Logistics are a surprisingly big part of planning a dissemination or training event. They play a significant role in how your attendees experience the event. If they can’t find parking, are hungry or cold, or can’t hear the presenter, their attention to the training content may be affected. If there is a group of you planning your event, designate a subgroup to focus on logistics and meet with that group on a regular basis over the months prior to the event. In addition, it is wise to designate a single person from that group as the main communicator with venues, contractors, and trainers.
The venue for your training is in large part determined by the training purpose, content, and desired audience. It is also affected by budget.
Most venues will cost something, and some venues will be quite expensive. Comparative shopping is a good idea. Before you do this, you will want to estimate numbers of participants and what you will need from the venue. Some venues include refreshments, parking, and audiovisual equipment in their estimates, and some have these as additional charges. Knowing what you need will enable you to do a side-by-side comparison across
The rule here is "keep it simple." If the purpose and target audience for the event have been determined by good research about local or regional training needs, it will not be difficult to attract attendees. As soon as you have determined date, venue and topic of your event, send out "save the date" information. This can be distributed as a one page flier to various email lists. To limit attendance to a select group (i.e., affiliates of your organization) send only to the email list for that group. Be aware, however, that recipients will forward these if they believe the training will be valuable. If your organization has a website or a Facebook page, you can also post event information there or post it on Twitter. Once you are ready to register participants, send out a second, more detailed one-page flier that includes how to register. For both "save the date" and "time to register" fliers, make sure to have multiple members of your planning team review these in advance of sending them out.
It's good to know ahead of time how many people to expect even if there's no charge for attending. Having a registration website is extremely helpful. If your organization does not have the ability to develop such a site, it may be that one of your collaborators can do it. There are also generic sites that you can tailor to your event. Multiple pages (e.g., Welcome, Agenda, Logistics, Registration, and Contact) on the registration website can help interested participants find what they need. Designate one person to keep close track of registration so you can put people on a waiting list or close your website when you reach the target. If you are giving priority to affiliates of your organization, you might want to place others on a waiting list until you are sure you’ve received all the priority registrations.
The ideal time to do this would be six weeks to two months in advance of your event. The number of people attending will tell you what size rooms you will need, how much food to order, necessary number of handouts, etc. If you are not charging for admission, the general rule of thumb is to assume 20% will be a no-show.
The purpose and format of your workshop and size of the venue will determine the number of people you can accommodate. It can be challenging to project how many people a given event will attract. One often has to rely on previous experiences and knowledge of the target audience. Especially if participants do not have to pay to register, a portion of pre-registrants will not show up on the day of the event (at least 10-15%). Therefore, you can over-register by a bit. Having participants sign in as they arrive at the event gives you a record of attendance, helps with provision of continuing education credits, and provides information for planning future events.
If most attendees will be traveling to the event by car, adequate free parking is ideal. If free parking is not available, let trainees know in advance, identifying where the lowest cost parking is located and providing information about alternate modes of transportation. Attendees have been known to leave in frustration after being unable to find parking in an area that is not familiar to them.
Hungry or thirsty attendees are dissatisfied attendees. Most people have come to expect that coffee and tea will be available at such events, and this is most often accompanied by appropriate morning or afternoon snacks. If your event is funded through a Federal grant budget, the type of food you can charge to the budget may be limited. Check with your budget coordinator to determine what is allowable. If you are offering free training but must charge participants for a meal, then you will need to arrange a method of payment, either at the point of pre-registration or at check-in for the event.
If the venue is close to a variety of low-cost dining alternatives, it may be simplest to allow time for participants to go out on their own for meals. If providing a meal, determining special dietary needs (e.g. vegetarian) at the point of pre-registration is helpful. If you do plan to provide a meal, attend to whether your entire group can be served and consume a meal during the allotted time. If this is to happen simultaneous with a plenary presentation, the meal service should not delay the presentation and should not interfere with attendees’ attention to the speaker. Long buffet lines or noisy servers can cause problems.
Events lasting more than a day or drawing participants from a wide geographical area will necessitate overnight lodging for at least some attendees. The writer of this section once (inadvertently) planned an event to take place in a university district the day before the main graduation for this large university. Fortunately, the number of people requiring lodging was small, and we were able to find rooms in a convenient location. If your meeting venue is a hotel, it is ideal to reserve a block of rooms in the same hotel. If attendees are on their own for making lodging arrangements, you should provide a list of nearby affordable options. If you have funding, and you want to attract individuals who are on very limited budgets, offering a limited number of travel awards is a good idea.
Materials that are given to participants may include an event program or agenda, handouts corresponding to speaker slides, and evaluation forms. Consult with your speakers/trainers about what materials they would like attendees to receive, and make sure you have all of these ready in time to copy and collate prior to the event.
Technical difficulties can detract from attendees experience, so audiovisual equipment (e.g., microphones, projectors and screens, video equipment) should be carefully planned and confirmed with the venue. If the venue is providing this equipment, make sure they will have someone available to set up and assist, if needed.