Hooray! You’ve got the budget and are getting ready to throw an amazing in-person or hybrid event for your customers, prospective clients, and/or business partners. Whatever your goal, choosing the right venue is just as important as your roster of speakers, the topics they’ll cover, and the type of activities attendees can engage in.
An inadequate or poor quality venue can have a major impact on people’s moods and how likely they are to interact with each other. (And your product.) By contrast, a great venue that fits the mood and goal of the event can enhance people’s experience and strengthen your brand image. Easy choice.
But picking the right event venue can feel like a needle-in-the-haystack exercise, with so many options to choose from. This is especially true if you’re looking at big cities or popular destinations with a never-ending number of hotels and convention centers. How do you decide what’s the best venue for your event?
With so few in-person events in 2020 and 2021, this might be your very first time picking a physical venue. Or, you might just be a little rusty. Either way, we’re here to help!
Let’s look at some steps you can take ahead of time to narrow down your search and find a venue that’s not only perfect for your event, but comes at a good price as well.
What exactly are you looking for?
You can save yourself a lot of trouble if you approach this task with a predefined idea of what you expect your event to look like. Do you want to organize an impressive event that shows off your brand as fun and exciting? Or are you perhaps aiming for a more pragmatic networking event, where people can acquire new skills at a lower cost?
The purpose of your event will influence the type of venue you go for. You also need to consider the number of people you expect to attend, the type of equipment you may need for the various sessions, and the venue’s physical layout, in order to fit with your planned activities.
Here’s a more detailed look at all the things you should consider before making your final choice:
Number of attendees
This is one of the easiest ways to cut through the noise and select a shortlist of event venues. For example, if you want to host a smaller, more intimate event, with no more than 100 guests, selecting a conference hall that fits 1,000 can be an overkill (even if they block out a smaller area just for you). In turn, if you’re hosting a large-scale event, you can easily filter out a lot of smaller venues that simply don’t have the capacity.
Location, location, location
If your location is non-negotiable, don’t just rush for the most obvious choices in your area. The pandemic has shaken up the real estate market, with a lot of office buildings and other commercial properties looking at alternative use cases. So if you look carefully, you may be able to get a good deal for an otherwise expensive property. Upfront planning plus booking well in advance can also help you secure a prime location at an affordable price.
Try to think outside of the box and look beyond your typical hotels and convention centers. For example, in Edinburgh an old church from the 19th century has been repurposed into a commercial venue, which can give events a dramatic and unique feel. Think about what other alternatives you have in your event city that can help your event stand out.
Source: Twitter @AssemblyRoxy
If you’re hosting an event that runs over several days, you also have to think about your attendees’ accommodations and how close they are to your venue. If they’re all staying on-site then this won’t be much of a problem. However, if the event venue is separate from the hotel where your participants are staying, think about how easily accessible your venue is. Or isn’t. Is the hotel within walking distance or will you need to organize taxis or shuttle buses from the hotel to your venue?
You also want to make sure the available accommodations fit your standards. It doesn’t reflect well on your planning or your brand if you book a great event venue … but the accommodation options are subpar.
Think about the type of equipment you’ll need throughout the event. Research by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has found that 15% of your event planning budget usually goes towards your audiovisual equipment, so be clear on what equipment the venue can provide, and what equipment you need to bring or rent yourself.
Another thing to consider is the actual layout of the available space. Do you need large, convention-like areas for speaker sessions, or do you want smaller, break-out rooms for workshops and team activities? Or maybe a big common space for booths and vendors. Make your venue work for your event, don’t stress out trying to make your event fit your venue.
Simple, sure, but parking is a big consideration, especially in busy areas. If this is something you think your attendees or suppliers may need, then making sure the event venue has enough parking space is a must.
Time of year
The season in which your event takes place may not be something that immediately comes to mind, but it can be key in how people perceive your event and how successful you are in achieving your mission. For example, if you want to organize an event with a lot of outdoor activities then you’ll want to plan the event in the spring or summer months which, in and of itself, can impact price and availability. If you’re organizing a more intimate wine-tasting event then a cozy, wintery feel might be perfect.
Of course, more than anything else, your budget will dictate what aspects of your event planning you can be flexible on, and which things are a must. For example, if you want to host a large event in a prime location, you may need to compromise on the time of year, and host it in less popular months. However, if your event is season-dependent (for example, a summer festival), you might need to compromise on location and go for a cheaper alternative a little outside of town. It’s all about priorities.
Where to look for an event venue
Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can start your search for your perfect event venue. Rather than going on a blind Google search, try some of these suggestions.
Leverage your network
There’s no better resource than our network when it comes to making any type of purchasing decision. In fact, 92% of people say they trust recommendations from their friends and family above any other form of advertising when buying a product. And rightly so! Speak to colleagues and acquaintances and see if they can offer any recommendations. You can also put out the word on social media so that people can easily reply to you.
If you’re with Swoogo (or really, even if you’re not) you can also ask your AM if they have any suggestions. They work with a lot of event profs!
Check out other events
Is there an event you’ve heard of, or perhaps attended, that really caught your eye? Where are events similar to yours taking place? Doing a bit of research can give you a list of venues that may fit the bill or give you an idea of the type of event venue you should be going for. Check out other events and take notes. Then steal … er, be inspired by them.
There’s an app for that
If you want to expand your pool of options, you can check out these specialized websites and apps specifically for sourcing venues.
- VenueScanner is a dedicated venue searching website with a primary focus in the UK, but expanding rapidly in other countries as well. You can enter the city, event type, and number of attendees you expect, then get a list of potential venues.
- Hire Space boasts more than 100,000 venues worldwide. You can set up a consultation call to share more information about your event needs.
- Unique Venues specializes in the North American market, offering venues for anything from seminars and conferences all the way to parties, weddings, and special events. You can use their website to browse venues by location.
Is that your final decision?
By now you might have a list of event venues that are real contenders for your event. Now it’s time to make your final decision. This may be easier said than done, especially if the venues you’ve selected are all similar in functionality and price.
So, how do you make your final, final decision?
Lets see the reviews
Going back to the social proof, 62% of shoppers say they find online reviews very helpful and 94% of consumers say that a bad review has convinced them not to make a purchase in the past. (That includes me—thank you, JellyFish362!)
Looking at online reviews can be a powerful way to weed out any venues that may have an amazing website, but not that great of service. Some places you can check are Google reviews, Yelp, or Facebook. Watch for any discrepancy between how the event venue advertises itself and how clients experience it. Are the complaints shared in reviews a deal-breaker? Or can you live with those shortcomings?
Quick note: don’t forget that fake reviews are becoming more and more commonplace.
For example, Yelp removes about 16% of reviews on its website that are considered to be fake. Likewise, Amazon removes about 40% of their fake reviews, although it can take them about 100 days, so these reviews can still do some damage. If you find several overly positive reviews that use a similar language, like “must-see” or “outstanding,” or talk in more general terms rather than specifics, then you should probably err on the side of caution and assume those reviews aren’t genuine. (Same advice for weird clumps of terrible 1-star reviews.)
My personal opinion? I find I get the best info from 2 and 4-star reviews that are more than a sentence.
Most importantly, have fun with it
Hosting a memorable event requires so much more than good catering and engaging speakers. The look and feel of your event venue can be just as important in making your guests feel welcome and comfortable, so make sure you dedicate enough time to finding the perfect one.
Choosing an event venue doesn’t need to feel like a chore, though. Considering that this is the place where your attendees will spend most of their time, your event venue is a great opportunity to amaze and delight everyone who attends. Whether that’s choosing a place with a lot of greenery, amazing indoor art, or simply a great feng shui, have fun with your research; because that feeling will translate into the final experience your guests are going to get.