Do you want to see your event branded a #WiFi #FAIL on Twitter?
In the last couple of years, I’ve been to or worked at a lot of unconferences, hack-days, social media cafes, social media surgeries, “tweet-ups” and similar events. I’ve had great fun, speaking at several, organising HyperWM & BrewCamp and facilitating ShropCamp. Unfortunately, at some of the events I’ve attended, the provision of Wi-Fi has been, shall we say, problematic. By which I mean awful. That’s frustrating for attendees and a right pain in the proverbial for those seen as responsible.
For some reason, the public sector (with honourable exceptions) don’t seem as capable of providing usable Wi-Fi as the private sector. If small independent coffee shops can get this right, then councils and colleges should be able to.
So here, for people organising hack-days, unconferences, and similar happenings, is a Wi-Fi checklist, based on the problems I’ve encountered as an event organiser and as a participant:
- Make sure the staff at the venue know in advance that you will be needing Wi-Fi, and that your event depends on it working properly. If you’re paying for the venue, make it part of the deal, and have your requirements, in writing, signed off.
- Check that the Wi-Fi is secure. If it isn’t, will your audience be prepared to use it? Will you?
- Make sure your contact at the venue knows how the Wi-Fi works, what passwords are required and whether guest accounts need to be set up, and what the passwords and account IDs are.
- Explain that your audience will need access to sites the venue may have blocked, such as Twitter, You Tube, WordPress.com, Google Docs and so on. And yes, I’ve known public sector organisations where all of those were blocked.
- Before the event, test the Wi-Fi yourself, making sure you visit such sites.
- Test the Wi-Fi on multiple devices, including non-Windows laptops and smart phones — one venue I visited had Wi-Fi that would only work on Windows devices.
- If you’re providing each participant with a guest account, make sure it will work on multiple devices simultaneously; or provide spare accounts. I went to one event where I needed to use two devices, but my guest account would only support a single log-in.
- Check that the Wi-Fi works where you will be meeting, including any breakout rooms — I’ve been to one event where people wanting to use Wi-Fi had to leave the meeting room and work in a stairwell.
- Check the bandwidth. 4Mbps download and 500 Kbps upload may be adequate at home, but with dozens of people downloading — and hopefully uploading media — at once, it will soon start to feel like a dial-up connection.
- Know who to contact, and where to get hold of them, if the Wi-Fi goes down during the event. Make sure they don’t plan to be away for part of the day, and get a second contact if you can.
- Have a 3G dongle on hand, equally tested (can you get a signal in your rural basement meeting room?), for any live presentations.
- Plan how you will run things if the Wi-Fi (or the dongle) does die. Have archived copies of any websites you want to demonstrate, or video of live interactions, on a local hard drive. Have a spare speaker in the room, or a later speaker prepared to move up the running order at short notice (or at least learn some good jokes), in case a planned video-conference speaker disappears into the ether.
- Provide ample power sockets and extension leads. It’s no use having Wi-Fi if people’s devices are dead by mid-afternoon.
- On the day of the event, arrive in ample time and check that the Wi-Fi is on and working properly.
- Relax and enjoy your event!
What other Wi-Fi related tips do you suggest?
One of the things I’ll be doing as part of my new freelance career is helping organisations to plan and run events; and live-blogging them. How can I help with yours?