For many organisers, location is the most important element of running an event. In a nutshell, ‘get the destination and venue wrong and the event is wrong’ is the received wisdom and in many ways it is a hard to argument to counter.
At first sight it is a very obvious thing to say, after all, has any organiser ever gone out of their way to choose a completely inappropriate site for their event? Has anyone ever so misjudged what the event is trying to achieve that they in turn have misjudged where it should be held? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’, but, to give these hapless individuals the benefit of the doubt, one should add that they probably didn’t do it deliberately.
Let’s invent a case study. You’ve been asked to organise a meeting for your company in which everyone will be told how things have gone in the last year and what prospects are for the next 12 months. In the ideal world you’ll have been given an idea of budget, how long the event should take and what it is trying to achieve.
In many ways it is natural that you would want to present a neat, ‘all loose ends taken care of’, event that does what was asked of it and which may even come in under the budget you were given. This approach, however, could easily lead you to do some very obvious and uninspiring things.
You will probably simply book the nearest hotel that has reasonable "meeting rooms":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/london_meeting_rooms_venues.asp and goodish catering. In so many ways this is a wise and totally understandable thing to do. If you are based in Brighton it’s pretty certain that eyebrows would be raised at boardroom level if you decide to run the event in Aberdeen (For more information, see "Aberdeen venues":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/aberdeen_scotland_venues.asp). If your firm works out of Glasgow there doesn’t seem to be any benefit for the sales team to pack their cases and head for Birmingham. Suddenly a half-day meeting turns into two days away from the office, missed sales, a mounting pile of admin and your boss wanting a quiet word with you before you go home this evening.
However, is the local hotel that you’ve always used really the only option available to you? In most towns and cities around the UK there are numerous venues that would provide alternative accommodation for your event:
• Local football or rugby club. Tour of the ground included in the day
• Local racecourse. Afternoon racing included in the day
• Museums and galleries. Many have "meeting rooms":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/hotels_venues.asp
• Open air venues for team building exercises
• Theme parks. Some have "meeting rooms":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/london_meeting_rooms_venues.asp
A quick glance at the Venues.org.uk website reveals an extraordinary selection of venues ranging from hotels to purpose built "conference centres":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/conference_centres_venues.asp, taking in unusual, academic and sporting venues along the way.
Before hotel proprietors get the feeling that this piece is advising their customers to abandon them all together, let me set their minds at rest. What I am advocating is the following, if you want to use a hotel then why use the same one every time? Similarly, if you use the same purpose built centre, why not try somewhere different? Do you always eat in the same restaurant and never try anywhere else? You wouldn’t do it in your personal life so why expect your delegates to have to put up with it?
Mention of the delegates is important at this stage. This is simply because it is they, be they existing staff, potential clients or suppliers, journalists and other interested parties, who the whole event is being run for in the first place. Certainly, in the final analysis it is your company that is seeking to derive the ultimate benefit from the event but how the day is put together and what sort of message the delegates get from the event will influence this benefit.
Remember, how the event is run can often say as much about your company as the content of the event.
Imagine you are a delegate at the event. It is taking place in the same old hotel and the only refreshments you get are lukewarm stewed coffee and a few biscuits? Ask yourself some questions. Do you feel that being here is worthwhile? Would time have been better spent back in the office? What is this saying about the people running the event? What is this saying about how they regard you? If you were a potential customer would you be buying from this company or the other one that took you to see Chelsea v Manchester United last month?
This is actually a dangerous example to give but it helps make the point. I’m not suggesting that you push the boat out and blow the company’s meeting and entertainment budget in one thrill packed week in which you take everyone on an all expenses paid trip to Las Vegas, although that could work under certain circumstances!
All I’m saying is that events whose various strands such as location, content and entertainment have been carefully brought together with purpose and mutual relevance are far more likely to succeed than those which have been hastily cobbled together on the basis that ‘we’ve always done it this way so there’s no need to change’.
Let’s go back to our case study and two possible options. The first is the usual local hotel just for a few hours with coffee and biscuits. The second is a smart hotel out of town with a golf course and spa. Partners can come to the evening do which is a sumptuous dinner followed by dancing.
Which one of those two scenarios paints the better picture about how a company feels about itself and its staff? Certainly there are possible financial issues and not everyone could afford to do his kind of thing. The point is that if, as the cliché goes, variety is the spice of life, then a little thought should pay dividends.
Going back to the earlier mention of seemingly ludicrous distances, there is actually nothing to stop you going to Aberdeen (For more details, see "Aberdeen venues":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/aberdeen_scotland_venues.asp) from Brighton for your event as long as there is a proper reason so to do. If it is part of a carefully conceived and organised programme and is totally relevant to what the event is trying to achieve, then go ahead. If it is simply for the sake of it, your delegates will soon tumble the rouse!
One more thing. Remember that the content of the event has to be absolutely relevant to the delegates. It doesn’t matter if you hold your event 100 yards away from the office or 100 miles, if the content has been atrocious no amount of nice food or excellent sport is going to stop people feeling that you have wasted their time.