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April 16, 2008

Jacky Selway: Is Bigger Better?

According to the latest report from the British Association of Conference Destinations, the average size of a conference is 53 delegates, a figure that has risen year-on-year.

The rise in the average number of delegates means many event organisers may have trouble determining the scale of an event. But when planning a meeting or conference, bigger does not always mean better. Keep in mind the primary aim and objective of the conference throughout the organisation process and let size become a decision founded on practical elements, from accommodation to wifi access.”

Here are some size-related issues to consider when choosing the right venue for your conference:

The personal touch
The scale of the conference will affect the choice of venue due to varying capacity and facilities. Opting for a smaller conference may restrict your choice of venue, but also allows for more unusual and quirky spaces, such as castles or museums, and if required a marquee could accommodate larger numbers – to get the best of both worlds. A larger, purpose-built conference venue can cater for high numbers of delegates, but may be running several conferences at once, which could cause confusion if the events are not well signposted.
In-house facilities
The availability of communication facilities, such as wifi, transport, accommodation and catering may be a contributing factor in choosing a conference venue. This is especially true when hosting a large international conference, as it is vital to have adequate accommodation available. Larger venues often provide packages that include in-house catering or rooms. Events held in smaller, more unique venues may need to outsource such services, and this can have implications including cost, accessibility and availability.

If you are out to impress, it can often appear that a larger conference is more important or has a greater presence. However, this is not always the case. Smaller venues, such as historic or stately buildings, might be equally impressive as they offer a unique atmosphere. These venues are also more likely to increase the chance of your event having exclusive use of the premises, which can make your conference feel more intimate.

Level of interaction
Depending on the purpose of the conference, the size can have an impact on the level of delegate interaction. Smaller events often have a higher level of interaction and may provide a better environment for discussion and dialogue. However, if the purpose is primarily to disseminate information or an occasion such as a trade fair, then attracting as many delegates as possible would be the aim.

The size of budget also has an impact on the scale of the event. Costs for large numbers of delegates can add up, but if numbers are small, more money can also be spent per head. There are a variety of options avaailable whatever the budget, to make your conference as memorable as possible.

There are many aspects to consider when deciding on the scale and size of a conference. Ultimately, it will have to fit the need and purpose of the event, but can be dependant on factors such as budget, uptake, objectives of conference and available facilities. There are pros and cons of both large and small events, but bigger is not always better as small might be more appropriate.

Jacky Selway is business tourism manager of the Aberdeen Convention Bureau

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