Author: Jacqui Davidson

Slack top tips for #eventprofs!

Many of our participants’ unexpected favourite takeaway from our events is the added bonus of networking. They arrive often alone and leave with many new contacts and friends who may shape the way they work in the future. Making pre and post event networking easier for our participants is something we, as organisers, are always looking at.

We started using Slack (the business collaboration tool) as a company in January 2016, and in the past year it has radically changed the way we communicate as a team. It has freed us up from over-full inboxes, given us visibility into all areas of the business and – as remote workers – it has connected us in a way I didn’t think possible. Basically, it has made us work smarter and feel more connected as a team. So sharing our love of Slack via our events seemed to be a logical step forward.

We trialled Slack this year on our Agile Cambridge and Agile in the City Bristol events, and it has added to the event experience for our participants. It has helped create another way for our participants to collaborate, and made a space in the week or so before and after the event where they can genuinely network so they don’t arrive at events alone.

My top tips from our experience for creating a Slack event channel are:

  • Give people the option to join when they sign up to the event, so you’re not spamming anyone. Most people love Slack, but not everyone!
  • Don’t have too many channels – it creates confusion. We found that using just 5 – Session, Feedback, Random, Who’s here and General – worked pretty well and I think we could even cut that back.
  • Make it welcoming and informative. Pre-seed with speakers, programme committee members and add info that’s of interest. So when people join up, they join in.
  • Use it to share vital event knowledge, eg where the coffee is, when the keynote starts.
  • Track it to get instant feedback and react, eg when a participant says a room is too hot, you up the air conditioning.
  • Add the speaker slides from the event – Slack is a great post event resource.
  • Let it do its thing and evolve from the channel members’ input! But make sure it keeps to the event Code of Conduct.

We felt Slack added to the event experience for participants and the feedback we have received has been pretty great. Whilst we continue to look at ways to help our event community network outside our events, Slack has helped make this easier. We will be using it at our events going forward.

Welcoming your participants – first impressions count!

You know the saying: you can tell in the first 2 minutes if you’re going to get on with someone. Well, I think people make a similar decision at events – are they going to have a great experience, or not? The welcome a participant gets at an event can set the tone for their whole experience.

When someone books a ticket to an event, they get an idea of what to expect from the website/social media coverage and from conversations about past events. They arrive full of excitement and expectation – and as event organisers, we need to meet (or exceed!) their expectations.

This starts with the moment they walk through the front door. First impressions count – so how do you make sure they’re good?

First of all, guide participants through the door. Put up a big sign so they don’t get lost – you know where registration is, but they have no idea. It might be subliminal, but being told where to go and knowing that you’ve got there makes you feel safe and gives you confidence.

As people arrive, do your best to avoid a queue. Try and stagger the arrival time or at least encourage people to arrive early so you don’t get a huge rush 10 minutes before the welcome kicks off. However, if you do have a queue, make sure participants have an idea of how long they’re going to be waiting and let them know exactly what will be required of them at the registration process to speed things up. And give them something to do or look at while they wait – make it part of the experience!

When they get to registration, make sure they are met with a smile. Ensure that the people on registration follow the same dress code as the participants – they shouldn’t be smart if the participants are casual (or vice versa). It sounds simple, but if someone’s dressed in the same way as you, it makes you feel like you’re in the right place.

Sharing information is a vital part of the welcome, too: check that everyone on registration has all the information participants will need. Our golden rule is if someone has to ask a question it’s because we’ve failed to share the information. Participants will need to know some or all of the following:

  • where the toilets are
  • where to get tea/coffee
  • where to find the cloakroom
  • where the opening session is
  • how to log on to the wi-fi
  • where lunch will be held

Of course, if they’ve arrived late they might just want you to take them to the opening talk!

You know the information that you need to share, so share it – and if you do get asked a question on something you’ve missed, write it down on a sticky note and make sure you share that info in future.

Finally – make sure the registration team has time to chat with participants. If someone wants to tell you their journey sucked, or that they are super excited about the day, make time to engage with them – it’s part of providing a great customer experience.

This is a busy, stressful time for the event team – but participants don’t need to know that. What they want to know is that they are welcome and that there are friendly people at the event. It can be pretty stressful for some (most!) people to walk into a full room full of strangers, so if the welcome can relax them even a bit, it makes the whole experience a little easier.

Wifi – the good, the bad and the ugly!

I have blogged about wifi before: it’s as essential to tech events as water is to survival. Without it, they don’t work and you run the risk of the worst hashtag of all – #wififail – being tagged to your event (I have nightmares about this!).

It’s a myth that conferences always have bad wifi, though. When it happens, it’s often down to a poor choice of venue, poor preparation or penny-pinching by the event organisers.

So – what can you do to ensure that you get the wifi your event needs and deserves?

Check the speed and number of connections

Make sure you do more than just ask about wifi – it’s critical that you check it out personally, too. I’ve been told many times on the phone that a venue has ‘great wifi’ when, in reality, all it has is wifi that doesn’t register above 0.5mb (essentially non-existent).

To check the wifi is good enough, think about what is your event’s minimum requirement. Personally, I always look for a minimum of 50mb download speed and 20-30mb upload. The capacity for at least 2 connections per participant (ideally 3) is important: this allows people to log on with their phone, plus laptop and possibly smartwatch or tablet.

Once you’ve figured out your minimum requirement – go to the venue and check, check, check. Use a wifi speed tester. I use the Ookla speed test, which is free. With this there is nowhere for bad wifi to hide – as long as you check correctly.

In each room, run at least 3-4 tests at the front, in the middle and at the back corner. You want to ensure there are no black spots – and if there are, ask the venue to deal with them. Don’t forget to speedtest the toilets too, and make sure the wifi works outside in case of a beautiful sunny day!

Finally, think about any extra wifi needs you may have, eg for hands-on sessions or cloud conferences – check with speakers beforehand as this will help your planning.

Make sure the wifi is easy to use

Once you’ve confirmed that the wifi is up to scratch, you’ll need your participants to access it easily. The best option is for there to be no passcode – users can get straight onto the network, which has ideally been renamed for your event. Easy peasy – if all venues understood this, life would be perfect! However, life is not always perfect. Many venues appear to have unfounded security concerns – they make wifi access deeply complicated and give daily limits on data uploads. Or even worse – their systems are just massively out of date.

As a rule of thumb, I would reject venues that have any of these wifi barriers in place:

  • passcodes longer than 8 characters – or even worse, individual passcodes
  • daily data limits – these are out of touch and not a realistic option in 2016
  • different networks for speakers, participants and organisers: we are one event and it’s not acceptable for some people to have better wifi than others

What to do during the event

You’ve checked the wifi beforehand and you know it’s up to scratch. To make sure everything runs smoothly during your event, make sure you:

  • display wifi details prominently throughout the venue and in participant booklets
  • check wifi periodically throughout the event
  • have someone on hand to help people connect
  • keep an eye on Twitter for any wifi problems
  • ask the venue for traffic data during and after the event – this helps you plan for future events

I think that between us as event organisers, we can create a better world of wifi. Make sure you look for the venues that are able to offer you the best wifi service and don’t book anything less. Above all, try and educate venues – many are happy to invest when they understand what’s needed. In order to create the great events we need great wi-fi, so lets make that happen!

 

7 deadly sins event venues are making

I have been organising Software conferences at Software Acumen for the last three years and before that I worked at Reed Exhibitions. I like to think I know what I am looking for when choosing a venue and know what works.

Over the last few months I have been sourcing new venues and have been amazed by some of the sins that venues are making. Many seem to think that we are still in the 1990’s. Anyway here’s some advice to venues of about what we really want and the best (or should it be worst) sins that venues are still making.

Wi-Fi

Please don’t charge additionally or tell us you have great Wi-Fi when we have better at home. We will check when we visit with a speed testing app (free and easy to download I like Ookla speed test). Most humans now see Wi-Fi as the same as water (a basic human right) so provide great Wi-Fi and we will be happy and book.

Power supply

I know it’s not green (we can balance with other elements at the event) but conferences take a lot of power. Ideally I need at least ½ a socket per delegate so they can charge their devices plus more for speakers and sponsors. Power is again seen a basic right and 4 sockets in a room will not do. On this same note: During the conference keep it safe – no-one wants to take a broken ankle home from their favourite event of the year having fallen over a badly laid cable.

Signage

We want to find you, we really do. You may know where to go as you’re here every day but it’s all new to us and our participant. If someone has to ask even once, then your sign is badly placed or too small.

Be truthful

Don’t hide costs or forget to tell us things. We will find out and won’t book next year. If we know everything up front then we can make an informed decision.

A/V

Projectors are not all equal. I have learnt this the hard way. Colours alter and blur when the projector is old or the bulb is about to go. Make sure you know how old the projector is and that it is maintained on a regular basic. You would be amazed how many conference managers have no idea what a projector spec is, this is why our delegates to come to learn and listen and a clear clean projected image is vital.

Food

Well this is the only true sin: Gluttony! Keep it interesting, keep it local and if possible recycle leftovers to food banks and compost heaps. That way, if there is waste we will not feel so bad about it! Also (signage again) let us know what we are eating and don’t hide the veggie food in with the rest of it. If you’re a veggie, you really don’t want you food tasting or smelling of meat.

Heating and Light

Basic really. We need the room to be warm enough not to need a coat but not so warm that we go to sleep. Participants are coming to learn and need to feel comfortable.  We need air-con in the summer and heating in the winter and a fan just will not do. It is 2014 invest in a decent temperature controlling system. Regarding lighting, natural light is best and if a bulb needs replacing then ensure it is replaced promptly. What is more distracting than a flickering bulb? Our participants are coming to learn and need not to be distracted.