“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath,” Sir Michael Caine, the famed English actor, producer, and author is famously credited with saying, a sentiment relevant for successful event venues.

Freight delivery, Wi-Fi infrastructure, and kitchen amenities are some of the critical features you typically don’t see in marketing materials, but they can make or break an event venue.

“Everyone focuses on aesthetics, curb appeal, and the latest and greatest, but if the venue is not functional and does not have the proper foundation, everything is going to fall apart,” explains Gianni Gaudini, the Global Head of Events for SoftBank Vision Fund and author of “The Art of Event Planning: Pro Tips from an Industry Insider,” whose knowledge is also derived from nine years as an executive event producer for Google.

So, how do you make sure the meetings and events you plan have the foundation to support them? Explore the overall experience you are hoping to create from start to finish. “Map out what you need and how you plan to use the space,” says Gaudini.

Can the loading dock handle everything you need? What is the timing of the event? If you have only budgeted for one day, be sure you can move everything you need in and out within this time.

Specify in writing how the unloading of all your event assets will happen in the size and shape of the venue you are using, advises Gaudini. Also, remember that the crew needs space to move themselves and the equipment onto freight elevators and into hallways.

Elevator size and access is also critical in this effort, says Judy Williams, longtime independent event planner for computer networking conferences, including the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). “Can you fit the requisite equipment onto the freight elevators and/or into the meeting rooms? Will some pieces need to be taken apart first and reassembled later?” If so, you want to know upfront, she says. 

Williams recalls managing a large conference and tradeshow for the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA), where 25,000-pound pumps had to be moved into the conference center ballrooms. “We actually had to remove the doors to the ballroom which was, frankly, not something we’d planned on,” she admits. Fortunately, says Williams, the conference center and freight companies were terrific. “We all pulled together to work with the clients, removed the doors, set up the equipment and put the doors back on, just in the nick of time. And yes, lesson learned!”

Mapping Your F&B

The food and beverage portion of the event should have its own map, says Gaudini. When using a special event venue, check that the kitchen has an area for preparation. Are there enough burners? Ovens? Water? Power?

“If there isn’t enough space to plate the dishes you plan to serve, you are in trouble,” admits Gaudini. “You’ll need to rethink what you are serving or find a different venue.”

With a background in planning tech events, Wi-Fi infrastructure is of particular importance to Gaudini, as it is to most groups whose attendees have come to expect it. “Although the digital infrastructure of a venue is invisible, it is a make it or break it prospect.”

When necessary, she has created dedicated, private, secure lines for her events releasing proprietary information. “If you find the Wi-Fi infrastructure is not secure, you may consider bringing in new infrastructure to prevent an evil twin situation.”

Her checklist continues:

  • If you are working at a venue for more than one day, is there ample storage space?
  • Is there a green room where your speakers can congregate before going on stage?
  • What about a production room?
  • Is the space accessible for all?
  • What does the lighting system consist of and is it adequate to your needs?
  • How about HVAC? “This is something I always evaluate as if it’s super noisy, I have to arrange to have it shut off while my speakers are on stage,” says Gaudini.
  • Can the space be easily and quickly reconfigured and/or flipped?
  • What does the back-of-the-house labyrinth look like? Will it be easy for top executives to enter and exit the space?
  • How about service staff entry and exit points? If these are not well-thought-out, service can become clunky, says Gaudini.

“When I evaluate venues, it is based on a lot of criteria, a complicated rubric,” she says. There are the basics, like: does it fit her budget; will the space accommodate the right number; does it have the aesthetic she is looking for, etc., but there is much more she considers before making a final decision.

After she narrows down her choices, she then takes a deeper dive into each. “At this point, I evaluate them from a purely production standpoint. I look at the storage space, the kitchen, and the production room. Having to bring in infrastructure has swayed my decision in the past. All these factors work in tandem. And it is complicated.”