I have been organising events for more than 10 years. It is a big part of community building – getting people together in the real world. It is also a big challenge to find a place that meets all of your needs. Especially looking for somewhere that can fit in your (often non-existent) budget. This is a short guide to what I think of when I start searching for venues. It is all about PLACE.
Set down in writing what your participants need, want and do not require. This can be simply collected through early registrations or past feedback. It is also good to reach out and ask if it is your first event. Then write out what you as an organisation want to achieve with this event – what is your intention. Then set out exactly your limits and constraints. A traffic light system is an easy way to do this. Red is the absolute cannot move things. For example, budget or audio equipment. Amber is the things you can be a bit flexible on like accessibility to transport or near participants college. Finally, green is the things you want but do not need like a separate kitchen or gender-neutral bathrooms. This list of items can and should change as you develop your event. It needs to be responsive to your future participants so they will actually be able to turn up. A bit of purpose makes a lot of difference.
It is easy to jump ahead and go straight to this element. To find a great venue you need to know what you are looking for. So with your purpose plan in hand, you can start to research. It is easy to get online and search with a map in your preferred areas. It is worth getting a bit broader on your venue options. Think about churches, public libraries, coworking spaces, universities and more places not labelled as a venue centre. Also do not rely on the internet alone. Go for a walk in the area if you can. Or call any connections you have in the area. It does not hurt to tap into any humans you have to find connections for unexpected spaces.
Once you have a few places worth inspecting, get a good sense of what you need to look at. Go beyond asking a list of questions. Be brave and ask for answers to things you observe. A venue might say it is accessible to people in wheelchairs, but they have to go through a garage outback. How would you feel doing that journey? So you can ask the venue if there are other options. Also, think about logistics. How can you get food in and out of a band on and off the stage? Reflect on your traffic lights. It might not be great for the band to walk through the crowd but separate entrance could be an amber item while change rooms is a red item (must-have!). Be creative as well with challenges. If there is a problem what is some safe but different solutions. The venue won’t have a closed kitchen but they have some pinboards. Put those together and you have a closed (enough!) kitchen. So be curious, be brave and be creative to get the access your participants need.
This is compensation, collaboration and community. Three different ways to secure a venue depending on what you can give. This goes beyond money.
Venues have costs they need to cover but often organisers do not always have a budget for the best venue. If you can afford it, then pay the money. Arguing over dollars never builds a great relationship unless you really feel it is unfair or inconsistent. It is worth considering if you have the time to haggle over venue prices as well. Plus if you pay them you are now a client they will work to make happy.
If you really cannot afford it time to go back to being creative. You might be able to collaborate with the venue. This means agreeing to official recognition and maybe some other terms. This requires leveraging your organisations grass-roots, mission and vision to provide a real reason.
The final option is if you are trying to get a venue with no budget. Community partnerships can give you access to venues at no cost. This means working with a Scout group, university club or another organisation with free access to venues. Even more than a venue collaboration, you have to share and align vision and mission. It is important to have aligned intentions for the event as well. Keep the co-co-co in mind to get more venue with fewer hassles.
Success does not end at signing over for the venue. Before you run an event you need to think about what success will look like. Part of that needs to include evaluating how the venue was used. This can just be simply:
P: Did you have all your needs met and what extras did you get?
L: Could participants get to the location easy enough?
A: Was it accessible in all the ways you needed or hoped?
C: Will we continue the relationship based on compensation, collaboration or community partnership?
E: How do my organisation and participants feel after using this venue?
Assessing a venue like this will give a realistic picture of what success looks like. That is important to decide for yourself how to improve and grow. Look out for a future article on the details of monitoring and evaluation. A top tip is to implement ‘lean data gathering’. This simply means to gather the minimum useful data before coming up with complex ways to measure success and impact. Evaluate your venue and you will know if this was the place for you into the future.
That wraps up the 5 things to keep in mind for finding a great venue. Find your place and build your community.
About the author
Sam Shlansky is the CEO of Marco Polo Project, a company that is in a mission to create intercultural spaces where globally connected people learn and explore collectively. Sam also has a bachelor degree in Arts from Monash University and is the winner of the Victoria Multicultural Awards for Excellence. You can find him on LinkedIn as Sam Shlansky