Venue selection and negotiation

Types of venues

For regional conferences, venues basically fall into two types:

  • Free
  • Not free

Free

If you are just starting out, it’s best for your venue to be free of cost as it will make things much easier on your event and your budget. A good place to look for hosting for your event is local colleges and universities, especially computer science departments. Several regional conferences in the U.S. have had great success with tapping into the resources available at computer science departments at local higher learning institutions. Many computer science departments are now using Python as their “Intro to programming” language, so they would be very ammicable to hosting your event and helping in many ways.

Not free

Once you are able to secure funding from sponsors and your event is large enough, you might need to move into a larger space, and these oftentimes will cost you money. Again, many collges and universities have conference centers for rent that work perfectly for regional conferences with up to several hundred attendees. For a quality conference center that includes staff, rooms, internet, and other ammenities, expect to shell out at least $1000 USD to several thousand USD per day.

Internet

Be sure to include negotiations of Internet access with the venue as part of this process. Many venues have partnerships with providers, and if you negotiate this after the venue contracts have been signed, they have less incentive to negotiate their component of this partnership down. Once you’re locked in to a venue, they have little if any incentive to discount the Internet, including things such as access to the in-the-wall wiring, their demarcation and cable closets, etc...

There are many components that they can provide:

  • Internet access: The connection from your users to the public Internet.
  • Interior wiring: Ethernet jacks in the walls in various rooms and runs between rooms. The hotel may or may not own this infrastructure, and may charge for providing access to it and lighting it.
  • Wireless and/or wired networking: Venues can often provide the client access to the network. However, you have to be very careful with this, many facilities just aren’t able to provide access to a technical conference, which tends to require access to the Internet and have many more devices than a non-technical conference.
  • Demarcation access: If you bring in your own connectivity, you still have to get from where the connection comes in to where you need to use it. In many cases this may require the hotel to run cable, and there may be other fees for access as well.

Also be aware that many facilities, even as of the time of this writing in 2012, are not particularly technically savvy. Particularly this seems to be true in smaller venues. For example, it’s not uncommon to find a venue that is going to charge you thousands of dollars for access to a couple of bonded T1 lines, which are also used to provide the hotel rooms with Internet access as well.

The typical PyCon conference uses upwards of 50Mbps of network bandwidth at peak, to support around 1,200 attendees.

Also, many venues are not set up to provide wireless Internet to a technical-oriented conference. Because there are so many devices being used at the same time, they often collide. A good rule of thumb, we have found, is one dual-band (2.4 and 5.2GHz) 802.11n access-point for every 20 users. If the venue networking can’t provide this many, there will almost certainly be problems.

See Sean’s PyCon Network Reviews for more detailed information on what worked and what didn’t at previous PyCon events.