Organizing a SharePoint Saturday – Picking a Venue and Date

Calendar

All the posts in the Organizing a SharePoint Saturday series:
Organizing a SharePoint Saturday – My Experience
Promotional materials
Picking Speakers
Managing Sponsors
Getting Help and Communication Methods
Event Week
After Event Follow-up

In my experience, picking the “right” venue and event date is of utmost importance. There really isn’t a one size fits all rule for when and where a city’s SPS event should take place. Being a part of the local community and knowing the area is a key ingredient to setting yourself up for success.

Venue

Selecting a venue can be a tough decision and this year was no exception. Choosing a place with convenient access and entertainment options nearby can be an advantage. The previous two years SPS Nashville was held at a university close to downtown. The location made it easy for attendees and speakers to get to from the airport and also provided easy access to the local music scene, for which Nashville – Music City – is known.

The location must have enough rooms with sufficient seating for your sessions and be equipped with the appropriate technology to make presentations easy, such as a projector and screen. You will most likely need an area to have the registration/check-in table, an area for your sponsors to setup advertising/tables, and a place to serve food.




A great place to start looking is at universities, then move on to large businesses with enough conference rooms (this includes your local Microsoft office if you have one) and then finally with conference centers. I base this on two major factors: 1) cost and 2) flexibility. For cost, typically no one can beat the price a university will charge. This is because they are excited to have community events that expose working professionals to the educational opportunities the university can provide. Some universities may not have state-of-the-art technology for hosting an event (e.g. high-resolution projectors) while others may be leading-edge. Depending on the technology your local university has will be a factor in the fee they are able to charge – I recommend visiting the university to check it out for yourself. A critical point here is to use your sponsors’ money efficiently; it might be necessary to choose the lowest-cost venue option and not get everything on your venue wish list.

Universities can also be a great option for flexibility in dates as most campuses are not as active on Saturdays as they are during the week. Beware this can cause logistical problems as well. For instance, the campus mail center may not open on weekends. If your sponsors want to mail booth materials to the venue, they need to have it delivered during the week and a university representative will need to pick it up before Saturday.

You will need to contact your venue early in the planning phase – I have found 5-6 months is a good time-frame. This is usually the advance time facilities need for scheduling events while still getting you in early on the booking process. This time-frame will vary widely between cities and getting familiar with the event scene in your area is important. The timing also depends on your chosen venue – convention centers may schedule events a year or more out, so make sure you check with each venue for the advance notice they will require.

Date

Many factors play into picking your event’s date and your chosen date can also drive which venue you pick. My process for picking a date goes something like this:

  • I check my calendar – at this point in the process, the main organizer must be able to attend! Make sure there are no weddings, vacations, work trips.
  • Are there any other SPS events scheduled within 300 miles or so? If so, you probably want to change your date so you won’t be competing for speakers, sponsors, and attendees. Ideally, your event will be the only SPS in your region / country on that date.
    • Check the SPS website for other event dates http://www.SPSEvents.org
      • Some cities don’t list their events on the SPS Events site unfortunately.
  • Check for major events in your area – for instance: a major sporting event or a festival.
    • My first year, a college basketball tournament was taking place in town. It made finding an after-party location difficult.
  • Check the calendars for the public schools in your area – all of them. If schools are out on a break, there can be low attendee turn-out due to people traveling or spending time with their family.
  • Generally avoid holidays and the summer months for the same reasons as above.
  • Make sure you give yourself enough time before the event date – in my experience the minimum amount of time is 3 months, but the more time you have, the more planning and promotion you can do.

This year, I had a date picked and was on the verge of reserving the venue when I got word from a friend that one of the largest SPS events in the country had picked the same weekend. I could have moved forward with the date – the other event was far enough way geographically (over 12 hour drive), but I would be competing for high-quality speakers and sponsors who typically attend the large event. I decided to change my date, but my preferred venue was not available. It took an extra couple weeks to get another venue picked and confirmed, but I am confident it was worth it.

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