Venue choice is one of the most crucial parts of any conference. Choosing poorly can make or break the success of the event, or the long-term success of your enterprise if you’re looking to make it regular. At first, it doesn’t seem complicated – you need a big room with chairs and a stage. Not quite. There is a reason venue owner ask big bucks, they know how their proposition stacks up against the competition. It is essential for you to know how to assess a potential venue in the context of your conference.
Location is not as straightforward as it sounds. Sometimes it is more important, sometimes less. If you are holding a conference targeted at local businesses or professionals, you want to keep it within the bounds of the city. For example, if the conference involves the latest trends in urbanism, with some speakers talking about local projects, you pretty much don’t have a choice but to keep the conference as close to the city as possible. Consideration for transport must be given. If you’re organising the conference to start during or straight after rush hour, you’re likely to experience low attendance due to the inconvenience. If choice is limited, consider whether you can include navigation in your advertising. Educating people about alternatives to cars can save their time. Speaking of which, will there be enough parking available around the venue? Never rely on street parking alone. In some cases, the location does not matter very much. If your audience requires a stadium, then they will be more willing to travel further out of town. If you are gathering an international crowd flying in for the event, then the location will also make little difference, provided the hotel is not too far from it.
Counting the seating is not enough to adequately assess capacity. If this doesn’t make sense, think of the last budget airline flight you’ve taken. The capacity of the plane is pretty impressive on paper, except that your knees were pushed into the seat in front of you and you were pretty much locked in and motionless for the duration of the flight. I am willing to bet that is not the conference experience you want to offer your attendees. It is always wise to plan capacity with some extra room to spare, beyond what is advertised by the venue owner. People will inevitably be getting up and back into their seats while the event will be taking place. When thinking about how much room you need, consider the room for maneuver that attendees will have. The more room there is, the more comfortable they will feel leaving when they need to, and the more dignified their exit will be. Those that remain seated should not be required to do a yoga pose to let someone through. It is an obvious detail so often forgotten. Also, if the seating itself if fairly simple, make sure to space the chairs apart to allow for some personal space.