Site Visit 101: How to Get the Most Out of Your In-Person Planning

published on Jun 15, '16

Site Visit 101: How to Get the Most Out of Your In-Person Planning  

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“Location, location, location!” – it’s the catchphrase of the real estate industry, and it’s no different for event planning. The setting you choose is a defining factor in your ability to successfully promote and market your event. From the moment an attendee sees the venue listed on the invitation or on social media, she begins setting up expectations, for better or for worse. Choosing a standout site for your event is an important step in the planning process, so don’t rush it.

There are many ways technology can make event planning and promotion easier, such as marketing your event and generating buzz online. However, when selecting your venue, it’s important to conduct business the old-fashioned way. We’ve all seen the limitations of Web-based venue shopping: a hotel website photo of a pristine Caribbean paradise matched up next to the neglected, unkempt real-life photo taken during a disappointing vacation. For your important event, the stakes are even higher – don’t be a victim of false or misleading advertising! Once you have a venue or two in mind, be sure to follow these steps for a productive, efficient site visit.

Before the Site Visit:

1. Schedule Wisely

There’s nothing worse than arriving at a site visit to find you’ve been matched with a staff member who can’t answer your questions and needs to check with his supervisor about every little request. Before scheduling an appointment, make a few inquiries to ensure you’re meeting with someone who will work with you during the planning process and can advocate on your behalf to higher management as needed. A quick decision maker is critical; the sooner you lock down details, the earlier you can begin promoting your event publicly!

Also, consider the day, time and even season when scheduling your visit. It’s best to visit a site in conditions closest to your expected event. For example, you might visit as the sun is setting and twilight casts a romantic glow on a restaurant, but things appear a bit grimy or worn when you show up to host a brunch in the light of day. Or, the venue seems quaint and peaceful, but when you show up three weeks later, school is out and kids are running the place. If you can’t visit in similar conditions, be sure to ask what might be different on your event date.

2. Arrive Prepared

While you may think you can rely on your host to tell you everything you need to know, in reality they are offering you a limited, rose-colored view. There are elements unique to your event that you need to ensure you cover, especially tough questions such as whether the venue can cater to vegan, pescatarian, halal and gluten-free eaters. Come prepared with a digital or physical notepad with sections for meals, accommodations, meeting space, staff service, etc. It’s easy to get carried away by a sales pitch and forget to ask detailed questions, so this resource is critical to prompt detailed note taking.When promoting your event, be sure to look back at your site visit notes in case there are any important details to mention to guests (for example, where to park or which signs to follow).

3. Plan Your Route

Imagine this: The evening of your event, everyone shows up an hour late because you scheduled it during the area’s notorious rush hour. Or, no one shows up at all because the GPS location for the venue is incorrect, and attendees unfamiliar with the area are driving in circles, lost. Think of your site visit as a test run for transportation to the event. This way, you’ll iron out any kinks, set your own expectations for arrival time, and be better prepared to offer transportation route suggestions to attendees during the promotion of your event.

During the Site Visit:

1. Befriend the Staff

First impressions are everything. Being positive, gracious and friendly with everyone you interact with – from your main contact to the kitchen staff – can go a long way. Chances are, at some point during the planning process and even on the day of the event, you’ll need them to go above and beyond to ensure success. Building great relationships from the beginning is key to financial negotiation as well as influencing the level of service you receive.

2. Take Photos of Everything

Site visits can be very distracting. You’re maintaining a conversation with your host, taking in new information, recording notes and anticipating how the space will look during your event. Next thing you know, you’re sitting in a debriefing session with your team, and someone asks what type of banners will fit in the front of the room or whether there is room in the hallway to set up a participant marketplace. Having photos as reference guides throughout the planning process is infinitely useful, and your team will thank you. In addition, having high-resolution, well-lit, and up-to-date photos of the venue will be important when conducting outreach to promote your event. You don’t want to be caught relying on grainy websites photos from 1996 on the event invite, do you?

3. Say ‘Yes!’ to Lunch

Often, if you’re visiting a venue that offers meals, such as a hotel or restaurant, the staff will want to woo you with a free meal. Not only is it a free lunch for you, it’s an important opportunity to evaluate the quality and presentation of event participants’ favorite thing: the food! If your contact doesn’t offer, don’t be shy – ask if you can try some samples. Plus, sitting down and sharing food is an excellent way to build your relationship with the venue contact and an opportunity to go over any questions you didn’t get a chance to ask during the tour.

After the Site Visit:

1. Set Agreements in Stone

During site visits, venue staff often make quick concessions, telling you what you want to hear in order to secure the contract. Either the day of or the day after the site visit, follow up to thank your contact as well as record agreements and next steps. While permission to adjust the thermostat during the event may not be important enough to make it into the official signed contract, having it in writing will be a useful reference as you get closer to the event.

2. Share Your Findings With Your Team

When planning an event, it’s important for everyone involved to be on the same page. Promptly report back to your team so that colleagues responsible for different portions of the event have a proper understanding of the venue, including both its special features and its limitations. You don’t want someone planning an elaborate slide show to later discover the room is not compatible with audio/video equipment, or the marketing department advertising a party atmosphere when there is no room for a dance floor and noise restrictions are in place.

By devoting time upfront to a successful site visit, you’ll save yourself time (and sleepless nights) in the long run. Your team will thank you, the venue staff will appreciate it, and you’ll probably even get a delicious free lunch.

(Photo by Unique Hotels)