Planning a conference takes a lot more effort than many people realise. Delegates have high expectations. They expect fast and free Wi-Fi, they expect great food and they expect everything at the conference to work properly – and they are right to expect this! This means that planners need to ask searching questions of venues that go beyond relying on the information that is shown on the venue website or in the brochure.
It’s also imperative that planners ask the right questions of venues. This is crucial. If you don’t ask questions and understand exactly how things work, you will be more stressed than you need to be. For example, if your boss asks “Is there parking close by?” you need to know whether it is at the venue or a 10 minute walk away. To say “yes it’s close” wouldn’t be answering the question.
Our golden rule, is to discuss your event in depth with the venue. The more the venue understand what you want and need, the more they can help. The beauty of venues that have dedicated events teams, is that they understand their space really well and can make great recommendations that you may not have considered. Working in harmony with a venue team is fundamental to the success of your conference. Just decide early if the venue team you are working with are any good, and the act accordingly!
You also need to understand from your organisation or client, what conference outcomes are required, who is likely to come to the conference and what the programme looks like. To help you plan effectively we have come up with some key questions for you to look at before starting your venue search. If you can answer the following questions you will be in great shape to start!
- How many delegates will be attending?
- Do you want a venue that is purpose-built for conferences or a hotel that offers conference space?
- How are your delegates likely to travel to your conference? Driving, rail or air?
- Do you want to be in the city centre or is further out ok?
- How fixed in stone is your conference date? Do you have alternatives?
- Will you be webcasting your event?
- How confidential is your conference? In other words do you need exclusive hire?
- What is your budget?
- What event-tech and AV will you need?
Read: Venue Spotlight: Top Christmas Party Venues in Birmingham
With these questions in mind, let’s take a look at some venues in Manchester that cater for conferences.
1. Concorde Conference Centre
The Concorde Conference Centre is based at the Runway Visitor Park, near Manchester Airport. It features a purpose-built super hangar which contains world famous aircraft. Events and special celebrations take place underneath the wings of a Concorde G-BOAC, the legendary flagship of the British Airways’ fleet.
The hangar offers 1,600 Sq. metres of space and a seating capacity for 750 people.
Within the conference centre there are two smaller meeting rooms. These are the Alpha Charlie Suite and the Avro Suite. They are ideal for breakout sessions, but of course have a variety of room layout options available, which means you could use a Suite for dining instead. Delegate size varies according to use, but if you work on the basis that Alpha Charlie can hold 50 people theatre style and Avro can hold 30 delegates theatre style, you will be able to visualise what the suites could be used for.
The Concorde Conference Centre is an impressive event space and one we are sure your guests will remember for years to come. Did we mention that access to the aircraft and cabin interior of a DC-10 can also be arranged?
The centre is located 1.2 miles from Manchester Airport and 8.8 miles from the city centre. It is just off the M56.
2. Bridge 5 Mill Centre
The Bridge 5 Mill Centre for Sustainable Living is a renovated silk mill that is home to meeting, conference and event spaces. Sustainability is at the heart of the centre. The mill was refurbished with lots of recycled wood used and it is managed with sustainability in mind. It’s owned by an environmental charity and if sustainability is a key driver for your organisation then this venue should be on your must see list.
The conference room has capacity for up to 100 people. It has light streaming in through skylights and large windows on three sides. The ceiling is high and oak beamed, the walls are the distinctive red brick of Manchester mills and the recycled wooden floor was once to be found in a school. All of these features combine to give the space a warm and friendly feel.
Also available is the Canal Side Room which overlooks the Ashton canal. This has a capacity of 35 delegates theatre style, or in different layouts, 25 workshop or 16 boardroom. There is also exhibition space available which is can form the perfect backdrop to lunch, or for use as a breakout space for conferences.
Conference and meeting rooms are hired out on a sliding scale; private and statutory organisations pay for spaces at a commercial rate and this plays a large part in the centre being able to subsidise charities, community and campaign groups to use them at a price they can afford.
The Bridge 5 Mill Centre is based in Ancoats which is just outside Manchester’s city centre.
3. Victoria and Albert Hotel
The Victoria & Albert Hotel is part of the Marriott chain and a luxury 4-star city centre hotel. Originally a 19th-century warehouse, and evidence of this can be easily seen as you move throughout the property. It has 148 guest rooms, good capacity for overnight stays for delegates.
In terms of event space there is 726 Sq. metres available. The biggest of the 9 event rooms is the John Logie Baird Suite which has a capacity for 240 delegates theatre style. At the other end of the spectrum for something more intimate, you could hire the 1844 room for a banquet for a maximum of 16 people. This could be useful for a speakers’ briefing or a VIP event the night before your conference.
The Victoria and Albert is 5 minutes’ walk from Manchester’s Opera House, on the banks of the River Irwell. This Marriott property is in central Manchester, only a few minutes’ walk from the shops and restaurants of the Spinning Fields development. The Crystal Maze is a 6 minute walk and Manchester Piccadilly train station is less than 2 miles away.
4. Manchester Conference Centre
Manchester Conference Centre is a conference venue offering all year round, purpose built meeting and conference facilities plus accommodation as part of the Pendulum Hotel. It has 15 meeting rooms, exhibition space and 117 bedrooms.
As the conference centre is within the Pendulum Hotel there is no need for any delegate to get wet, even if it’s raining outside. There is also no excuse for a delegate to be late for a session. In fact the majority of the meetings rooms are located on the same floor. This is ideal if you need multiple meeting rooms for your event and you want to keep your delegates together. Or maybe you have a tight programme schedule, which means the least time moving from room to room, the better. Just take a look at the conference floor plan and you will be able to see which rooms are closest to each other.
The biggest of the rooms is the Pendulum Suite which can seat 240 delegates theatre style or 160 delegates in banqueting format. After that the room sizes reduce but you still have options with 15 other spaces to choose from. In addition to this there is space for exhibitions and large private catering functions for up to 280 people.
Named after Foucault’s masterpiece which swings in the main hallway, the Pendulum Hotel is located close to the city’s action, being five minutes’ walk from Piccadilly rail station and a short distance from China Town.
5. Hilton Hotel, Deansgate
If you head to the striking Beetham Tower, which is a landmark 47 storey mixed use skyscraper you will find conference space and facilities available at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate. The Hilton hotel is within the skyscraper.
This hotel has 20,409 Sq. ft. of event space including a dedicated boardroom for up to 40 delegates. There are 11 flexible meeting rooms with space for up to 90 delegates and the Deansgate Suite can accommodate up to 600 guests. The Deansgate Suite is flexible and divisible into three spaces if needed.
As well as looking at the conference facilities you will probably want to talk to the dedicated events team about the possibility of a Cloud 23 Experience. Cloud 23 is the panoramic cocktail bar on the 23rd floor of the hotel. It deserves a look surely? If you want to house your delegates at the hotel, there are 285 guest rooms available.
The Hilton Manchester Deansgate is at the heart of the city. It is a few minutes’ walk from Deansgate train station and has good transport links to Manchester Airport and Old Trafford.
6. Radisson Blu, Edwardian
The Radisson Blu Edwardian, 5 star luxury hotel in the centre of Manchester is also worthy of consideration as a venue for your conference.
It is set inside the historic Grade II listed Free Trade Hall, one of the city’s oldest and most iconic buildings which is known for its musical past. More of that in a moment.
This hotel has 22 fully equipped meeting rooms and the Halle Suite which can accommodate up to 550 guests for various types of functions. If you want to have your delegates stay at this hotel you have 263 rooms and suites available.
The Halle Suite as its name suggests is where the Halle Orchestra performed. It is housed within the original part of the Free Trade Hall. In fact this venue is steeped in history and rather fittingly, each room, is named after those who played an important part in the history of the Free Trade Hall. There are original artefacts to be found throughout.
Edward Walters designed the structure and façade of the Free Trade Hall back in the mid-1850s and there is a self-contained (Walters) Suite in his honour. It can fit 70 delegates theatre style or 56 in cabaret format.
As well as the Halle and the Walters Suites, there are additional meeting facilities that overlook the atrium.
This venue can be found next to Manchester’s Central Convention Centre on Peter Street. The Free Trade Hall is a 10-minute walk from Deansgate station, a 2-minute walk from St Peter’s Square metro stop and a short drive to Manchester’s’ International airport.
Pricing and three key considerations
Pricing for any conference is always variable and much will be down to your powers of negotiation. Of course there will be the usual Day Delegate Rate packages available in most cases. However, beyond that, bespoke pricing is your next option. It’s always worth asking what extra a venue can provide to enhance your delegates’ conference experience. In Manchester in particular there is fierce competition for conference business, as you can see from our taster of venues.
Being that the competition is keen you will need to drill down a bit more in terms of how their offers stand up. Most venues will state they offer natural daylight which is great, as you will not get the best from your delegates if they are in a basement setting. But have a look at the natural daylight. Is it in abundance or does it come through a tiny space?
Internet connectivity should also be on your list of questions, especially if you are webcasting your conference. How much is a dedicated internet connection and what bandwidth will be available? Do not get this confused with Wi-Fi connectivity. Pricing for this varies hugely, especially if the venue has to source from an external supplier.
Finally, make sure that the venue turns on the audio visual for you. You need to see it and hear it before your conference goes live and before you commit to signing with the venue. It sounds obvious, but many planners don’t test the kit which is crucial to the impact of the conference. Test at your site visit before you say yes. If it is ‘state of the art’ audio visual, make sure you know what that means and that you have the capability of operating it.
Check the paperwork
Conferences are jam packed full of different moving parts. Before you sign the venue contract make sure you understand it completely. Every single venue has a slightly different way of presenting event information. If you don’t understand what the booking confirmation or function sheet(s) is stating, then challenge it. If tea and coffee has been missed or the number of delegates is wrong then point it out. Invariably your final invoice will follow from the venues’ event sheets so make sure you are happy with the accuracy of everything.