You’ve experienced it before: You start staging an event on-site and discover that the venue or network provider intends to charge you for something you assumed was free or in your contract. Sometimes they even want to bill you extra not to deliver certain services. (It can make you wonder if we’re all in the wrong business.)

Surprises like this are highly unwelcome for an event manager mere days away from launching an event. The good news is they are almost always avoidable with a little planning. Below are tips to help you steer clear of unexpected tech-related fees when deploying your trade shows and conferences.

Use your leverage

From a negotiations standpoint, you are at your most powerful prior to signing a contract with a venue. When a location is still fighting for your business it will be highly inclined to discount or waive certain costs. This is especially true if you are willing to commit to a multi-year agreement.

After your contract is signed, however, all bets are off. A venue that was once accommodating can quickly become the bearer of budgetary bad news.

Determine tech requirements 

You probably already have a good idea of what you, as an event host, will need on-site. But before signing a contract, be sure to get a clear understanding of what your exhibitors and event technology provider will require. Better yet, ask your technology provider to be involved in conversations with the venue. These preliminary discussions may force you to start planning your event further out than you have in the past, but the additional effort offers serious rewards.

The needs of exhibitors and technology providers often fall into two categories: wireless and electrical services.

Wireless requirements

If your technology partner deploys its own network to connect devices at your event, you will likely not need to use a venue’s wireless service. And to avoid interference from conflicting signals, it may be necessary to reduce the signal strength of the venue’s wireless system or turn it off altogether.

Ironically, despite not delivering any service, some venues and network providers will attempt to charge you for powering down their system. When negotiating your contract, request that any signal reduction fees be waived for the length of your agreement.

In special cases, the physical configuration of a location may it necessary for your technology provider to utilize the in-house wireless system at the venue. Ask that the venue provide a cost structure so that you can begin negotiating. In most cases we’ve been privy to, event hosts are able to reduce the wireless retail cost by 50%-100% simply by arbitrating in advance. Once you agree upon a number, request that your fee be published in writing—ideally within your contract.

Electrical requirements

Much like wireless, many venues sub-contract electrical services. If you are using an event technology system, you may need power on the show floor beyond what you’ve normally used. Ask your technology partner to provide its requirements before you finalize your venue contract.

If your event technology devices are made accessible to attendees, you will likely need power in the front of every booth. Instead of paying $50 to rent an extension cord the day before your event, work with your electrical services provider in advance to reduce potential costs. Many will agree to drop power in the front of every booth at no extra charge. Again, make sure the fees you agree to are put in writing and hold true for the term of your venue contract.

As an alternative, you can also ask exhibitors to pack a 15 ft. three-prong extension cord in their show kit. This will allow them to reposition technology devices in their booths without waiting for an electrician or paying for an expensive cord rental. 

In conclusion

Unexpected fees are the last thing you need to be worrying about when staging an important business event. So if you take one thing away from this article, make it this: Before you sign a contract with a venue, use your leverage to negotiate better rates on their technology fees. This will ensure a surprise-free* event experience for you and your team, and a smooth relationship with site staff for years to come.

*We can’t promise that aliens won’t land on the roof. That’s just out of our jurisdiction.

Hat tip to Jeff Sease on the premise of this post.