Conference industry basics

I’ve been busy over the past few weeks organizing the Widgets Live! conference. I’ve talked to lots of people interested in various aspects of the conference industry, so I’ll summarize a few logistics in this post.

Venue costs

Event venues typically charge a room rental fee combined with a minimum catering expense. All prices quoted are usually a “list price” and negotiable depending on factors such as the length of the conference, number of rooms booked at the hotel, your total catering spend, and your repeat business if you host multiple conferences a year. Many venues will waive the room rental fees based on a catering minimum, so be sure to ask.

Catering

hotel catering sample listing

Catering fees in no way match what you might expect to pay at a sandwich shop or local restaurant. In my experience looking at San Francisco hotel catering menus a continental breakfast consisting of coffee, orange juice, muffins might cost around $25 a person. You’ll have to add a service charge (typically around 20%) and sales tax to quoted prices. The sample listing in the picture amounts to $13 for each cup of coffee and about $80 for a dozen petite donuts.

You can get a gallon of Starbucks coffee, about 12 cups, for about $13 and a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts for about $6, but you’re paying for the atmosphere and the service environment during your important event.

Audio-visual

You’ll need microphones, a mixer, speakers, a projector, and a projection surface for the event. Many venues partner with an outside audio-visual consultant and you can rent equipment and perhaps even hire a technician to make sure all the equipment runs smoothly during the event.

Typical projectors available are either SVGA (800 × 600) or XGA (1024 × 768). More lumens means a brighter picture, which can make a big difference in a room with a lot of sunlight.

WiFi

Typically WiFi is provided as an a la carte item for conference organizers. You will most likely have access to a T1, which in theory could handle synchronous 1.536 Mbit/s I’ve typically seen T1 data access listed as “up to 50 users” by venue sales staff.

A hotel might host a breakfast meeting for the local investors club, a wedding, and occasionally a technology conference. The network is typically not setup to handle the thrashing of a tech conference crowd.

You can boost your bandwidth through the hotel if they are setup for extra capacity, or you could drop in a fixed point microwave connection if you have line-of-sight to a fixed wireless provider.

Summary

The first steps for a successful event are securing a good date, location, venue, room setup, and nourishment of the food, bandwidth, and power varieties. I’ll address some of the decisions we made for the Widgets Live! conference in a separate post.

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Commentary on "Conference industry basics":

  1. Phil Wolff on wrote:

    I’m a big believer in a few more items.

    Capture. mp3 recorders that you can plug into the mixers. video cameras, even low end ones, to record the speakers. screen capture software to capture the demos.

    Backchannels. wiki, blog, chatroom, event tag.

    Power strips that attendees can take home can be sponsored, with a sponsor’s sticker put on.