Susan Friedmann

Article Summary:

Guidelines for choosing the perfect meeting space or conference venue for your next event.

Choosing the Right Meeting Space or Conference Venue

However large or small the meeting, location is key. Your environment, formal or informal, helps set the necessary mood and ambiance for the meeting to take place. Think about choosing a comfortable, yet stimulating environment that encourages attendees to concentrate, but beware of making it too cozy and relaxing that they're likely to fall asleep.

When thinking about the right location, consider the meeting objectives, the length of the meeting and, of course, your budget. Decide how appropriate/necessary/important it is to hold the meeting on or off-site. For example, sometimes a neutral, off-site location is necessary for confidential, top secret discussions.

Different types of locations to consider:
1. Local off-site meeting space
2. Out-of-town off-site meeting space

1. Local off-site meeting space
When it comes to selecting an off-site location, be it a local hotel conference room, a restaurant or other meeting space, your budget will rule and determine the outcome. To play it safe, always inspect the space first-hand before finalizing any decisions. Make sure the space is the right size for the meeting. You want to avoid "maxi-sizing," that is having a space big enough to seat 200 for a 20-person meeting. You only want to consider venues that are larger enough to handle the event you're planning. Much will depend on the number of participants and the complexity and/or variety of the program. Will it be formal, informal or both? Do you want a rural or an urban location? Chances are that every event you plan will possibly meet different criteria, and thus have different space requirements.

2. Out-of-town off-site meeting space
This option is usually used for extra special meetings, such as sales meetings, as costs will inevitably be much higher. These kinds of meetings may well last for several days so you want to make sure that all necessary details are well taken care of. If you want to make it high on your colleagues' popularity poll, consider using a resort facility, as they usually offer various enjoyable relaxation options, golf, swimming, fitness center, etc. A site visit is essential so as to avoid any unexpected surprises.

With this in mind, let's look at the various venue options available to you:

  • Hotels
  • Conference centers
  • Convention centers
  • Resorts
  • Retreat centers
  • Cruise ships
  • Unique environments
Hotels
These fall into three main categories:
  1. Well-known and established chains, such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, that offer a certain level of service that you can expect worldwide. They offer a wide range of amenities especially if you need room for large banquets, trade show or exhibit areas.
  2. Independently owned properties, such as those belonging to the Preferred Group, whose luxury hotels and resorts offer a unique character, one-of-a kind ambience, and provide the highest standards of quality and extraordinary service.
  3. Boutique lodgings service business travelers in search of a home away from home. They are small luxury hotels & resorts with individual personalities - eclectic, quaint hotels housed in historic urban buildings or romantic resorts with flowering gardens and beachside villas. However, nice these sound, you definitely need to check what meeting space facilities, if any, they offer.

Conference centers
Conference centers encompass a broad gamit of venues which are often purpose-built specifically for meetings and events and offer state-of-the-art facilities, many including videoconferencing. They comprise corporate training centers, universities, resorts, airport, urban and downtown facilities. Your best bet to find a suitable facility is to start your research with the International Association of Conference Centers.You can do a worldwide search based on your specific meeting criteria.

Convention centers

When you're looking for a combination of an urban location, plenty of meeting space, and substantial exhibition space, then a convention center is a practical solution. They're geared up large numbers and generally situated close to airports or in a convenient downtown location. The one drawback is that you would need to use a nearby hotel for accommodation.

Resorts
You'll probably only consider a resort property if relaxation and leisure activities rank high on your priority list. This environment works well for both formal and informal meetings. Companies like Resorts Online allow you to choose the activity you're most interested in to find an appropriate selection of choices.

Retreat centers
These generally work best for smaller more focused groups who are looking for a quiet, serene meeting environment. They encourage "an away from it all" type mentality where people can engage in personal exploration, strategic decision-making, communicaton, and self improvement.

Cruise ships
These make an interesting and very different venue option. There are a few companies who specialize in cruise meetings offering facilities worldwide for a wide variety of groups. Many of them will work within your budget constraints to offer complete packages that include airfare, transfers, meals and entertainment.

Unique environments
Unique environment don't always make the best meeting spaces, but it's worth doing your homework to find out. Some options to consider include museums, stately homes, (including castles in Europe), sporting venues, and theaters. Many of these venues work well for special functions, but don't necessarily have adequate meeting space facilities and equipment.

Susan Friedmann, Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), is a "how to" coach specializing in the tradeshow industry. She works with exhibitors, show organizers and meeting planners to create more valuable results from their events nationally and internationally. Originally from London, England, Susan has been a successful speaker, consultant and author for over 20 years.

Susan has written and published ten books. Most recently, she compiled and published the latest books on exhibiting, the three volume, "Secrets of Successful Exhibiting" series, with over 30,000 copies in print. Her latest book "Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies", was published in July, 2003.
For more information, visit her website at www.TheTradeshow Coach.com.

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