London venues / Choosing a conference venue guide

12 tips to choosing the perfect conference venue

How to choose a conference venue?

Follow these expert tips on how to find and secure the ideal venue for your next conference.

Planning a conference can be a challenge, but once you’ve picked the venue, everything else will start to fall into place. From creating a cutting-edge programme and sourcing speakers to securing sponsors and marketing, there’s a lot of other factors to consider, so how do you get the perfect venue sorted? Here are our 12 top tips for choosing the ideal venue for your next conference:

Define your non-negotiables

Every conference or event has its own individual requirements, you need to work out what yours are. Start by outlining what is essential, what is nice to have and what you’d have in a dream world where anything is possible. Strikeout the venues that don’t match your essential list and immediately you’ve narrowed down the process, letting you prioritise elsewhere. If a space has all your dream wow-factor features but is missing the essentials, you probably have to scrap it and keep looking.

Prepare a budget

Budget will influence your decisions, there’s no avoiding that, and while it may seem like a restriction, it’s also a useful tool in narrowing down your limitless venue options. To prepare the budget, think about what is most important to your guests, like securing certain guest speakers, and use that as a base. Next, allocate what you are prepared to spend on the event venue and think about whether you’ll want catering. Don’t be afraid to negotiate on venue hire quotes or seek ways to get it cheaper like being flexible with the date.

Wilton’s Music Hall, between Whitechapel and Wapping in East London

Determine number of attendees

Make a rough estimate of how many attendees you’ll have and choose the venue based on its maximum capacity. You don’t want a venue that’s too big or the conference will look empty, but if you get one that is too small expecting guests not to attend, you could be breaking fire and safety codes. Remember to also consider your guests’ needs, no matter how many there may be. Attendees will expect comfortable seating throughout the sessions, breakout spaces and the right seating style for their needs. Theatre-style seating won’t always work, especially when attendees need to take notes on their laptops.

Think location, location, location

A convenient location is absolutely essential to ensuring maximum attendance. Nearby public transportation links or ample parking are a must-have, and if guests are flying in, make sure they have direct flights and a good selection of hotels in the area. In the case of international conferences, you may be better off with a venue near the airport. Remember, the happier their journey, the more successful your conference – no one wants to pay attention after a nightmare commute. As an added attraction, choose a location that your attendees will be genuinely interested in visiting thanks to the culture, sights and restaurants, like central London for example.

Earth Theatre

Earth, Hackney in East London

Check for nearby accommodation

Depending on how long your conference is, accommodation options may be necessary, so you’ll want to make sure there are options nearby for those wanting to relax at the end of the day. Plenty of hotels have conference facilities inside, but if you’ve chosen a different venue, make sure it’s a reasonable distance from local hotels for guests to easily access.

Investigate what else is going on

Unless you have exclusive hire of the entire venue, it’s worthwhile checking to see what else is happening on the same day in other nearby spaces that may clash or if there is any planned construction work. If you’re planning an intense professional conference, a loud team building event in the next room might be too distracting. Check whether your chosen date is in the venue’s peak season, if it is, the common spaces may be busier than usual, making networking opportunities between attendees more difficult and less natural.

Mountbatten - Queen Elizebeth II

Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Westminister in central London

Ask whether the venue is suitable?

Make sure your venue matches the image of your company and event. A disconnect between the two may not only confuse your guests but can also give a wildly different impression of the branding you are trying to project. Think about your target audience and what will appeal to them. Try to choose unique venues with an atmosphere that already aligns with the topic of your conference to avoid unnecessary decorating costs. For example, a modern, blank canvas venue might be perfect for a young start-up event, but doesn’t scream luxury as a glamorous hotel will. Plus, sometimes you want something a little more extra special than conference centres.

Find out about technology and facilities

For any conference, there are a lot of different facilities necessary, so you’ll need to find a venue with the essentials. Your guests will expect strong Wi-Fi and charging stations throughout the venue, so make those your initial priority. Microphones, A/V equipment, screens, projectors and stages are also good places to start. Check for suitable breakout areas and potentially space for external vendors to set up. If you’re providing food, check for a fully-equipped kitchen. Check with the venue for each of these features, if they do not offer them you’ll need to hire externally.

The Mayfair Hotel, Mayfair in central London

Look for branding opportunities

All successful corporate events have unforgettable branding which gives you the perfect chance to show off what you’re all about, so be sure to get it right. Never miss out on the opportunity to brand your conference, whether that’s signage throughout the space, use of the in-house plasma screens or something bigger. Check with the venue in advance to see what you’re allowed to do.

Ask about food and drink options

Hungry guests are unhappy guests, so remember to keep everyone well-fed – yourself included. Most venues will offer food and beverage facilities whether that be the basic necessities or full on-site catering. Be sure to check if the venue can accommodate people with food allergies or specific diets so no one is left unsatisfied. For drinks, think about whether you’ll be offering alcoholic beverages or not following the event and if the venue will provide that for you, or even let you use an on-site bar.

Tobacco Dock, Wapping in East London

Get to know the venue’s team

After experiencing countless conferences, the venue staff are experts at helping your event to run smoothly having seen it all before. With so much to coordinate, the smart thing to do is make sure you have enough staff in the right places: primarily concierge, security, tech support and waiters. Often you’ll have a dedicated venue coordinator who will be your main point of contact.

Ensure safety

Finally, but most importantly, while emergencies may, thankfully, be rare, but you should always be prepared for the unexpected. Ensure you have a thorough safety plan should the worst happen, and make yourself aware of the venue’s own safety procedures. Should an emergency arise, you’ll want to work together with the venue’s staff to keep your attendees safe.

The four seasons FSLON Ballroom theatre

Four Seasons at Park Lane, Mayfair in central London

Following these tips, you should be on your way to choosing the perfect conference venue for you. Take your time choosing and remember, make it memorable, convenient and cost-effective, and you’ll be on track for a successful event. Need a helping hand to kick off your venue search? Speak to our events industry and venue experts at John Cabot.

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