by Gregory Cohen | September 01, 2007

The prospect of holding an event in a new venue is often exciting. As you look at the clean lines, all of the neatly stacked chairs and enticing architectural details, it is easy to get swept up with the enthusiasm of the hotel salesperson’s pitch about how many successful events have been held there and how all of the property’s customers were completely thrilled.

However, as any good event planner knows, it’s best to take the sales pitch with a pinch of skepticism: No venue is perfect, and every meeting presents its own set of challenges. As events become more technically complex, planners need to be armed with tools to rate the quality of the venue quickly and accurately.

Many of the considera-tions outlined below are things you or your production company typically will ask after picking the venue. However, by opening the dialogue early enough, you can ensure a smoother and more cost-effective project. By asking smart questions and considering a few critical components in advance, you’ll be able to avoid reshaping your event to fit the venue.

Sizing Things Up

Hotels typically speak of venues in terms of square feet, as well the number of attendees the space can accommodate. From a production point of view, the most important measurement is the height of the room. Ask a few questions right off:

* What is the ceiling height? For full-blown productions, anything less than 18 feet should be dismissed as too low.

* Are there any obstacles? Some gorgeous ballrooms have fairly reasonable ceiling heights, but ornate chandeliers can render the room completely unusable for your purposes.

* What is the rigging situation? Ask the salesperson to confirm that you can rig (hang wires, pipes, screens, etc.) wherever you want to. Also important is whether you can use your own crew and gear to do so. Typically, hotels require clients to use house points (permanent rigging fixtures). Moreover, they require that their own crews install all your rigging. In some cases, clients are required to rent rigging gear from the hotel.

On the Level

Take a walk from the ballroom to the loading dock to get an idea of how difficult your desired setup might be. A few important things to consider:

* Ideally, the loading dock should be on the same floor of the building as the venue. If there are elevators involved, get the dimensions from the hotel so your decorating and A/V companies can determine if they have to repackage their gear.

* The loading dock should actually be a dock; it is surprising how often this is not the case. That means the gear should be able to slide straight off the back of the truck without use of the truck’s lift.

* If the dock is far away and/or not level, find out if the hotel has forklifts on-site and if they can be rented. Perhaps the lifts could be operated by your team to save costs, but in some circumstances, the hotel might require that the lifts be driven by their own staff. (Don’t fight it; this is an area where it pays to leave the task to the pros.)

Comparing Notes

There is value in hearing about the other shows that have been held in the venue previously. You can get some real insight about the space by consulting contacts you trust, specifically vendors you’ve used in the past who might have worked with the facility.

Even if it’s too early to be talking to a production company or an A/V house, it can’t hurt to pick up the phone and ask an old partner if he has worked a venue in the past and can offer any insight.

Gregory Cohenis a lighting designer and founding partner of New York City-based Unlimited Visibility Lighting Design (