The try before you buy motto is one typically associated with the retail and food industries but holds as great a significance in the corporate event sector as any other. Exhaustive preparatory work goes into the organisation of training days, with minutiae from access right down to wi-fi pored over.
It’s only right then that you – the brains behind the operation – are afforded a dress rehearsal of sorts.
Here at Lane End our doors are always open for those looking to sample the surroundings before firming up any interest. In fact we will include a free lunch and tour of the facilities, this courtesy of an experienced conference manager. That same courtesy should be extended by any venue making up the remainder of your shortlist.
Upon arrival you can immediately take in your surroundings and ascertain whether those images shared on a website truly reflect the location. In a handful of cases photos will not do the venue justice, in many others they distort the reality.
First impressions are all important and you want to feel reassured that the architecture and design is in-keeping with the type of event you plan on hosting. A quick scan of the interior should give an idea as to whether you will be able to adjust acoustics and lighting accordingly.
Another quick indication as to whether a venue holds true potential is the welcome one receives. Nobody expects a red carpet to be unfurled but a friendly greeting, clear sign-posting and short queues make for a good start, as does a place to store luggage.
All the while organisers should be evaluating what can be improved come their big day. Would further staff be required? Moreover, would they be provided on request? Is that large conference room advertised, large enough?
Of paramount importance however is that aforementioned welcome. Consider this, if employees appear stand-offish during what is essentially a test run in which they should be hoping to win business, the likelihood is their indifference will worsen once payment is secured.
The success of any event is in large part down to the numbers it attracts. With that in mind ease of access is vital. To try before you buy in this instance extends to routes in and out of a venue. How better to judge transport links than to sample the cycle, car, bus, tube, train and even plane routes yourself? Rely not on the word of staff but your own experience.
City centre locations tend to meet most demands but consider traffic at peak times, as well as parking availability. If the latter presents an issue enquire as to whether you can secure further spaces for your upcoming event. Is there a maximum number your hosts will reserve? Be sure to scan the surrounding area for nearby car parks as you will need not only to highlight these but share directions from them too. There is no substitute for good groundwork. Do not give the undecided any reason to abstain.
Drawing attendees is but half the battle; impressing them is the true test. Leaving nothing to chance will help in that.
Different training warrants different setups nevertheless gauging layouts and whether they can be amended is something best done in person. Only then can you begin to envisage how people are likely to funnel in and out of what is essentially a makeshift classroom. Only then will you identify any obstructed views and evaluate whether enough natural light is forthcoming.
Similarly, plans can be made for the transfer of equipment to and from the venue. Remember heavy machinery is often difficult to manoeuvre and contingency should be built in by the way of setup time.
The latter will be aided if certain tools are available on-site. The likes of projectors and microphones should come as standard but do not take that for granted. Ask the question and insist on seeing them in action. Could they be improved upon?
Seek reassurances too that an IT wizard will be made available should any technical issues arise. Delays are not only embarrassing but costly. Ask for an introduction.
Elsewhere temperatures are best assessed in the flesh. Sit in on another conference or training session and take note of how hot or cold the room felt. Ensure air conditioning is in situ and highlight just where those units are installed. Remember that could impact seating arrangements.
Bear in mind too that training days make for networking opportunities. Facilitate that by securing a secondary room wherein attendees can liaise and generally break from their learning. Analyse this and see that it fit for purpose.
By the same token anticipate overnights stays, particularly if your course exceeds one day. Ask to be shown hotel rooms and book a stay if time and budgets allow. Make a call on whether you feel enough are available and if prices are appropriate. Discounts can be secured in person yes but nearby accommodation unearthed also. Providing attendees with choice is no bad thing.
A moot subject for some toilets are in actuality an important part of any training day. The try before you buy approach allows you to tally how many loos are available on site but moreover where they are positioned. Participants will not appreciate having to walk long distances when nature calls. Likewise, poor signposting will only bemuse first time visitors.
A good event organiser will check the state of the toilets before committing to a booking. Are they clean and cleaned regularly? Who by and when? Are Disabled options available? Nobody will leave your event celebrating toilets, but neither should they leave complaining about the state of them. Make lavatories little more than an afterthought.
As with any restaurant food is best assessed by your own palette. Visiting a venue before handing them business affords you the opportunity to both check they have a kitchen and rate the quality of it. Review the menu and enquire as to whether it could be tweaked. Are specific dietary needs catered for and could a tasting session be put on for yourself and colleagues?
Of course, not all venues will boast in-house catering. In that instance you want to run the same checks and balances by those caterers they outsource to. Seek assurances that they have laid on spreads for a crowd your size. Ask whether you can glimpse their packaging, cutlery and napkins as you leave nothing to chance.
If doubts persist propose bringing in outside suppliers, a company you know you can trust. Would the venue be open to that sort of arrangement and would it incur a fee? Food is a key ingredient, literally, to any training day.
Finally, before committing to any one venue you want to ensure certain materials will be made available to your guests free of charge. Access to a free bar may be stretching it a little but everyone will be expecting water, pens and notepads as standard. It is your responsibility, on inspection, to make sure those items are readily available.
Expected too are PC access, charging stations, reliable wi-fi and something to snack on – be it biscuits, sweets, crisps or nuts. Promises made over the phone can be quickly forgotten. You will breathe a little easier when seeing things first hand.
Try before you buy and leave nothing to chance. There is no substitute for trialling something in person, not even copious research. For better or worse you will leave a site visit with a more rounded opinion of a venue and – if organised in a timely fashion – a few weeks to iron out unforeseen issues. Your guests will thank you for it.