Choosing a venue for your corporate event: 5 mistakes to avoid

April 10, 2018

As a top tier company, you’re already aware that choosing the right venue is crucial for the overall success of your event. It can help ensure your guests get the most from attendance – and that you get the highest possible ROI.

But it’s also something you can easily get wrong.

Read on to discover the five biggest mistakes companies make when choosing a venue for their events. And – because this is only half the story – the steps you can take to avoid them.

1. Choosing an inconvenient location: It’s easy to get so hung up on planning the coolest, most impressive event that you forget the most important thing: your guests. And one thing your guests really care about is the convenience of your event location. You don’t want them arriving stressed and tired because this creates a negative mood from the outset. Consider that the Global Industry Benchmarks Study 2016 found that attendee satisfaction is the second-highest metric ranked in measuring ROI, at 14%.

Instead…

Think about where your venue is in relation to transport hubs, especially if guests are travelling internationally. And also think about timings. Guests are unlikely to appreciate travelling at 5pm on a weekday, especially if your venue is central.

Think about where your venue is in relation to transport hubs, especially if guests are travelling internationally.

A good rule of thumb is to aim to keep the majority of guests’ travel time to around 10% of the total event time. So an all-day event could warrant a 1.5-hour commute.

But do keep in mind the importance of perceived value. The more value guests believe they’re getting, the further they’re willing to travel. Attendees would likely resent travelling for hours for a quarterly meeting to review performance, but you could get away with it for an annual blow-out gala in an incredible venue that happens to be some distance away.

2. Not thinking about size: There’s a line here because you shouldn’t choose a venue that ties you down to very rigid attendee numbers, in case things change. But overall, it is important to understand that size is a key consideration.

For example, if you’re holding an event for 50 or so employees, you don’t want to choose the Pyramids Rooftop Gardens at Wafi. Sure, they’re gorgeous – but they’re also designed for gatherings for hundreds of people. The Dubai Polo Equestrian Club would be a much more interesting choice, with various lounges catering to between 15 and 100 guests.

Likewise, you don’t want guests to feel you’ve crammed them into a too-small space. It looks a little cheap, and as though you didn’t plan guest numbers effectively.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to map out all your event requirements beforehand. As Judy Allen says in her book Event Planning,‘…it will not matter to you how wonderful the architecture of the building may be, how charming a balcony may be or how great a group picture would look posing by that column if the rest of the elements you have identified as event must-haves are not in place’.

Instead…

Choose an event venue after you’ve mapped out (at least roughly) which guests will attend. Underestimating is easy, especially for larger events. Take the time to plan exactly who you’ll be inviting, and choose a venue that caters for those numbers.

And what if all the invited guests don’t turn up, you’re thinking? That comes down in part to how you market the event. But you might consider inviting guests in two waves – only inviting the ‘reserve’ list once the first wave have RSVP’d in the negative. That will help keep your estimates accurate, so you don’t end up with a mismatch between event venue size and attendee numbers.

Keep in mind that you’ll generally find people are more likely to attend smaller events, because the accountability for their attendance is higher. For instance, you could expect a near-100% attendance to a small team-building event, but not for a large corporate ‘do’ with 750 guests.

3. Ignoring the weather: You can’t change the weather, but you can plan for it. Imagine you charter a yacht from Dubai Marina for a black-tie cocktail reception. The guests look stunning, the views are breathtaking – everything’s going swimmingly. And then a storm hits. And suddenly your guests are soaked through and nobody can hear themselves think over the thunder. And it goes without saying that any impressive audio-visual or AI technologies you’ve brought in to bring your event to life will be wasted.

We’re lucky in the Middle East that our weather is generally consistent – but these things do still happen. And it doesn’t even take an unexpected change in weather for things to go wrong. It’s not unusual for international brands to plan events in the UAE without a proper understanding of the environment. Britons might think they want to be outside in 36 degrees, for example – until they get there.

Instead… 

Expect the best, but plan for the worst. I’m not saying you shouldn’t organise an event on a yacht, but you definitely need a solid contingency plan if things do go awry.

And if you’re planning an event somewhere unfamiliar, don’t underestimate the importance of local knowledge. Finding someone you can trust on the ground, as it were, can help you spot potential issues you might never have considered. This is where consulting an expert in UAE event planning may come in useful.

4. Not linking event venue to financial objectives: The first aspect of this is setting financial objectives. Too many event planners treat budgeting like a financial record, simply writing down costs as they’re incurred. This is despite the fact that, according to the above-mentioned Global Industry Benchmarks Study 2016, nearly 20% of respondents said they found budgeting to be the most challenging aspect of event planning – so it’s worth taking time over.

As Anton Shone and Bryn Parry observe in Successful Event Management: A Handbook, a budget is about measuring your achievement towards a series of financial objectives. If you don’t know what these objectives are, then you can’t pick an event venue that aligns to them.

For example, say your financial objective is simply to cover costs. Then a hyper-expensive venue will be actively at odds with that goal. Even if you don’t wind up going over budget, the initial venue choice makes your life more difficult throughout.

Instead…

Your event venue should tie in with what you’re hoping to achieve, financially. To that end, the first question you ask should be, as Shone and Parry suggest, ‘Is the event intended to make money or simply to cover its costs?’

Your event venue should tie in with what you’re hoping to achieve, financially.

If you’re aiming to make money – say through ticket sales – you can afford to spend more on an impressive venue. For instance, maybe you book the Burj Al Arab helipad. It might cost you a little more upfront, but guests will pay a premium for a once-in-a-lifetime experience so you can recuperate those costs in ticket sales.

5. Forgetting about facilities: When you’re looking for an event venue it’s easy to ignore the mundane and think only about the exciting stuff. You’re imagining your guests mingling, eating Michelin-star nibbles – not parking, climbing the stairs, checking their emails, looking for the toilet.

But guests do all the unglamorous things, too. If you haven’t thought about issues like disabled accessibility, parking, toilet-to-guest ratio and so on, those things can be problematic issues that derail your entire event.

And of course, connectivity is key. You want attendees to share your event online, ideally in real-time. If they can’t, you’re missing out on a vital marketing opportunity. A joint report by the PCMA, UBM Studios and the VEI, The Business Motivations and Social Behaviours for In-Person and Online Events, found that 81% of participants at events would send emails at some point, while 51% said they tweeted or texted to share event information. And this report was released way back in 2011. Imagine how much higher those figures would be today.

Instead…

Map out the guest experience from arrival onwards. How do they get to the venue? Where is the car park compared to the entrance? Where are the nearest transport hubs? Is there disabled access?

         Map out the guest experience from arrival onwards.

Also consider the ‘back-end’ requirements of your ‘front-end’ experiences. The front-end might be what gets noticed, but the back-end facilitates. So if you’re imagining nibbles, have you got the required food license? If you’re planning to show off a new video for investors, have you thought about the acoustics? Is there excellent internet connection for guests to share their experiences?

Not every venue can accommodate every requirement, even if you assume those requirements are standard or obvious. Choose carefully.

Get your venue right: get your event right

These five mistakes are surprisingly common, but hopefully this article proves how simple they are to rectify. So put my tips into practice for your next event, and you’ll be sure to choose a venue that does you – and your ROI expectations – justice.

TGP is one of the Middle East’s leading design and production companies, focusing on exhibitions, events, interiors, graphics, and audio-visuals for various industries. For more information or to meet the team, please call +971 50 636 7774, send an email to hello@tgp.ae, or click here.