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Organising a sucessful event

Conferences are at the forefront of modern communications, whether this is for internal communications (training seminars, retreats, annual general meetings, major annual conferences, for example) or as a vehicle for communicating with key audiences (such as press launches and some technical conferences). Conferences is a generic term to describe a diverse mix of communications events.

For those expecting to find themselves in the hot seat as an organiser or meeting planner, this article sets out some essential guidelines for pre-event planning as well as suggesting some invaluable sources of advice and assistance.

Planning for your Conference

Clearly, there are different factors to take into account when planning a conference for 500 as opposed to a meeting for 20, but the essential components are the same. The checklist below sets out those ingredients of the event which remain common regardless of the size and nature of the event.

i) Location and Communications

There is a well known saying within the conference industry that organisers base the choice of venues for their events on three main criteria: location, location and location!

We are fortunate in that the British Isles is justifiably one of the leading conference locations in the world because it can offer, in a relatively small area, tremendous diversity of scenery, a very high quality of facilities and technical support, and an almost infinite variety of ideas for social programmes and pre- and post-conference tours.

When deciding the ideal location, account should be taken of where delegates will be travelling from, as well as the means of transport they will be using.

ii) Venue Choice

Having decided upon the general location of the event, the next step is to draw up a shortlist of potential venues.

There may be a very wide choice, including: purpose-built conference centres, hotels, universities, management training centres, or one of the many unusual venues now becoming increasingly popular (stately homes, castles, sporting venues, tourist attractions, even a lighthouse or two!).

Often the size and requirements of the event will help to whittle down the shortlist, but questions such as the following can help:

  • Is the event residential and, if so, is it important for all delegates to sleep under the same roof? or can they be accommodated in different hotels and guest houses and transported to the venue? will delegates require single bedrooms, or is there the likelihood that some double or twin rooms will be needed?
  • Does the event require a country-retreat atmosphere with few external distractions? what are the options for social activities nearby?
  • Within the venue, is there the correct combination of rooms available for plenary sessions, syndicate groups, catering, possibly an accompanying exhibition?
  • What style of seating will be needed (boardroom, theatre-style, classroom, hollow-square, herringbone, U-shape are just some of the options)?
  • Is there good access for disabled delegates, or for bringing in display material?
  • Is a stage necessary, and where can this be erected in the room?
  • Does the main meeting room have pillars obstructing delegate vision?
  • Is there natural light and, if not, does this matter? will the room blackout satisfactorily? how noisy is the heating and air conditioning system?
  • Does the venue have a dedicated conference co-ordinator who can assist with the detailed planning and arrangements? are there other venue staff with whom you will be working and, if so, when will you be able to meet them?
  • What audio-visual equipment is needed during the event (normally this can be decided quite close to the event, unless the requirements are very specialised)? are there in-house technical staff to operate audio-visual equipment? If so, is there an additional charge for using their services?


iii) Delegates, dates and budgets

It is unlikely that precise delegate numbers will be known from the outset but calculations should be as accurate as possible. Will delegates be attending on their own or will partners attend with them?

If the event is to be held mid-week, rates charged are likely to be higher than at a weekend. Significant reductions can be achieved by holding the event at least partially over a weekend because hotel occupancy levels are generally lower. It is certainly worth remembering that the published rates are almost always negotiable!

Sources of Help and Advice

Organising a conference is a high-pressure activity, not recommended for those of a nervous disposition. Yet, well done, it can be tremendously exciting and rewarding.

Help and advice are available. One such source of assistance is the British Association of Conference Destinations, BACD. All of the major British conference destinations, now almost one hundred, are members of the British Association of Conference Destinations (BACD), representing over 3,000 conference venues throughout the British Isles, from Inverness to Jersey.

BACD members are an ideal starting point when beginning to plan a conference, because they each have a dedicated team able to offer a range of free and impartial information and advisory services. Such services are likely to include some, if not all, of the following: advice and assistance in locating a suitable venue (whether for 10 or 10,000 delegates), arranging familiarisation or inspection visits, booking hotel or other accommodation for residential events, providing conference packs for delegates, helping to organise social programmes and pre- or post-conference tours, arranging transport, laying on civic receptions, advising on local service providers etc.

Through its national network of member destinations BACD can assist conference organisers by offering a free one-stop venue location service: BACD Venue Location Service Freephone Number: 0500-140-100.

Detailed information on these top conference destinations is also given in BACD's official handbook, 'British Conference Destinations Directory', published annually. Much of the information from the Directory is replicated in the BACD website (, which also provides an interactive venue sourcing facility.

Further details on BACD and its members' services and other information on the conference industry are available from: British Association of Conference Destinations, 6th Floor, Charles House, 148-149 Great Charles Street, Birmingham B3 3HT (tel: 0121-212 1400)

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© 2004 British Association of Conference Destinations. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.

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