Why Hold A Conference?
Holding a company conference is routine for many businesses who see enough value in them to schedule gatherings every quarter, while for others it’s a rarity reserved for a specific occasion - typically their Annual General Meeting. Whether your business is the former or the latter, the reasons for holding a conference are both varied and important.
This importance usually arises from the need to address a specific problem or need, which can typically be categorised into the following:
Inform- Gathering together all or certain segments of company employees to convey a message or information. By doing so in a meeting rather than through communiques or the chain of command you can ensure the message you are communicating has the appropriate tone, feeling and consistency – something that is often lost in text form.
Educate – Similar to informing your attendees, it is also an excellent opportunity to educate them for the same reasons – unity of message. You can focus on a specific area of training, and convey knowledge to everyone in the same way and on the same level of understanding. Having them together will allow you to efficiently train a large group of people and better manage the training while your delegates are able to share ideas, developing their learning even further.
Strategize – When deciding on a strategy or new direction for the company, the quicker a course of action can be decided the better so getting everyone that has a say in one room enables things to be decided there and then, without waiting for strung out responses. Being able to do so in a distraction free and focused environment is even better.
Policy Changes– Change is constant and affects us all, and a business and its policies are no exception. Taking the time to review how a company operates effects its customers and its employees and is always worth the time invested in reviewing and reforming policies.
Task/Problem Specific – Sometimes there will be a very particular issue that need addressing. Gathering together the people that can help solve it in one place, and surrounding them with everything they need to do it (minus distractions), will speed up the resolution process immensely – limiting the effect the problem will have on your business.
Morale Boost – An added effect on holding a conference is boosting morale, particularly if you can celebrate achievements. Inspiring your employees with motivational speeches and plans can have significant positive effects on their performance, and by taking them out of the work place you are demonstrating to them you care about their contribution as an employee.
For further information on why company conferences and training events are important take a look at our blog.
Where To Hold it And What To Look For?
Once you have decided upon a reason to hold an event, then begins the process of deciding where to hold it. Knowing what to look for in a conference or training venue can be daunting but this helpful article should help!
Should You Use An Internal or External Venue?
The first question is always whether to use an internal room or external venue. Holding it on company premises has the advantages of being easier on budget and a bit more convenient in terms of attendance, but that is where the benefits generally stop.
External locations, while incurring a greater expense, will typically provide you with a far superior event in the form of space, equipment, service, catering, training and setting. On top of this there are the more intangible benefits that are harder to quantify, but no less valid for consideration. Take a look here for specific reasons for holding company conferences in an external venue.
Some of these include: the positive effects the setting and location has on attendees and engagement; the removal of the distractions and interruptions inherent to work place environments; the dedication of time to the purpose of the event with the inclusion of team focused activities and leisure time; and the ability to hold multi-day events while making use of on-site accommodation.
Those involved in deciding on the location will usually have a list of priorities they will want a prospective venue to fulfil, and often a number of the less obvious considerations are not factored into their decision despite having significant impact on the success of the event.
The success of the event should be the priority. If what you are doing isn’t going to work then you have to question why you are doing it – concentrate on providing everything that’s needed to make it work first.
Should You Use A Dedicated Venue or Available Space?
Assuming you opted to go off company premises, many businesses choose to compromise when it comes to deciding which conference venue is suitable to host their event.
A common path travelled is to book a large room or hotels in a nearby location that’s big enough to handle the numbers attending and the activities planned. By choosing not to use a dedicated training and conferencing venue you are leaving a wide range of event necessities at the mercy of not being adequately fulfilled by the venue in question.
Local halls and function rooms are unlikely to be particularly well equipped, and even hotels will only have limited availability to technology. Neither will have access to professional training and coaching services, and any activities and team building exercises will have to be entirely self-organised which is just one reason why hotels don't make great training venues.
Success of the entire event will therefore be entirely the responsibility of whoever is burdened with organising it, and with the only other consideration potentially accounted for by the venue being catering and accommodation (if utilising a hotel), there is a lot that can go wrong.
Making use of a dedicated facility gains you access to everything you could possibly need to conduct your event to the best possible standard. These venues are experienced in the needs and demands of training events and conferences, and it is their job to ensure they have everything covered. They will help you to ensure everything runs smoothly by taking on much of the responsibility.
How To Handle Location and Logistics
Getting the right space in the right location will make a big difference to your attendees. You don’t want as much space as possible, you want the right amount of space necessary. Obviously a space too small will negatively impact on what are trying to achieve, but also be wary of how too large a space can create a sterile and isolating environment for your attendees – killing off their willingness to engage and participate fully.
When travelling to an external venue you want to ensure travel time is kept to minimum. Check the geographical location in relation to where your attendees will be travelling from, and focus on the time it takes rather than distance – a straight run down the motorway is easily preferable to winding your way through back roads.
Additional considerations such as catering, organisation, timing etc. can in some instances all be taken on by the venue. Making use of on-site catering and training services will displace that responsibility saving you time and effort - allowing you to focus more on the event rather than the details that come with organising it.
Is Accommodation Necessary?
Duration - An element often overlooked is just how long the event should last. The default position is always to squeeze everything that needs to be covered into as short a period as possible – but as we have already covered, the focus should be on how much time your event needs to achieve a successful outcome.
Multi-day events have a variety of benefits. One being that the dedication in time and effort allows the purpose of the event to be covered in more detail, allowing you to focus on ensuring those attending are truly absorbing what is being said.
Quickly pushing through topics because of a tight schedule gives the impression that they aren’t that important, and if you want your attendees to be impacted by what is being covered it is surely worth taking the time to do so. Don'e try and squeeze everything into one day just for the sake of it. Take a look here for 5 Reasons Why Conferences Should Be Longer Than A Day.
Accommodation – Making use of accommodation enables you to either split your event over multiple days to cover more topics in more depth, or simply allows your attendees the benefit of not having to make two journeys on a day of intense work.
If your chosen venue has on-site accommodation this has the added benefit of saving time and money wasted travelling between the venue and where your attendees are staying. This allows for it to be used for other activities like teambuilding and bonding through socialising in the evenings. By taking attendees out of their usual routines and placing them in an environment they will be able to truly engage with those they work with.
Overall, venues with on-site accommodation make it very easy and efficient to spread events over more than one day, eliminating unnecessary travel and maximising your time.
Getting Value For Your Investment
Every business has a different budget, and many may not have the capacity to opt for premium training or conferencing facilities - which is why value is important. However, value and cost are all too frequently confused when debating the point.
Simply because something costs less does not mean you get better value for what you are spending – quite the opposite. It’s an all too familiar situation where you’ve bought or booked something with a certain expectation of what you will receive, only to be told you have pay more for all the little extras you assumed were included - or that they are not available at all.
Booking venues can often be like that. Paying rock bottom prices for basic facilities will often trip you up in other ways, usually when it’s too late to do anything about it. Checking what is included in your booking is a must, and you will often find the only way a venue has achieved its lower price is by cutting out the extras.
You may well have been better off using a location perceived to be more expensive in the first place once you’ve examined the details. This is why the first consideration you should have is whether or not the venue can actually provide you with what you need to conduct an effective and worthwhile event.
The list of considerations can be long, but by knowing exactly what you want and need you can ask the right questions to establish what is included in the prices you are quoted. Take the time to consider what elements will be beneficial to those attending, and if they are worth any extra investment.
It can be a stuggle to determine where to start when trying to get the most value from your conference or training venue- a good place to start is thinking about how much is costs and what costs you need to consider. Read more here.
Once you have been given a price, you need to establish exactly what that price entitles you to - ask whether the following are also included:
Technology – Are projectors, TV’s, and other audio visual equipment included in the spaces you are hiring. Is there internet access?
Food & Drink – Depending on how long your event is lasting, this could be as simple as some teas and coffees, to being as extensive as needing full catering services to provide your attendees with three meals a day.
Peripherals – It seems trivial, but does the location you are booking with provide notepads, flipcharts, stationary, noticeboards etc. Or do you have to sort out bringing your own?
Transportation & Accommodation
These two considerations go hand in hand as it is not always obvious which is the most cost effective choice.
Transportation – As well as the obvious travelling to and from the venue, if your event is over more than one day you need to account for travelling to and from where you will be staying and the venue itself, unless of course, you have found a venue with everything in one place.
Will all the attendees be driving to the venue, and if not what other methods of transport is the venue reachable by? Will taxis be necessary to and from where they will be staying, or if they are driving is parking going to be issue – and is it free at the venue itself?
Accommodation – Serious consideration needs to be given to whether attempting to squeeze travelling to and from the venue and covering everything in the event in one day is the best use of your time and money.
Traveling throughout the day lessens the amount of time available for your event, and as it is likely you will be paying by the day instead of by the hour, the cost effective option isn’t so clear cut. It can also lead to tired attendees thinking more about the journey home than engaging with the event content.
Teambuilding, Entertainment and Leisure
Teambuilding - You will have an excellent opportunity to hold teambuilding activities, and it is worth considering their to benefit your attendees whilst holding a training or conference event.
They can be used as icebreakers early on, and help break any negative attitudes some may made have towards training - increasing their engagement levels and improving their learning potential.
Alternatively they can be a fun end to a working day, relaxing your attendees after an intense day and preparing them the evening. Lane End offers a host of fun and creative teambuilding challenges that range from Segways and motorised beer kegs, to archery and rifle scrabble.
Entertainment and Leisure – Some may view this as a luxury, but like teambuilding exercises the time spent together outside of a working environment will help improve the relationships between colleagues to the benefit of the business.
If opting to spread your event over more than one day, leisure and entertainment is something you should be considering and having something to do will go a long way towards increasing your attendees enjoyment of the whole experience.
Lane End offers sporting activities such as tennis and football during the day, and the use of several bars and lounges in the evenings, equipped with snooker and pool tables, and indoor virtual golf - allowing delegates to network and socialise.
Focus On What Matters- Making The Most Of It!
There is a lot to consider when organising an event, and with so many options and extras things can get out of hand quickly if you don’t have a focus. Every event will have a purpose, a reason for being held in the first place – and the focus should be on ensuring that purpose is fulfilled successfully.
If you want to hold a conference for all your managers to establish better procedures, speak to the venue about the conference format that will best encourage them to voice their ideas. If there’s a specific area you want your attendees to be trained in, use a professional trainer with experience in that field to maximise what they will learn. If you feel your team doesn’t communicate well enough with each other, add in teambuilding exercises and leisure time to improve their relationships.
By taking advantage of event packages, it can allow to do more of the things you perhaps thought you would not have the budget for as they often represent great value and in some cases free ‘perks’. No time spent with your attendees is wasted time – as long as it is focused towards an end goal.