Karl Mc Carthy

Renting Conference Venues and the Mistakes I Made

“As the banquet manager began rearranging our carefully laid out AV equipment 30 minutes before the doors opened I knew we had made a major mistake in picking the venue.”

I found myself in the situation above not so long ago and it was certainly not fun. Watching our plans and run of show ripped apart broke the heart. It was one incident of many in what was a fraught relationship with the venue. The warning signs were there and a combination of enthusiasm and limited choice landed us with a venue we probably should have passed on. So to avoid such a traumatizing experience here are a few tips I have picked up over the years to help find you that perfect spot.

Big Corporations = Big Paperwork

The venue may be highly reputable but keep an eye out for a truckload of rules and regulations. I have dealt with some major venues and the larger they are the more paperwork there is. An example of this is when I worked with a large hotel chain and by the end of it we needed a team of legals to sift through all the paperwork. Sometimes the smaller lesser known venue is the way to go, especially if you are just starting out.

Remember, you’re the customer!

Unfortunately, with the increase of events, conference space is scarce on the ground and at times it feels like you are the vendor and not the customer. Try and keep the venue working for you and make sure to have plenty of backup options and let the venue know you have them. In the past, I have arrived with printed quotes from competitor venues and I am never shy to show them. If the venue has a bar and you expect your attendees to make use of it then you should ask for a discount. A quick calculation can tell you how much they will make and in most cases a percentage can be deducted from the rental fee. At a recent event, I presented bar revenue stats from previous events and managed to have the entire venue rental fee written off so having a track record certainly helps in this respect.

Hidden Costs

Ever got stuck with €3,500 electricity bill after an event? I did, it wasn’t fun. By failing to read some fine print I ended up on the hook for the cost of lighting the floodlights in the very large venue car park all week. Lesson learned in a big way. Be aware of what is and what is not included in your rental fee, who is liable for security costs, how many bar staff are available, does the venue fee cover cleaning, who does the cleaning, can I hire my own or do I have to use venues, the list goes on and on and on.

Exit Clause

I have spent many an hour waiting for the staging to be cleared out of a venue, a lot of venues have strict penalty clauses so make sure you are on-site and not in the bar toasting your events success. It can be a real anti-climax packing everything up but it’s better than paying for an extra day rental. Make sure your third-party vendors are aware of your timelines and insert clauses where required to cover your liability.


Acoustics are very important and one of the first things on your checklist, there are few things worse than not being able to hear the speaker and it’s a surefire way of losing the room quickly. When I look at a venue I always ring round to the local AV firm as they are normally the best source of information and well worth a call as they have probably kitted out the room in the past. If the venue is providing the equipment double check its quality and add to it if required.

Think Big, Plan Small

We all think we will sell out, unfortunately, according to recent stats less than a quarter of events come close to full capacity. It is a lot better to have a sold out event rather than a half empty venue, all you have to do is look at the most recent Olympics to get the picture. Ambience is an important factor for production so try and err on the side of caution.