According to Chantel Reynell, an experienced workshop and conference organiser and the current Hospitality Manager at Langebaan Country Estate, there are many options when it comes to choosing conference venues, and the more you see, the harder it can be to choose the right one.
We asked her to share some tips on important considerations that will help narrow down your list of potential venues. She says it comes down to the age-old FAQs: Who, what, when, where and why.
1. Who’s coming?
“The very first thing to do is to identify who will be attending your conference,” says Chantel. Obtain a realistic estimate of numbers – don’t even start looking at venues that fall outside this figure. Also consider who the delegates are, their average age, interests and expectations. You want to be sure your venue adds to the lure of your guest-speaker, line-up and the subject of the conference. And not all venues appeal to all delegates. Try to find one that caters to a wide range of ages and interests.
2. When is the best date for your conference?
Think about the time that would be best for the most number of delegates. If you schedule the conference close to a public holiday at a family-friendly venue, guests will be keen to attend and bring their families, Chantel notes. Just as important as a good date for delegates is the most convenient time for your team. Make sure there are no clashes with other big time-consuming events.
3. What is your budget?
Know what your financial limitations are. And remember to include everything from large obvious costs to the smallest token gifts when doing your estimations. “Then add a bit of a safety cushion,” advises Chantel, “just in case something unforeseen crops up.”
4. Why this particular venue?
Once you have an idea of numbers, preferred dates and how much you have to spend, look for a venue that falls within these parameters and also offers something unique. “The venue really does become an important drawcard,” says Chantel. “It is so much easier to attract delegates if you’ve chosen a venue that is an attraction in itself. And sometimes the best one is not the most obvious.”
Chantel explains that while hotels in major centres may seem an obvious choice, there’s not much variety between them (a large Johannesburg hotel is the same as a large hotel in Cape Town or Durban. “Often in major cities, you find that delegates disperse immediately after each session instead of networking and gaining insights and fresh perspectives from each other. That’s certainly been my experience.”
Chantel has organised conferences on game farms within easy reach of Johannesburg and now does the same at the Langebaan Country Estate, not far from Cape Town. “I would say with confidence that the novelty of going somewhere new, where there are a lot of activities to choose from, is almost a predictor of success. Getting delegates out of their comfort zone opens the door to new, creative thinking and more intense focus, as does exercise breaks,” says Chantel.
This is borne out by research published in prestigious business journals. New surroundings seem to spark new thinking. And it has been shown that where delegates jog, play sport, or even just walk together between sessions, they come back to the conference invigorated, having discussed the information they’ve been given, and often return with more creative insights to contribute.
So, consider a venue where exercise or team-building can be factored in and encouraged. “It really can make an incredible difference to the success of your conference and what delegates get out of it,” says Chantel. “Just remember,” she warns, “your delegates will have differing levels of fitness and while many may like to play golf, for example, there will be others who would prefer to blow out the cobwebs with a game of tennis or a mountain-bike ride. Others may prefer to swim, or walk, or mull things over while having a massage.”
And you want them all enjoying these activities in great weather – so be sure to choose somewhere where the climate is good at the time of year you’re considering. “We’re so lucky here at the Langebaan Country Estate to have wonderful weather and to be able to offer all those options and more – delegates at our conferences are spoilt for choice!”
Chantel recommends that once you have narrowed your venue options down to three, you arrange a site visit so that you can experience each venue for yourself to ensure that all your delegates will be catered for. While you are there, be sure to assess the flexibility of the space offered, as well as the technical (AV etc.) and catering aspects you require. Also, inspect the accommodation options and consider security, parking and ease of access.
Finally, says Chantel, interrogate the credentials of the conference team at the venue – how experienced are they? “It’s stressful, organising a conference. You should know that you can trust the venue’s team as if it were an extension of your own. That’s how we like to see ourselves, and you shouldn’t accept anything less from anyone else,” she concludes.