This article is intended for event planners to inform them of some of the technical and practical considerations when selecting an event venue. Often planners do an excellent job of considering delegate/guest experience, however technical considerations can easily be overlooked. These considerations can seriously impact the experience for guests, and add large additional costs that may not have been considered.
For venue staff and designers, we have an article on ‘designing an event venue’ here.
One of the first things that often gets overlooked is how the technical team access the venue. Many city venues only have loading bays suitable for vans – this can cause issues if your event setup is any more complex than a projector screen and a few drapes. If you are having large equipment such as PA systems, LED video walls, or lighting rigs, you will likely need access for a 40’ articulated lorry to park in or near the loading bay. Some venues are happy for lorries to park on the street outside for offloading, however if this is not possible, you may end up having to pay expensive fees for multiple deliveries in smaller vehicles.
Also, consider the route that the crew and equipment has to take from the lorry to the event space. If the route is hundreds of metres of narrow corridor, or there are 400 steps, it is likely the team will take many hours to get all of your equipment into the room. Again, this drives costs higher.
Also, you should ensure that all corridors and access doors are at least 8 feet wide. Any narrower and a lot of event components will not be designed to fit through.
Finally, lifts! A goods lift needs at least 8’ x 8’ of floor space, and for a large event should be much larger. Lifts raise large potential problems if they are the only access route into the venue, as they often break down, and if the lift isn’t working, your event may not happen. Good venues will have two lifts running back to back in case one stops working. Or an alternative access route that doesn’t use a lift!
Technical equipment needs electricity to make it work. This is obvious, however, what is not always obvious is just how much electricity most event setups require. You should be looking for ‘three phase’ power supplies as an ideal starting point. Most good events companies will be able to ‘step down’ from what we call ‘heavy’ power supplies, however it is almost impossible to ‘step up’ from inadequate supplies. Look out for a 125A or 63A three phase supply, or if not, multiple 63A or 32A single phase sockets may be appropriate. A serious venue such as an arena or exhibition hall should have 400A ‘powerlock’ sockets available.
The power supply should also be near to where the event equipment will be. Again, this sounds obvious, but some venues such as sport stadiums have their three phase sockets located hundreds of metres away and on a different floor to the event suite.
Overhead rigging is required for almost all medium to large-scale events, and can often be helpful for smaller ones too. If the venue does not have rigging installed, they should have rigging ‘points’ available for incoming rigging companies to hang from. These will often be located in the ceiling behind covers, or in a more rustic venue may just take the form of steel joists that a rigger will need to attach to.
Rigging points or trusses should be installed in practical positions in the room. You should ensure that rigging is available above the intended stage location, as well as in the middle and the back of the room.
Rigging points should have adequate ‘load ratings’ to hang a variety of equipment. Lights, video screens, and sets are heavy, and can easily exceed load ratings in older venues. Look out for individual points that are rated to 500kg or 1ton. If trusses are installed, they should be rated for uniformly distributed loads exceeding 1 ton, and ideally up to 5ton.
If you are in any doubt about the rigging, any good production company should be able to advise on the limitations of a specific venue.
Make sure that the room you are hosting the event in has enough floor space for not only the guests to be seated comfortably spaced apart, but for the set design you have chosen. Venues will often quote capacities that don’t take into account a large set or stage, or storage space behind the stage for technical equipment.
You will also need to consider the location of the technicians controlling your screens, lights, and sound system – they need to have good line of sight to the stage so they can ensure the best guest experience, and will need space for mixing desks, laptops, and themselves. A good rule of thumb is to allow an area of at least 20ft by 6ft for what we call ‘front of house’ or the ‘control position’. The more space available for your tech team, the better they will perform.
Consider the material the floor is made from too. If you have a large stage, or need ground-supported rigging because the venue does not have adequate overhead rigging (see previous point) then the floor will need to be solid enough to take some serious weight. Venues should have ‘floor loading’ information available on request. In some venues, the floor is so weak, the technical team can’t even set up the stage!
Columns can also ruin the audience experience. If they don’t impact sight lines, they will usually impact your table positions and stage location.
Generally, the higher the ceiling, the better for your show. High ceilings allow improved sight lines and better technical and creative flexibility. A ceiling height of under 2.5m means that a room is essentially unusable for most events. Some additional rules of thumb are:
<100 guests – 2.5m minimum
100-300 guests – 3.5m minimum
300-1000 guests – 4.5m minimum
1000-4000 guests – 7m minimum
4000+ - 15+m
Be aware though, that with ceiling heights of 4m+, the team will usually need to use access equipment such as a scissor lift. If the venue doesn’t have one on site, there may be additional costs associated with bringing one.
Whether an event is virtual or live, there will usually be a requirement for an adequate internet connection. For an event that is being live-streamed or hybrid, this internet connection MUST be private or ‘uncontested’. This means that guests and other parties are not given access to the same internet connection that the tech team are using. Also, ensure an upload speed of at least 10mb. Most venues will quote a download speed, however the upload speed is more important here. You can test this yourself by connecting to the connection yourself and using Google’s Speed Test tool.
If you are not broadcasting or live streaming, then the technical team would still benefit from having their own separate internet access with download speeds of at least 10mb/s. In all cases, a wired connection is more reliable than WiFi.
Guests will expect an excellent WiFi experience too. The venue should be able to advise on this, however, PYTCH will often install our own WiFi networks for events, as some older venues will have outdated equipment that is not up to modern expectations for speed or reliability. If the production company is installing their own WiFi, they will still need an excellent wired connection to facilitate this. Again, look for internet that is ‘dedicated’ or ‘uncontested’.
You will have considered the guest catering. But have you considered the people working at the event? They will need to be fed and kept happy. If the venue does not have the facility to cater for the event team, it is worth exploring bringing in an external caterer.
The event team is often working long shifts and on back-to-back events. Put yourself in their shoes when booking the catering options. Are sandwiches and chips for three meals a day on a four-day event really what you want your team to be surviving on?
Also, whilst not strictly venue-related, make sure that there are appropriate breaks in the schedule for the team. If they need to go off-site to get their lunch or a coffee, they are going to be gone for at least 30 minutes, so will need a gap in the schedule or appropriate cover to do this.
Most event equipment comes in boxes called ‘flight cases’ to keep it safe from damage in transit. When the kit is set up, these cases all need to be stored near to the event room. A good rule of thumb is to ensure storage space at least as large as the vehicle the equipment came in.
Sometimes, empty flight cases can be stored back on the vehicle it was delivered in, however the process of re-loading the vehicle is costly and time consuming, so always factor this in when selecting the venue.
Venues are businesses just like any other, and much of the above will have costs associated. A good venue will allow use of things like power and rigging points for free. Always ask for costs up front, and use them as part of your negotiations with the venue.
Some venues will have ‘in house suppliers’ for services like AV and rigging. Whilst some are better than others, their costs are often inflated and their offerings inflexible and unimaginative. Always get any costs and designs for in-house suppliers up front if you are considering using them, however bear in mind that you are likely to get a much better service and quality by using a third-party production company or agency.
Health and Safety/Covid compliance
Most venues these days should conform to strict health and safety laws. However, it can be good to do some quick spot checks when you are visiting – a venue’s attitude to health and safety can give a good picture of their attitude to other things!
Look for trip hazards, damaged electrical sockets, leaks, blocked doorways, and overflowing bins to give you a quick idea of their attitude to safety. Also it is worth asking about their Covid safety policy and measures. Many venues will have had to alter their procedures significantly to accommodate for Coronavirus, and those that haven’t should set off alarm bells!
Sustainability and Green Credentials
PYTCH are proud of our commitment to sustainability, and we find it shocking how many suppliers don’t share our ethos. This may not be something that ranks highly on your list, but generally you may find the venues that have made commitments to sustainability will be more forward-thinking in other areas, too. Ask about commitments to recycling, green energy, and employee welfare to give an insight into the bigger picture.