5 Steps to Great Internet at Your Event

You are an event manager. How on earth could a show go on without the Internet? This lifeblood of our lives and events, unobtrusively sits behind the scenes until it is too late to make changes. Today we take connectivity completely for granted and assume it will run as perfectly and inexpensively as it does at home or in the office. And why shouldn’t it?

Well for one thing, it’s not the same as it is at home. At home we have a huge amount of available bandwidth but it’s a long way from being mission critical. At home the service goes up and down, seemingly at the whim of the cable or DSL gods. At home we don’t notice the sporadic downtimes and speed fluctuations. Flash forward to the middle of the keynote address when we have 1000 people connecting with their laptops and cell phones (half of which are streaming video). We still demand that the presenter be supplied with the fastest connection to demonstrate your company’s newest solution or the hot new service. All this through the single connection package we purchased with the hefty price tag. And if there’s one thing that will send everyone ballistic – it’s interruptions in internet service.

No matter how many events you have been or will be a part of, there will come a time when the internet will cause you grief. When (yes when) this happens, all eyes will turn to you not for just an explanation, but for a place to lay blame. Your client’s CEO is frustrated and demands a sacrifice because of the lost marketing and publicity opportunity. Blink… wait a minute. Are they looking at me?

Now perhaps this is a bleak picture that is worse than your reality, but with a little forethought and planning much of the headaches and potential disasters can be avoided. Let’s look more closely at some big steps.

1 – Sometime Far Before the Event

While strolling through a venue with the venue team, you are busily planning locations of banners, desks, partner booths, and presentation stages. A thought crosses your mind and you ask, “What about Internet and Power?” You are quickly assured that they have in-house support and “techs” on duty around the clock to help out with anything that might be needed. They also have Internet plans that will more than suffice for anything you can throw at them. Feeling reassured, you move on to locations of the reg counters.

Perhaps this is the time you should be taking a little more care in determining your actual plan. What is the primary and what is the backup plan, with or without the venue’s “connection provider” of choice? A little forethought at this point can save you a bundle. Make sure you get a clear understanding of what capabilities they really have. How is the usage calculated? Do connections move with the users? Is it dedicated or shared? Do you want the connection pages branded? What uptime is guaranteed?

Get some up-front pricing and estimates based on various packages. This is the time to get the information you need to properly set your client’s expectations. Who knows, you may even get some price breaks as the venue is busy wooing you and your business.

2 – The Looming Start Date

Somewhere between deciding on the venue and signing the BEO, there is a point where you ask, “What are our actual Internet needs?”  The client says they want abajillion mega-bits and you point out that the cost will be half of the entire event budget. You settle on something in the middle, feel better about the decision, and move on to more pressing items in the status meeting.

Stop what you are doing. Put a little hard thought into the reality of what is needed for this event. If you are fractioning off half or more of the total available bandwidth that the hotel has coming into the building it will be at a cost: to guests and to your budget. It is at this point you will have some serious haggling to do. There are certainly fixed costs to technical services such as these, but there is often wiggle room. Do keep in mind however, this is not a simple DSL connection to your home router. There are huge costs in operating a fixed network within a large facility; one that is fault tolerant and stable enough to meet your demands. We hope.

3 – Setup and Move-In

This is where it helps to have built in lots of extra time and have an IT person of your own to work with the venue’s IT staff. Inevitably there will be some sort of issue when setting up and getting all the hardware connected. The local IT folkswill work hard to get you up and running, but having someone on your side who speaks the language and knows the ultimate goals can really help at crunch time while finding solutions.

This is also the time when you lay in place the foundations of your backup plan (which you have been thinking about and planning for weeks). You look for the most critical point in the event and ask, “What happens when the Internet goes down right… now?” What’s the plan? Where is your redundancy? What’s the fail safe? Solve this, and go to the second more critical point. Repeat. When you get to a point where the answer is, “It doesn’t really matter” your work is done.

4 – The Event

The event day is here! You are on time because you had set two alarm clocks and had your internet calendar send you a reminder alarm. Everything is running flawlessly (although somehow there is always a steady stream of near emergencies that you need to handle). Because you were early, you tested all connections, and had the venue’s IT support on speed dial, everything went perfectly.

This is the time to be ready with your troubleshooting, support and backup plans. It is one thing to have a connection go down when you are setting up and quite another when there is a lineup of 600 people waiting to register. Have your backup plan ready, and properly educate those involved on what might happen and how procedures will change.

5 – Post-Event (a.k.a. Spa Day)

It worked! Because of your planning, contingencies, and hard work, everything went off perfectly. Well, perfectly to the attendees (which is the point). And you didn’t have to pull the trigger on your backup plan for when the internet failed.

Use this success to your advantage. Collect reports on usage and connections from the IT support staff. Look at what you purchased and what you actually used. Try and make some plans and predictions for the following year. This is the time when you can really help save some money or at the very least, understand where you spent it this year. All good information for your clients.

You made it.

All this work and planning around the Internet. Something that is supposed to be 100% reliable and stable in this day and age. Do not make the mistake of taking it for granted (there would be 1000’s of people out of work). The cost is too high to have dropped internet be what gets remembered by all the attendees! Spend the time and give it the attention it deserves.