Thousands of conferences happen each year in South Africa – some are extraordinary and yet, many are not. Aside from the more obvious success factors such as securing reputable speakers and selecting topical content, what is the key differentiator between a good conference and an average one?
According to Marina Ackerman, Meetings Director at Crowne Plaza® Johannesburg, The Rosebank, a conference can have strong, impactful speakers and a compelling topic but if the venue choice is wrong, your conference will likely not achieve the desired impact. Ackerman lists five important things to consider to ensure you choose the right venue every time:
1 – The Space
It is imperative you choose a space which will be able to comfortably seat all the conference delegates without feeling claustrophobic. On the other hand, you also don’t want too large a room, making the conference look and feel ill-attended.
Crowne Plaza® venues offer a variety of different spaces catering to all sorts of conferencing needs, from large rooms for big events to smaller breakaway rooms and boardrooms for more intimate occasions.
Every conference has a unique set of requirements so make sure you’re able to provide a solution for each one.
Not only should the space be the right size, but it should also reflect the look, feel and brand of the event at hand. “One can’t have a conference about technology in a venue that offers no technological flair of its own,” she added. “One of the largest bi-annual events we host at the Crowne Plaza® is SA Fashion Week. Our hotel is completely aligned with their brand because we offer an unmatched interior hotel design in the heart of the fashion and design district.”
If your conference is over a few days, it should offer clean, comfortable accommodation either at or close to the venue.
“Our hotel rooms have been equipped with tailored sheets, aromatherapy oils and quiet zones as part of the Crowne Plaza Sleep Advantage® programme. This is all to ensure that our business travellers get a good night’s rest, keeping them sharp and energetic for their busy days ahead,” adds Ackerman.
2 – Connectivity
In today’s fast-paced society, it is absolutely imperative that a conference venue offers high-speed and reliable connectivity. With an increase in online conferencing, internet streaming and webinars, the venue must provide a facility which caters to 21st century demands.
Organisers and delegates alike must be able to work from the venue efficiently, without connectivity issues.
“There is nothing more frustrating than an unreliable and slow internet service. Crowne Plaza® supplies top-notch internet connection to all our guests – we want guests to feel as if they were at the office. There should be no difference,” says Ackerman.
3 – Location, location, location
While it may seem obvious, your conference location will have a big impact on who or how many people attend the event. Furthermore, when choosing the location for their event, organisers need to zone in and choose an area with good access to transport, close proximity to dining and entertainment and, most importantly, is safe and secure.
“Our hotel in Rosebank has many selling points. We are within walking distance of the Gautrain station which offers swift access to the airport, to Sandton and to the Joburg CBD. The surrounding suburb also provides a wide-range of entertainment from dining to art galleries to cinemas. We also fall within Rosebank’s security-node which offers enhanced protection to guests and residents in the area,” says Ackerman.
4 – Behind every good conference is excellent support staff
You are only as good as the team you work with so choose a venue where staff are willing to go above and beyond to accommodate your needs – albeit last minute requests. Research is key. Engage with venue staff ahead of time for a feel of the chemistry and overall atmosphere of the venue. You might be the best event organiser in the Southern Hemisphere, but if your venue lets you down, or can’t deliver on requests quickly, you are in for a disappointing and stressful time.
Another option is to visit the venue and test the staff out. Ask questions and see how they respond from a simple request to a mild criticism. Remember, this is how your delegates will experience them – be prepared for what you are getting into.
5 – Catering
Arguably one of the most crucial aspects of a conference – hungry delegates are not happy delegates! There should always be a sufficient amount of food or snacks on hand – preferably fresh, healthy snacks and dishes – available to delegates. Jugs of water, tea and coffee should also be readily available. The effects of dehydration and hunger can directly affect concentration levels and general performance.
The quality of food served is also of the utmost importance. Before you book your conference, host a lunch meeting at the venue to trial their culinary offerings to ensure you’re satisfied with their catering standards.
“Crowne Plaza® has a partnership with Teresa Cutter, a classically trained chef and nutrition expert, to develop a range of healthy and delicious food options for Crowne Plaza’s® meetings’ menus throughout the hotels in the AMEA region,” says Ackerman.
The choice of venue for a conference is just as important as the speakers themselves. If you remember to implement Ackerman’s five steps for conferencing success, your event is bound to be extraordinary.