Inputs on IABC conference connectivity

shelwifishirt One thought about the 2009 IABC World Conference in San Francisco has been floating in my mind since I was at the event in early June.

That thought is to do with connectivity.

By that, I mean the difficulty I experienced (as did others) in getting a consistent and reliable-strength wifi signal in most of the conference areas in the San Francisco Marriott Hotel where the event took place.

The pic here shows my podcasting partner Shel Holtz sporting a nifty wifi t-shirt that lit up whenever it detected a wifi signal, and progressively illuminated according to the strength of that signal.

In this instance, I remember we were standing in the conference exhibition area when I took the photo – pretty solid strength as Shel lit up!

Certainly not typical if you went down a floor to the session rooms. On that floor, if there was a common comment I heard from many people, it was “Is there wifi?” or “You have wifi? I can’t get a connection.”

I also encountered another reality of big-venue events – inflexibility over connectivity. Let me give you an example.

I led a pre-conference podcasting workshop on the Sunday afternoon. Part of the setup I requested was internet access. They gave me wired access, which was fine, but what I really needed was wireless (wifi) so I could do my experiment with Audioboo from the iPhone.

The wired connection couldn’t be changed without paying for a new account. I was willing to do that until the hotel told me the price was in the hundreds of dollars. Even the idea of unplugging the wired connection and then just using wifi wouldn’t work – they note IP addresses and weird stuff like that and would see a separate, chargeable, connection.

Outrageous, frankly. But a zero-cost solution did present itself (and that’s all I will say about that).

All of this came to mind yesterday when I completed the survey IABC asks all conference speakers to do as a means of capturing thoughts, opinions and suggestions that IABC’s conference planners may find helpful when planning the next international conference (which, if you want to note your diary, takes place from June 6-9, 2010, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada).

Funnily enough, it wasn’t wifi that came to my mind first when I did the survey, but rather, the lack of power connectivity that I observed.

batterylow You know how it is at most conferences – those with laptops or any device requiring an electrical connection sit around the periphery of a room, wherever power outlets are located.

Whichever conference venue sorts this issue out by having plenty of outlets in convenient locations for everyone to plug into – and in some older buildings, they’ll need lots of power strips – as well as gets wifi sorted out will clean up the conference market in their city, I reckon.

Anyway, here are the specific suggestions I made to IABC when I got the the right question in the survey:

11. What changes, additions or improvements would you recommend?

One of the interesting things I observed was the large numbers of conference attendees constantly searching for power outlets into which to connect their devices, whether those devices are laptops, mobile phones, whatever. Helpful, therefore, at the next venue to provide power strips in strategic locations in meetings rooms, etc, so that people can focus on what they can do with their devices to connect and communicate rather than be concerned about whether they have enough juice.

Related – wifi connectivity. Absolutely appalling in the SF venue: once you went down those escalators, either you couldn’t get a signal or the one you did get was part of the hotel’s business wifi packages that had secure access and a very high $$$ cost to use.

Consider negotiating a conference pricing deal with an ISP for wifi connectivity for the next conference. Better still, find a sponsor who will provide free wifi for the event.

Hope it helps.

As a final comment, let me say that this post is by no means a criticism of anyone at IABC. On the contrary – the 2009 conference was simply terrific!

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Amanda Barry-Hirst

    Re the plugging in problem – seems to be an ideal opportunity for providing renewable/wind up/solar power sources here. Conference providers could partner with one of the many manufacturers providing these solutions now – while striking a blow for ‘greening’ their event at the same time.

  2. GusF

    Hey Sal,

    As always, great points.

    There was free wifi provided by my company – Marketwire. I did try to advertise it via Twitter and get the message out. We also had a wifi lounge at the exhibitors booth, but alas I don’t think there was much push to visit exhibitors during the conference.

    I also agree that we shouldn’t have to worry about wifi when at a conference. We are at an age where all venues should provide it, free of charge. Also maybe organizers should include a “wifi code” in their brochures.

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