Business events come in all shapes and sizes. They might have different names, themes and programs, but they all strive towards the same goal of communicating with (internal and external) stakeholders and thus connecting people (Rogers 2013). Depending on the size, the duration and the program, each event has different requirements. Rogers (2013, p. 51) notes that ‘there is significantly more work involved in staging a 1,000-delegate conference than one for 100 delegates’.
Rogers (2013) distinguishes four categories of buyers: corporate, association, government and entrepreneurial. The focus in this essay is on corporate and association buyers. The essay will explore the spatial, functionality and operational requirements for three different conference and exhibition scenarios. The information for this essay was obtained through the review of academic journal articles, textbooks and industry publications. For a small conference with a maximum of 200 delegates, a hotel with meeting facilities would be a good venue (Rogers 2013). Ideally this is a centrally located hotel, that is easily reachable by public transport and not too far from the airport (AAWEP 2017; Shone & Parry 2004). The hotel should have enough parking space since some delegates might arrive by car (Shone & Parry 2004). Organising the conference in a hotel with meeting facilities is convenient because everything will be under one roof (Rogers 2013). That way, the organisers and attendees won’t waste any time with displacements.
Small conferences are most likely to be corporate events. Most corporate events have less than 200 delegates, usually between 10 and 200 (Rogers 2013). The hotel should have an auditorium or large meeting room (set up in theatre style) that is big enough to hold all 200 delegates. Since the conference consists of workshops and forums, the hotel should have at least four additional meeting rooms. Three of these rooms and the auditorium will be used for the workshops and forums and should be big enough to hold at least 50 people. These rooms could be set up in U-shape or classroom style (Rogers 2013), depending on the required level of involvement by the delegates. The fourth additional room (minimum 200 sq. metres) could be used simultaneously as an exhibition space (4 sq. metres per stand for a total of 10 stands, 1 staff per stand) and break room. Serving coffee and biscuits in the exhibition room will draw people’s attention towards the stands and generate conversation about the exhibition. Furthermore, the hotel would need enough space in their restaurant or in a separate room to hold 200 people banquet style. If this is not the case, a suitable restaurant should be located within walking distance from the hotel.
The different rooms’ acoustics should be assessed, and an appropriate sound system should be chosen accordingly (Council of Ontario Universities 2012). Preferably the rooms already dispose of all the necessary equipment such as microphones, A/V equipment, chairs and tables. The chairs should be comfortable, but not so comfortable that delegates become sleepy. Good lighting is important too because the wrong kind of lighting could make delegates want to doze off or it could impede their vision (Carlton Collins 2015). Depending on the season, the rooms should have sufficient heating or air-conditioning. Drinking water should be available at all times and bathrooms should be clearly indicated (Council of Ontario Universities 2012).
A medium sized conference is best held in a purpose-built conference centre, that is easily accessible by public transport and by car. Rogers and Davidson (2015, p. 9) argue that ‘most conferences of several hundred or more delegates are held in such locations’. The size of the conference indicates that it is an association conference. Associations are membership-based, not-for-profit organisations. The revenue that associations generate from organising a conference, should therefore cover their costs and in the best-case scenario, generate a profit. This money can then be reinvested into the next conference or into the funding of the association (Rogers 2013). To generate sufficient revenue, associations need to attract enough delegates. As most delegates usually go at their own expense, special attention should be devoted to the destination choice. Having an attractive destination can indeed motivate people to attend (Mair, Lockstone-Binney & Whitelaw 2018). It should be an appealing destination with enough options for tours, activities, socialising, and networking. The people in the association responsible for the organisation of conferences are usually not experts in this field or normally fulfil other tasks within the association (Rogers 2013). Consequently, to help them with the organisation, they often hire intermediaries such as a Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) (Rogers 2013; Rogers & Davidson 2015; Kokkomäki, Laukkanen & Komppula 2010).
The conference centre should have an arena or large auditorium that can hold all 1500 delegates, so they can all attend the plenary session. Furthermore, eight additional breakout rooms are needed that can hold at least 250 people each. These rooms could be set up in theatre or classroom style. The centre’s large reception hall could be used for networking during coffee breaks. The venue should be able to cater for 1500 people at the same time in a banquet-room set up. At least 1,000 square metres of space are needed in a separate area of the venue to set up the exhibition part of the conference. This area should provide enough space for 50 exhibitors (16 sq. metres per stand, 4 staff per stand) and walkways in between the stands. Preferably the organisers are assigned a separate room where they can operate from and there should be a room available where speakers can relax in private (Carlson 2017).
Not all conference centres provide accommodation (Rogers 2013) and if they do not, the chosen accommodation should be in a strategic place, not too far from the conference venue and easily accessible. Rogers (2013) adds that hotels that are not organising the conference, can still benefit from the conference being held if they are strategically located near the conference centre. Depending on the association, different types of accommodation would be proposed to the delegates, ranging from the budget to the high end of the spectrum (Rogers 2013). As with the smaller conference, enough chairs and tables are needed, as are correct lighting, heating, air-conditioning and AV equipment (AAWEP 2017). More attention should be devoted to the décor, as it should be in line with the theme and program of the conference.
A large international conference is best held in a large and centrally-located purpose-built convention centre, with great accessibility, good transport connections and sufficient parking space (Shone & Parry 2004). If the centre does not have accommodation, suitable nearby hotels should be chosen. For major international conferences, choosing the right location is extra important, as attracting as many delegates as possible is key (Rogers 2013). Another reason for choosing the right destination is because large association conferences usually offer a partner leisure program (Rogers 2013; Rogers & Davidson 2015). The destination should therefore have enough to offer. The destination is equally important for the delegates as there should be adequate opportunities for networking and other social activities in or around the venue. A lot of the associations’ meeting planners work with intermediaries such as Professional Conference Organisers (PCOs) or even Destination Management Companies (DMCs), because of their expertise and knowledge of the destination (Rogers 2013, Rogers & Davidson 2015; Kokkomäki, Laukkanen & Komppula 2010).
The conference centre should have a grand auditorium where the plenary session for all 5000 delegates can be held. At least ten additional breakout rooms are needed for the concurrent sessions. These rooms should be able to hold at least 500 people each. There should be a big banquet room (6,000 sq. metres) in which the gala dinner can be held. Since an award ceremony will take place during the banquet, the room should have a stage with a pulpit and should be equipped with the appropriate A/V equipment. Décor is significant during big events and should therefore be consistent throughout and harmonious with the theme of the conference. It will have a big influence on how visitors perceive the event. The organisers should be allocated a separate operation room. A large exhibition space (15,000 sq. metres) is needed for the 400 exhibition stands (36 sq. metres per stand) and walkways. For the exhibition part of the conference, the association might like the help of an exhibition organiser if this service is not already provided by the DMC or PCO (Rogers 2013).
At big international conferences communication is very important. The best way to communicate with a large group simultaneously, is through social media. Creating an app for large events is commonplace these days. Ball (2012, cited in ICCA 2013, p. 60) adds that ‘if you don’t have a mobile app for an event, people will question why your event is behind the times’. A joint team of technology and communication experts should be on the task before, during and after the event. At international conferences a large percentage of the delegates is from overseas. They might not always be confident in the English language or foreign speakers might be more confident doing presentations in their own language. The presence of interpreters and their equipment (headphones, translation booths) can get around that. As with the small and middle-sized conferences, attention should be devoted to lighting, furnishing, catering, heating, air-conditioning and A/V. Shone and Parry (2004, p. 134) note that ‘the larger and the more important the event, the greater the likelihood of a need for [technical] specialists.’
To sum up, conferences and exhibitions come in all shapes and sizes. Though most of the needs are the same, they differ in size and scope as the conferences and exhibitions grow larger. No matter who is organising the conference or how big or small it is, the main goal is always to connect people. More and more meeting planners reach out for help from intermediaries who are specialists in their field and experts of a destination to set up conferences and exhibitions, which implies that the conference and exhibition business is a market in itself with worldwide significance.
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