The Tech Check: Site Inspections for Today’s Wired Meetings
By Jeff Rasco, CMP ©2001
Reprinted from the MPI Texas Hill Country Chapter newsletter with permission from the author.
It used to be so simple…We walked into a property with our clipboard and room capacity chart in hand, sized up the space, did some simple calculations, and knew whether or not the general session would fit in the ballroom and could envision how the registration would flow in the foyer. From a technical perspective, we checked where the power and microphone inputs were and located and tested the light controls.
Maybe it was a little more complicated than that, but today it seems you need degrees in computer science, plus electrical and mechanical engineering just to set up the staff office. Technology has definitely changed the nature of meetings, and how we look at a venue when we’re sizing it up.
Good site inspections begin at home. Before you ever set foot on property, and even before the first detailed call or review of the venue’s website, you need to think through your needs.
Tim Blackwood, AppliedTheory’s executive (www.teamtech.com) event producer has managed dozens of high tech events, including networking hundreds of computers for offices, hands-on labs, press facilities and Internet cafés. “Customers don’t always make their needs clear up front, mostly because they don’t fully understand their requirements,” Blackwood says. “Don’t do technology for technology’s sake – know what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Blackwood warns not to make technology choices first, but rather review overall meeting goals and make technology meet those objectives. “Changing your mind to rearrange the technical features of a meeting increases risk and the danger of failure. These days if the technology doesn’t work, the meeting itself doesn’t work either.”
Ask yourself a thousand questions. Do you need an Internet connection and what bandwidth will be required? Do attendees need high-speed connections in their rooms? Will there be a cyber café? What are exhibitor requirements? What about the offices? Press room? Speaker ready room? How much power will be needed in different locations? Once you have a snapshot of your technology, and added those factors to your basic checklist, you’re ready for contact.
To help with your list, we conducted a very unscientific poll of meeting professionals, asking them what technology was most important to their meetings and conventions. Their list, ranked by number of mentions:
- High-speed Internet access
- Easy accessibility to network
- Knowledgeable staff
- Net/email kiosks readily available
- State-of-the-art A-V equipment and knowledgeable staff
- Fiber optic network infrastructure
- Excellent lighting and controls
- High-speed Internet in guest rooms
- Fully equipped business center with great staff and hours
- Wireless Internet
- Excellent sound system, accessible controls
- 24/7 tech support
- Acoustical design
- High-speed, quality printers
- Laptop ports in public areas
- Plenty of electrical power/outlets
- Satellite uplinks/downlinks
- Chip/card readers throughout facility
- Computer rentals (especially laptops)
- Controllable display signage
- Repeaters for cell phones
- Web cast production services
- Ergonomic chairs and other equipment
- Event TV monitors and kiosks
- Internal interpretation services
- Internet cafes (turnkey pricing)
- High-tech look and feel in facility
- Rigging issues well-placed
- Staff vision for the future
- User customizable applications
- Video conferencing
When you make the call, you will want to know about the facility’s basic technology infrastructure. Are detailed floor plans available showing all power, telecommunications, satellite, video and data connections? Don’t be surprised when those aren’t available. Our experience has been that hotels are lagging behind convention and conference centers in the ability to provide technical floor plans. Be prepared to walk the property with engineering, A-V, and telecommunications staff to pinpoint locations.
You will want to know if the property is on a fiber optic backbone, allowing multiple ultra high speed networks to run simultaneously? Can remote networks be linked together, for instance registration services and the show office? Can multiple exhibitors have Internet access without creating a tangle of cable on the show floor? Who’s in charge – telecommunications, engineering, audio-visual?
If you have Internet needs in the meeting, exhibits, offices and cyber café, where does the connection come in? Who controls the entry point – the property or an outside vendor? Are equipment closets near (within 100 yards) targets, or will there be long cable runs? Is there enough room for additional equipment? Is there sufficient power? Do you need, and can they provide dedicated service (ISDN, T-1, T-3, DSL), or do you share the connection with every other user on property? Who is the provider?
Where and how can you hook into the system? In the best of worlds, you would hope to find Internet access, satellite uplink/downlink connections, sound system, video, phone, power and network plugs on every fixed wall of the meeting rooms, about every 30 feet in public meeting areas, and on a 30-foot grid in exhibit areas (preferably set in the floor). Sound like a big mess of plugs? Technology convergence is getting it down to just a few, as voice, data, video and the Internet all share a single line.
Finally, make sure you can fully trust the people you are working with, and avoid the risk of technical failures. “Be careful of ‘no problem’ vendors,” warns Blackwood. “You want experience and competence behind your technology. Check your vendor’s history, get references, and definitely set timelines and mileposts and make certain they’re met.”
Attention to the many technological details of your meetings, and working closely with your venues and vendors can guarantee the success of today’s high tech events. Managing technology is no more difficult than managing any other event logistics, if you just know the questions to ask.
Jeffrey W. Rasco, CMPis senior vice president of meeting, event, and trade show strategists and managers JRDaggett & Associates and heads their Austin, Texas office. A 20-year veteran meeting professional and self-proclaimed geek wannabe, he is a frequent writer and speaker on meetings and events technology. Jeff can be reached at email@example.com or call 512.842.1613.