In planning traditional conferences and meetings, you consider who your target audience is, what topics need to be covered, who your keynoters and workshop presenters should be, and how much time should be allotted for each session.
Equally important as those details are to the overall success of your event is the venue and the ambiance. If people can't get to the location easily and affordably or if they aren't comfortable while they're there, your best planning won't matter. Accessibility is critical when choosing a location. When the site is difficult to find, hard to navigate or unreasonably costly, attendance will suffer.
When you are preparing for an event, here are some points for you, the meeting planner, to consider:
Give clear directions to the site. 21st century navigation systems often lack precision. Include up-to-date information on how to arrive at the location. A bewildered attendee will arrive stressed and possibly annoyed.
Offer precise information on parking. If fees are involved, inform registrants and indicate how payments are to be handled. For example, if charges for attendees will be waived, say that ahead of time. Many a poor soul has parked six blocks away to avoid paying for parking only to discover after the meeting that the fee was either eliminated or reduced for participants.
Once you have your attendees in place, think about these on-site meeting factors:
Consider how seating arrangements can affect the outcome. If you want a high degree of participation, seat participants at round tables. If you are training people, use U-shape tables or tables set classroom style. A rectangular set-up with the leader at one end works well for decision-making.
Control the temperature. This is often a major challenge. When your participants are focused on the air around them, they aren't paying attention to the presentation. A cold room will keep people awake, but will have some complaining. One way to make them comfortable is to have hot coffee or tea for warmth. Few people follow your pre-meeting advice to bring a sweater or jacket because of room temperatures.
Consider the comfort of your keynoters or speakers who come dressed professionally and are working up a sweat to educate and entertain the audience. Just because a seated attendee is chilly is no reason to call the engineer to adjust the temperature upwards. An energetic speaker who is under the lights and working the room is feeling the heat.
Offer refreshments. People are happy when there is food. Even if they don't eat it, they feel appreciated and valued knowing it's there. Besides, it's good hospitality.
Don't overlook the lighting. If the room is too bright, people feel stressed; too dim and their attention will wander. If darkness sets in, you might hear snoring. Once again, a reminder that the speaker needs to be considered when lighting the room. If the lights are dim, the presenter, who should be the focal point of the event, gets lost in the darkness.
Limit outside distractions. Seat people so their backs are to the windows even when the view is fantastic. Participants can watch the surfers, the sunset or the full moon after hours.
Control noise factors. Make sure that the venue has not been scheduled with a group in an adjacent room with only thin collapsible walls between your meeting and theirs.
Provide nametags or tent cards when participants don't know each other. They will feel less like strangers if names are apparent. The chances of valuable networking and interaction increase when people know to whom they are speaking.
Clear out the clutter. If your meeting is long and you have provided refreshments, take time to clean up during breaks. People are able to think better and take good notes if their personal space is clean.
And you thought it was all about AV equipment, handouts, meeting materials and the onsite staff! Following these suggestions will result in more successful and less stressful meetings and events.
© 2016, Lydia Ramsey. All rights reserved. Reprints welcomed so long as article and by-line are kept intact and all links made live.