How to organise an event - ESRC

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Choosing a venue

The location and venue are critical to the success of your event. You can get a venue finding service or agency to help you with this.

Agencies operate independently but can also be part of the package offered by a conference organising company. Most offer their services free of charge to you and take commission from the venue instead.

The agency will keep up to date information on all aspects of the venue including the service offered, facilities and proximity to public transport. They will negotiate rates for room bookings and overnight accommodation and then provisionally hold the accommodation.

They can also arrange for you to visit the venues to undertake your own check. If you decide to confirm the booking, the agencies will raise the paperwork with the venue.

Size of the event

Plan early to ensure you get the venue of your choice – some premier conference venues hosting more than 200 people get booked up a year in advance. The larger the event, the fewer venues that will be available to accommodate you.

Type of event

If your event is informal, for a small group, or will take just a couple of hours, consider organising a breakfast briefing or a short seminar, with opportunities for networking.

If your event is formal and for a large group, a conference or seminar may be more suitable. For a large conference, you will need to book:

  • one main conference room
  • one room for catering
  • one area adjacent to the main room for registration – this could be the same space as the catering area
  • breakout rooms.

If your event will last longer than a day, choose a venue close to hotel accommodation.

Format of the event

The format of your event will determine the layout of the rooms you use. Consider:

  • if you want people to be seated in rows – theatre style
  • if you want people seated around tables – cabaret style – this will halve the number you can accommodate
  • how many breakout rooms you will need for other speaker sessions or workshops
  • what layout the breakout rooms should have
  • if there will be a question and answer session, will you need a roving microphone
  • whether you need a podium for speakers
  • whether you will need a top table with name plates.

Location

When considering the event location you should:

  • choose a venue within easy reach of public transport, particularly train or tube links – in general, the harder it is for delegates to travel to a location, the less likely they are to come
  • if the speakers or delegates will require overnight accommodation, choose a venue that is close to a hotel to minimise travel between the two.

Facilities

You will need to think about what facilities the venue can provide, including:

  • business desks or break-out spaces for delegates
  • wifi
  • photocopying and message taking
  • food and drink.

Accessibility

You must ensure your venue is fully accessible to people with disabilities. As well as offering lifts and ramps for wheelchair users, a hearing loop should be provided for delegates with a hearing impairment.

Catering

Meals and break times offer an important opportunity for participants to network. It is important to consider how the catering you provide will best meet their needs.

This includes:

  • the menu, and whether the delegates will be standing or sitting while they eat – standing helps networking
  • timings, with delegates needing at least 45 minutes to an hour to eat – the time you have available will also determine whether you provide a hot or cold buffet
  • dietary requirements such as vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, gluten-free, or allergies, which you should find out in advance. Clearly mark all food to ensure they do not get confused about what the products contain. You may need to set aside food for delegates with very specific needs
  • alcohol, and whether you provide it with dinner if the event runs over two days
  • set up, with caterers given their own room close to the main auditorium, but not so close that setting up will disturb the delegates.

Last updated: 31 August 2021

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