So one of the first things we had to thing about was getting a venue in Scotland.
As we didn’t have sponsors lined up at this point and we have no idea what degree of interest we will have – our first thought was to try to get a venue that was either entirely free or highly subsidized. On balance, this did not turn out to be a good idea, and I think unless you have a very specific contact with a specific organization who has exactly the right kind of venue – this approach is not likely to be successful. Even considering a moderate sized conference with 250 people, there are not that many suitable venues (considering we needed three speaking rooms, one big enough for all attendees, plus meeting rooms, catering etc), and of those, they have got to be available at a time which is going to be good for the attendees.
Our experience was that we had an initial offer from a University Campus just outside Edinburgh. This sounded great, but when we drilled into it, we found that it wasn’t likely to be popular with the delegates (several miles from all the interesting things in Edinburgh). Then we discovered that an academic organization has an entirely different set of priorities and constraints to those we were accustomed to in industry, and after a lot of unproductive negotiations on both sides lasting for several weeks, the only date we were offered was 14th April which happened to be Good Friday. The chances that we would get a good take up on tickets on a holiday weekend were approximately nil – and this combined with the indifferent location made us think again.
So we gave up and looked for a commercial venue which is probably what we should have done in the first place. We were aware of the fact that it would cost us a sizeable proportion of the whole conference budget, but it would be central, convenient and because it was a paid service, we would be paying the piper and calling the tune.
Almost immediately we were able to short list three venues in Edinburgh (all that were really suitable to our needs) and we chose the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Central, beautiful building, good AV and responsive staff. The only downside was that the charge for the day was nearly £5000 and this was not including catering (which would nearly double the cost). Obviously the next stage would be to get some funding to pay for it.