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The business of meetings

There are a number of factors that come into play when planning an event and it can be hard to keep track of everything. Paul Ratcliffe talks you through the basics to ensure your next meeting is memorable for all the right reasons

Whether you do your own research or utilise the services of a venue-finding agency, the objectives should be consistent. You need to have a clear idea of the destination required, the number of delegates, the amount of accommodation and the quality of the venue. Ideally, you will have already narrowed down your preferred destination based on where attendees will travel from, allowing them to arrive on time without having to leave home at the crack of dawn.

If your requirements are mainly for UK-based events, the venue must be situated in a convenient location. Consider where the delegates will travel from and how they will get to the venue. If a large number of them are going to drive, then the venue must have adequate parking space.

Meetings space
You need to decide on the room layout before researching potential venues. The main options available are:
? Theatre style
? Classroom style
? ?U? shape
? Boardroom
? Cabaret style (seated on round tables but only using six of the possible 10 seats)
? Open square (where delegates are seated on four sides)

Consider the number of delegates and the amount of interaction required from the meeting to determine the best layout. For example, a board meeting will require constant interaction, so participants are normally seated facing each other around a single table. However, a sales conference is likely to be aimed at a greater number of delegates with a series of speakers addressing them en masse.

Be cautious of the room size and stated capacity. Often there is no allowance for the space taken up by the projection screen, especially if rear projection is required as this will consume up to 30 per cent of the room. It?s always better to have a bit more space around the seating than cramming everyone into the room?s maximum capacity.

Consider the location of access and service doors into the main meeting room and imagine how the room will be laid out, allowing ample access for delegates. Don?t forget to consider ceiling heights if you have a lot of delegates. Generally a ceiling less than four metres high can impact sightlines to the screen from the rear of the room when the chairs are all occupied.

Event timing
Again, consider the distance your delegates will need to travel in terms of making the start time. If the event starts at 10am, there could be savings to be made as it means some delegates can arrive in the morning and won?t need accommodation for the previous night. This can have a significant impact on the event budget.

Roughly map out the timings for the day to get an idea of how proceedings will flow. With smaller groups it?s often easier to have refreshment served in the room and replenished during the day.

However, with larger groups it will be necessary to adjourn to another room for catering. An adjoining room would be preferable, but if not then it at least needs to have easy access and ideally be on the same level.

Think about the timing of the day as you plan the catering requirements. If the timing is tight, consider a finger buffet as opposed to a sit down meal for lunch. Also, consider the gender of the delegates; it?s no secret that the majority of males prefer savoury food while females usually go for sweeter options. Have a selection of Danish pastries, biscuits and mini bacon rolls for the morning break that are in proportion to the gender mix attending the meeting.

You will need to collect all of the delegates? dietary allergies and advise the hotel in advance. Buffets must be clearly marked ? consider an area for special diets if you have a lot of requests for the same preference. Mark the delegates? name badges with a code if you are planning a seated meal.

Paul Ratcliffe is Head of Business Development at Conference Contacts, an event management agency that has been established for more than 30 years. For more information on its services, visit