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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.

UX can be applied to events, too

If you’re running an event, your users – the participants (including sponsors, speakers and press) – and their needs should be at the forefront of your mind. Seeing your event through their eyes – when you’re planning it, when you’re running it and afterwards when you’re measuring how successful it was – is important. That’s why you have to think about UX (the user experience).

We’ve already blogged about using proto-personas to define and work out how to meet user needs for events.

You are not your user – think about things from the perspective of your participants. Walk through your venue before the event starts and look at things from the user’s point of view. Is the signage clear? Does the registration desk layout make sense? Can you go the extra mile and help with things like arranging taxis, special diets or accommodation emergencies? Are your staff welcoming (and are the venue’s, too)?

Map out user needs for great UX

You should also think about the hierarchy of event needs. This idea is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid with people’s most basic needs at the bottom. When one need is fulfilled, people move on to the next, and then the next, until they reach the top of the pyramid.

Applying UX: a pyramid of user needs for an event
How a pyramid of user needs might look for an event

Try this for yourself: draw a pyramid and at the bottom, list basic needs – like catering, toilets and so on. Higher up, you might put things like signage, easily being able to find the sessions you’re interested in, good wifi and so on.  Different people will order things differently.

We try to make our events memorable – going the extra mile to fulfil those needs right at the top of the pyramid. Some of our conferences have included:

  • a mini beer festival with a specially-brewed beer
  • ‘dinner with a stranger’ – people sign up to one of a selection of restaurants and pay for their dinner, but we pay for drinks (this has proved to be a great way for participants to get to know each other and adds depth to the event experience)
  • participant-generated Spotify playlists
  • free massages – we’ve offered 15-minute massages (head, neck and back) in ergonomic chairs at several of our events
  • a bake-off contest – we booked some teaching kitchens, put people in random pairs and they decided what to bake, with everyone getting the chance to taste and vote on their favourites (as well as having a bread-making lesson whilst everything was baking!)

You might find it helpful to think about the anti-problem, too. This is a game that helps people think creatively by getting them to come up with ideas to solve a problem or situation opposite to their own. So think about what would make your event the worst it could possibly be. This can help generate ideas that you can then turn around to make it great instead – and prepare you for when things really do go wrong so that you can respond quickly.

Planning and running events is complicated, but thinking about UX will help make sure you give participants the best possible experience you can. If they’ve enjoyed your event they’ll tell others about it – and hopefully come back.

 

 

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!