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Venue Selection
ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
Q.
We're expanding our marketing program to include corporate events and off-site hospitality suites during trade shows. But I'm clueless about venue selection. What are some of the most critical considerations?

A.
Before you select any venue – be it for an intimate VIP event or a massive user conference – you first need to determine what objectives (e.g., sales, awareness, relationship building, etc.) this event will meet and how much cash you have in your coffers. You must also understand your attendees' needs and expectations as they relate to your company and the experience. Only then can you determine what kind of event, and therefore which type of venue, is most suitable for both you and your guests.

With this data in hand, you should be able to determine the broad type and size of venue you need. For example, you'll know whether you're looking for a one-of-a-kind locale with multiple activities – maybe an adobe dwelling with horseback riding and Jeep tours – or more of a traditional venue, such as a hotel ballroom. Once these parameters are in place, you can select the precise venue among a handful of options. To help you do just that, here are 10 vital variables many newbies overlook, each one of which can help you assess critical considerations and ultimately pick the right venue for your event.

1. Cost – Your venue costs can't consume your entire event budget, as you'll also need food and beverage, signage, supplies, entertainment, staff, etc. So set a realistic venue budget straight out of the gate and only consider those properties that do – or can – fall within your means. And the key word here is "can." That is, while searching for venues, ask about times of the day, week, month, and year when prices are highest and lowest. For example, the cost to rent a nightclub on a Monday night is a steal compared to the club's Friday-night sticker price. And each venue's peaks and valleys could quickly move it off, or onto, your list of top picks.
2. Capacity – Maximum accommodation can vary dramatically from room to room within the same venue, and even if you stay under capacity levels, the venue may still seem overcrowded. Always ask venue reps how much room there will be around each chair or buffet station, or how many people you'll need to accommodate at each table or station. Determine if there are any obstructions such as columns or wall partitions that will reduce the perceived amount of space or affect sightlines. Also request photos of events similar in size to yours so you can gauge whether the space feels open, airy, and inviting, or cramped and claustrophobic.
3. Wi-Fi and Technology Capabilities – A strong internet connection throughout the venue is absolutely critical these days, but don't just take the venue's word for it. Ask for references that have held similarly sized events in the space, and then contact these event planners to ensure the venue had enough bandwidth during high-traffic times and to inquire about any outages or "dark spots" in the property. Also determine if the venue's audiovisual technology will meet all the needs of your event.
4. Acoustics – If the sound in the venue is too low or too loud due to technology issues, poor acoustics, or ambient noise, attendees will quickly disengage. Low ceilings amplify sound, and open spaces echo. So look for a good balance of both, listen for ambient-noise and soundproofing issues during your site visit, and ask about other on-site activities or groups that might interfere with sound quality during the dates you're considering.
5. Ambiance – The entire locale will affect attendees' perceptions of your experience. As you assess each venue, consider the decor, architecture, and overall style of the location, from entranceways to restrooms to parking garages, and ensure they match your event goals and brand aesthetics.
6. Parking and Transportation – Most guests aren't willing to park their cars on a street or shell out a wad of cash for paid parking. Ideally, then, your venue should have some parking arrangements, and if access requires an additional fee, ask for discounted pricing or determine if you can cover the cost in your event budget. Along these same lines, if guests are arriving by plane, does the venue offer an airport shuttle or have a supplier that can provide transportation at a discounted rate? Does the airport allow Uber and Lyft pickups, or is the venue easily connected to the airport by bus, train, and/or taxi?
7. Insurance – Some venues insist you carry your own umbrella insurance plan, while others provide ample risk coverage in their own property policies. But always ask about insurance coverage during the selection process, not 10 minutes after something goes haywire. Plus, the costs of adding insurance to secure a specific locale may move it farther down your list of potential venues, so it's important to understand costs up front.
8. Food and Beverage Minimums – If your venue will be providing food and beverage, inquire about minimums, i.e., the amount of F&B you'll need to purchase to secure the space. You don't want the venue's minimums to exceed what your guests can consume, or you'll be paying for unused items. Also ask about perks or discounts if you go over a certain number. For instance, if you exceed minimums by 15 percent, can you get a catering discount, free parking, etc.?
9. Staff Experience – The time your guests spend at your event should be as pleasant as possible. Thus, inquire about the staff's level of service and gauge their experience with both your specific type of event and group of attendees. For example, if you're hosting a VIP experience for adult-toy retailers, you may not want highly conservative wait staff serving them.
10. Layout – To envision how your event will fit within a space, ask each venue for an illustrated floor plan and mentally map out where your activities or focal points might reside within it. Then compare the floor plans of all venues under consideration to determine how traffic will flow through each space, where and how people will enter the experience, whether there's adequate space for mingling, if there are any obvious traffic bottlenecks, and the location of electrical and technology offerings, restrooms, emergency exits, and so on.

— Wouter van Lent, chief marketing and technology officer, Superevent B.V., Amsterdam
Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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