Geek Events Need WiFi And Power

Whether you’re planning a conference for a few hundred execs, a few thousand salespeople or tens of developers/programmers, there is one commonality most venues don’t seem to have addressed. It’s not seating, stage tech, microphones or sight lines.

It’s not just one thing, either. It’s two: WiFi and power.

With so, so many smartphones and a plethora of netbooks and iPads carried by nearly everyone, WiFi access and power are paramount to busy attendees that never seem to remember to fully charge their devices before showing up.

One of these problems has an easy solution. The other requires expertise, equipment and money. Let’s start with the easy one, power.

Power Strips
There are never enough outlets to charge attendee laptops, smartphones and tablets. If you’re a lucky event organizer, attendees will show up with, at most, two of the three aforementioned items. But if you’re hosting a geek or tech focused event, be prepared to deal with all three.

This solution need not cost a ton of money, but there are plenty of ways to do it wrong, including:

-Using power strips with in-line outlets
-Clustering outlets in one place
-Not having a drop-off station for charging
-Not knowing where the outlets are at all

Don’t do the above things! Instead, work with your venue manager to either rent power strips (we’ve seen up to $10 each, which is pricey), ask attendees to bring their own, or go spend $100 on a bunch of nice strips with perpendicular outlets.

Even better are the octopus-like models that prevent any power adapters from covering any others.

WiFi is a whole ‘nother issue. With so many facilities seemingly built in Faraday Cages, internet access through the facility becomes very important. And because so many attendees seem to need to connect multiple devices, access points become a problem.

I’ll say that again: access points are the problem. Seldom is the bandwidth the bottleneck, as most commercial pipes can easily handle typical email and web browsing. But if your network can’t dish out IPs and handle the fluctuating traffic, it doesn’t matter if your pipe is five or 50 megs.

Don’t try to fix this yourself. If the venue manager isn’t able to make the necessary improvements, we suggest hiring companies that specialize in event WiFi. For less time and money that it will take to buy access points or routers, set them up and manage them during the day, you’ll be able to hire a team to take care of all that for you.

Get What You Pay For
Many event planners may balk at this cost, preferring to handle the networking problems in house or at least buy their own equipment so it can be used again. If you’re the type that loves to carry around a ton of extra stuff and spend hours tinkering with network settings you likely don’t understand (trial and error is fine for home and small office networks, not so much for 500+ people), feel free.

Just let us know to bring our own hotspot.

Do You Know Your Venue Power Schedule?

In an effort to save on electricity, many facilities have installed either motion-sensitive or timed lighting systems designed to light the rooms when people are present and/or during predetermined hours. While these systems are fantastic for saving money on monthly electric bills, they can be a hassle if your event is held during non-business hours.

Powerless venues are often empty ones. Be sure you know when the lights are going out.

Going Black
Sudden outages are frustrating, often cause extreme confusion for attendees, and are not always easily fixed. Sometimes lights need time to warm back up, sometimes the physical switch to turn them back on is hidden, and sometimes the building supervisor needs to be on hand to flip the switch.

What time is it?
If your event is during normal business hours, most timed light systems shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s a great idea to check with building maintenance to know exactly when the lights are planned to turn off, and how to turn them back on. We’ve seen too many late-night set up crews have to quit before they were done—or paid overtime—because the lights went out and no one still at the facility could turn them back on. Check, recheck and then have someone available to turn them back on.

Check the schedule
While venue power schedules are not usually public information, IT or building maintenance should have this information. Making friends with them is an integral part of a successful event. While the venue contact may have all the necessary authority, it’s the guys and gals working in the bowels of the building that have real power (pun completely intended). Be nice to them and get to know their names; they’ll make your life a whole lot easier.

When the lights go out, make sure you're the one flipping the switch.

Educate attendees
For motion sensitive systems, remind room users of this feature. We often see this type of setup in small rooms or offices where the lights going out won’t cause mass confusion, but be sure to explain exactly how to turn them back on, even if it’s just raising a hand.

People don’t like surprises. Teach your staff what to do with something out of the ordinary happens and attendees will love you for it.