Whether you need to hold a meeting with half a dozen business associates or a conference for over a hundred attendees, there are definite advantages to hiring a facility specializing in corporate functions.
Business runs more and more on its ability to use the latest communications technology, from broadband Internet connections to the latest in computer generated AV presentations. A competent business facility should be able to not only interface with the communications hardware and software you use to present material to your attendees, but to help you work out the technical details so that your presentations happen smoothly and without problems. Before you decide on a meeting or convention facility, make sure you can talk to the technical support team to find out what communications equipment they have available, what you need in order to be able to interface your equipment with theirs, and what kind of technical support you will have both before and during your meeting or conference should problems arise. Many of your participants may also need to communicate, either by Internet or over any number of phone or instant messaging systems, with the outside world during the time they spend at your conference. A facility that makes this easy will reflect well on you and your company.
Choose an easy-access facility.
The location of the facility is also important. Meeting and conference centers located near major highway arteries, with easy access to airports and other public transportation, make a lot of sense for busy businesspeople who log substantial travel time; the less time and effort they have to spend getting to you, the better.
If a number of your attendees will be coming from out of town, and especially if your meetings or conference will be taking place over more than one day, consider renting a facility attached to a hotel with enough guestrooms to accommodate all of your out-of-town participants.
If necessary, work with a conference planner.
You may have staff at your company who specialize in putting together conferences; if you don't, you may be able to find a conference center that will take over the planning for you, communicating with your own staff and then doing the scheduling as well as developing conference topics, taking on the responsibility of communicating with prospective participants, signing them up, and even lining up hotel accommodations for them. An experienced conference planner can save you enormous amounts of time as well as helping you avoid wasted effort.
Don't forget the human touch!
If you're holding a conference, your primary focus is on imparting significant information and perhaps on generating new business for your company; but the success of the conference will depend not only on its stated goals, but on the comfort level and enjoyment factor of its participants. Attractive and functional meeting rooms, adequately heated or cooled and with comfortable seating, will make a big positive impression on the participants; on the other hand, rooms which are too hot or too cold, with bad acoustics and uncomfortable chairs, will reflect badly not only on the conference center but on your company as well.
Access to good food and beverages, during meal times and for morning and afternoon snacks, is a necessity; if you cannot provide this yourself, you need to make sure participants have easy access offsite to food and drink. Of course, if the option to provide refreshments is available to you, it makes sense to do so, as providing on-site meals and snacks gives you more control over scheduling throughout the day.; you have a "captive audience," and won't spend valuable time waiting for stragglers to show up from area coffee shops and restaurants after a meal or break.
Start by interviewing the conference center's event planner.
A good first step is to contact a meeting and conference center, armed with a ballpark budget figure, and ask to speak to the center's conference or event planner. The resulting dialogue will give you and idea of what sorts of physical facilities and services they offer, but will probably give you plenty of ideas which will help you develop your conference or meetings.
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire, who has written numerous articles for local and regional publications. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.