Whatever the venue make it work for you

As a
facilitator, I spend my life working in different venues – mostly hotels and
conference centres. I’ve worked in some
of the top hotels in Europe and also in venues at the other end of the
spectrum. I once ran a week-long
leadership meeting in a scout camp.

It
doesn’t take much to get me venting my feelings about ‘venues from hell’.
Judging by some of the comments on our LinkedIn group, it sounds as if many
other people feel the same. In this
article, I take a closer look at venues and at how to make the most effective
use of meeting space.

Space
for improvement

I look
for the following attributes in a meeting space:

  • Natural light
  • Moveable furniture – to
    enable us to use different formats
  • SPACE!  If I’m working with a group of 12 people, I
    like a room large enough for 30
  • Flexibility – including the timing
    of refreshments, to allow for changes in the agenda
  • Accessibility – to
    unload our equipment easily
  • Early entry – to set everything up
    before the meeting
  • Wall space – this is preferable
    (but not essential, as it is possible to hire boards)

In
terms of the actual venues, these can be broadly divided into onsite and
offsite meeting rooms.

Onsite venues

A lot
of day-to-day meetings are held in onsite meeting rooms.  Many of these have large tables in the middle
with lots of cabling.  However, the feel
of the room can often be improved just by changing the layout.  I recently held a meeting in a room with the
tables set up in a very long thin ‘U’ shape.  By removing some tables and rearranging the
others into a square, with everyone facing the middle, the room had a much more
engaging feel.

Here
are some other ways of creating a more inviting and productive space;

  • Open the blinds and let the natural light in
  • Orientate the room so that it has a landscape
    format (i.e. the longest wall is the ‘front’)
  • Use charts on the walls rather than flipcharts and
    a projector
  • Attach a welcome poster to the wall
  • Put toys, sweets, pens and post-it notes on the
    table (to set a less formal or more creative tone)

Offsite venues

If a
group needs time to think and plan strategically, it’s really beneficial to get
away from the office environment by going offsite.

There
are three main categories of offsite venues:

1)
Meeting spaces
These
are places that aren’t specifically designed for meetings eg. barns, the floor
of a disused office, village halls, warehouses.  Despite this, with a little effort they can
often be turned into great value meeting venues with a look and feel that
really fits the group and the work they are doing.

However,
don’t underestimate the possible logistics involved.  You might need to bring in everything yourself, from furniture, electrics and Wi-Fi through to catering. To be successful, you’ll need someone who has
an eye for detail, good organisational skills and is probably based locally.

2)
Independent venues
I’m a
great fan of small, independently run venues that aren’t part of a large hotel
chain. They usually offer personal
service, great quality and have a history and style that reflects their
location. An increasing number of
independent venues are forming collections. In London, these include the Westminster
Collection and the London City
Collection. These give clients the choice of a range of
locations, prices and availability.

The
only downside of these independent venues is that they tend not to have
bedrooms and leisure facilities onsite. However,
particularly in large cities, it’s often easy to source a separate hotel nearby
that can provide overnight accommodation.

3) Big
hotel and conference centre chains
The
upside of these is the consistency provided by a big brand name. They tend to be ‘one stop shops’ that enable
you to book your meeting room, accommodation and evening meals all at one place
(and they also often have leisure facilities).

However,
the real downside is their uniformity. The chain hotel in Accra, Ghana, has the
same look and feel as the one in West London!  When I fly abroad for a meeting, I like to get
a sense of where I am from the environment I’m working in, rather than a
feeling of ‘another day, ¦another hotel room’.

A view from ’the other side’

Wendy Greenhalgh is the Director of Sales and Marketing for One Great
George Street, an
independent venue in London. She has
years of experience in the hotel industry, including more than 10 years with
Hilton worldwide. Here are some of her tips on how to get the best from
different venues:

Price
“If you want to get the best price for a venue, then it’s best to book really
early or really late.” Wendy suggests that for large meetings (150 – 400
delegates), you should really book 8 – 12 months ahead to get the best deals.  For mid-sized meetings (80-150), 3 – 6 months
is about right.  However, for smaller
meetings (12 – 20 people), if you are prepared to be flexible about your
location, you can shop around at the last minute to get good deals from venues.

Size
“Know
your numbers, as this can have a big bearing on price. It’s really important to be clear about how
many people you expect to be at the meeting.”

Contract
“Always check the contract. Make sure
that you know exactly what’s involved, particularly in terms of cancellation
terms. If you’re booking a meeting that is definitely going ahead and won’t
change, it’s worth asking for a discount (5-10%) for signing early.”

Location
“Visit
the venue, if at all possible. Glossy
brochures and websites can be deceptive.”

Catering
“Check
the catering arrangements in independent venues and find out whether these are
internal or outsourced. Sometimes you
can choose, if you ask.”

Management
“Ask
who will be managing your event.” Wendy
says that only some venues provide a dedicated Event Manager who will be your
point of contact in preparation for the event and on the day. This facility
means that you know that everything you’ve requested before the event should be
communicated effectively to those who are running the event on the day.

So, whenever you’re preparing for a meeting,
don’t forget there are many different issues to consider, including the right
location, the right price and the best space. Careful preparation and some extra effort will
help to ensure that you have the best possible environment for your event.

Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

ConferenceNews Guest Author

Conference News hosts great guests on its pages. Our Blog section is the collection of the best opinions in the UK and international events industry.

ConferenceNews Guest Author

Author

ConferenceNews Guest Author

Conference News hosts great guests on its pages. Our Blog section is the collection of the best opinions in the UK and international events industry.

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