venue that is close to great shopping and one that offers spa treatments,” she says. “I also have some corporate teams whose focus would be amenities such as wireless Internet, office setup in standard rooms with access to fax and printer… and a social meeting place such as a hotel restaurant or bar for after-meeting networking.”
However, when an event planner isn’t provided with the demographics of their meeting attendees or the client is coming up with blanks when it comes to meeting and venue ideas, it can make the event planner’s job a lot harder.
“Many times the client doesn’t really know what they want. A successful planner knows how to ask the right probing questions and make early venue suggestions that align with the clients’ overall goals and objective,” says Tinney.
Establishing a good working relationship with the venue’s sales manager will ultimately make the event planner’s job easier. Professional event planners have established relationships with many different venues and sales managers that have the experience to know the venue best suited for any event; and an experienced event planner understands that the key to a successful event depends on the ability to build strong personal and long-term professional relationships with partners.
A healthy business relationship is very valuable, particularly for the non-financial benefits of these relationships such as mutual trust, consistency, responsiveness, understanding and flexibility of service expectations and delivery.
“The venue’s sales manager should be viewed as the event planner’s partner,” says Stephanie Johnson, president and event planning specialist with Critical Path Events Inc. “It is important to keep them well informed throughout the event planning process while balancing a sense of control and trust in their capabilities.”
Not only is the relationship between the event planner and the venue’s management important, but it is also imperative that the working relationship between the venue’s management and their key staff runs smoothly as well.
“The venue’s management and frontline staff have the ability to set the right tone or atmosphere for an event,” says Tinney. “From the early stages of planning the event, every vendor must be involved and fully engaged taking ownership for their portion. This synergy or lack thereof can make or break the attendees’ experience.”
Also, part of the early stages planning, unless the event planner is completely familiar with the venue and already has a relationship with the sales and management team, every event planner should conduct a site inspection before contracting a venue.
Some of the key elements of selecting the right venue includes considering the geographic location, ease of transportation, surrounding amenities and the condition and comfort of the venue’s facilities.
Other factors to take into consideration are looking at what groups are booked at the venue at the same time, who is booked before your group and what time will they be out so you can move your group in for setup and what is the venue’s emergency plan if that group doesn’t leave on time.
“If the guests of the event are not satisfied with these key elements, it will create a challenge in exceeding their expectations of the overall event,” says Johnson.
In addition to examining the venue’s key elements, it is also important to evaluate the venue’s limitations.
“Some of the amenities that I personally like to look for is the ability to display signage, shipping and receiving services requirements, flexibility to adjust room layouts, limited noise distractions, restroom access, ability to adjust indoor lighting, audio/visual capabilities, condition of supplied furnishings and carpet, parking facilities and last, but certainly not least, catering,” says Johnson. “The right venue will anticipate any situation and be able to provide you with a solution.”
If you want a cutting-edge venue, one that speaks to today’s hot meeting trends, the answer is pretty practical.
“Never mind trends, pricing is as significant as location,” says Denise Jones, president and chief executive officer of Jones & Jones Productions Ltd.
Due to the current economic climate, the hot trend of today is simply flexibility. Event budgets are being decreased and therefore in these times, negotiating is even more valuable than it has ever been.
“Event planners are working with partners who are willing to be flexible during this time of need to help meet budgets from guarantee policies to payment options,” says Johnson. “Venues that are providing complimentary services or creating customized catering and facilities costs are being sought out.”
For a more creative outlook of meeting trends, event planners should look for venues that allow for unique room setups for an inclusive environment, venues with a boutique feel and venues that can convert storefronts to meeting or gala spaces.
“One of the very unique local venues that I was recently invited to was at the Tiffany’s retail store on Toronto’s Bloor Street,” says Johnson. “They offered a whole “Breakfast at Tiffany’s experience.”
“I once worked on a very large program where there simply wasn’t sufficient meeting space for all the training and breakout sessions required,” adds Tinney. “Working with the venue and show services company, they were able to turn an underground parking garage into meeting space. I was impressed and it worked!”
In addition to being fun and eclectic, venues that offer a responsible option are also an attractive selection.
“Venues that understand and can help produce green meetings are interesting to many companies who have implemented corporate social responsibility,” says Brenda Carter, CMP, event manager, KPMG Canada.
To be green, means corporations are leaving a small imprint or impact on the environment when the meeting or event is all said and done. Hotels ideally meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards for eco-construction but green also refers to the amount of disposable products used, energy consumption and more.