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Conferences Need More Power (and Connectivity)

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Conferences Need More Power (and Connectivity) I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that we know technology is—and will remain—a major driving force for change in the world. Especially in the world of work, technology is going to shape and reshape our lives in the decade ahead. Key trends to watch include the move to online interaction and activity, the accelerated shift to mobile (especially smart phones) and the ways social media redefine our interactions with people and information.

A Techno-Clash of Generations
The implication is that people are becoming more comfortable using technology continuously and for everything. This is causing some tension in office spaces, specifically in terms of generational styles. Younger and older colleagues don’t understand each other’s approaches to communication and workflow, which causes issues in how to run effective meetings (should we allow laptops and smart phones?), how to conduct effective performance reviews (can it be done online?) and even how to provide good customer service (I don’t know of anyone under the age of 35 who actually wants to meet their financial advisors face to face, although this seems to be what IFAs insist on doing).

There’s a simple reason for all this. Most Boomers (born after World War II into the 1960s) entered a business world with no mobile phones, no e-mail and no fax machines. It was a world of pulse dialing, long distance operators, typing pools and the telex. Boomers learned that the most efficient way to solve any issue was to walk into an office, sit across from a human, look him or her in the eyes and speak to resolve the problem. Meetings delivered information efficiently to groups of people and were the default option. If you couldn’t have a meeting, then a phone call might suffice—although that was problematic and cumbersome (people either didn’t have their own phones or had no answering service when they were away from them). If both of these methods failed, you resorted to writing—inter-office memos and letters were the least efficient communication forms. It is no surprise that meetings are still the Boomer preference.

But along came Generation X (born in the 1970s and 80s). This generation was raised with computers and has spent almost all their working lives with a mobile phone in hand and an e-mail-enabled computer never more than a moment away. Writing is by far their choice for efficient communication. E-mail and instant message are their preferences. Information arrives instantly, can be just a few lines, doesn’t need a greeting or a salutation and can be as emotionless as required.

If Gen X can’t write, then they’ll use the next most efficient form of communication: the phone. Not a landline if they can help it—mobile to mobile. They’d prefer your voice mail, because otherwise they’d have to actually engage in a conversation. And if phones aren’t an option, they will resort to what they perceive as the least efficient form of communication: face-to-face conversation. It’s no surprise that their preferences are therefore diametrically opposite to those of their corporate elders.

All of which means: The two generations dominating the world of work have very different expectations and desires for what good communication looks and feels like. And that means they’ll have very different views of what is needed to make a good conference.

More Power to the People
One of today’s biggest shifts is the amount of technology used during most meetings and conferences. Increasingly, conference sessions are filled with audiences hard at work on their smart phones and laptops while at the same time listening to speakers or engaging in workshops. But if you look closely, you’ll see some frustration on their faces. The conferences are not geared for their technology use.

Power Up. Most conference venues do not provide nearly enough power supplies for delegates. There should be adequate sockets at well-spaced intervals throughout every meeting room and under every single table. You provide water and sometimes even a nice bowl of sweets for the delegates. Give them power, too!

Get Thee Online. Access to the Internet should not be an afterthought or optional extra at a conference. And delegates should not have to pay for it. Unless you make delegates pay for their water, their tea and coffee and their toilet facilities, Internet access should be included in the cost of the conference. It’s a utility and a vital one at that. It should be available. It should be fast. I don’t want another free venue-branded pen or desk pad set. Spend that money on Internet access, please.

Can You Hear Me Now? Make sure your conference venue has an adequate mobile phone signal. If it doesn’t, hound the mobile phone providers until they upgrade your local base station and boost your signal. Unless you’re deliberately providing a “mobile free” venue (and there may be something in doing just that), make sure your delegates don’t have to climb up to the second-floor balcony and hang over the edge just to get enough signal to phone the office.

Upgrade Technology. Get decent data projectors, decent speakers and sound equipment and someone who knows about technology to check that it is all set up correctly. (One of my biggest frustrations are lights above the screen that cannot be dimmed or switched off independently to the rest of the room and electricity supplies that are not grounded, so you get a constant low-grade buzz through the speaker system.)

Failing to cater to the technology needs of the younger generation will soon be a deal breaker for conference venues and organizers. Act now to get ahead of the technology curve, and make sure your conferences are properly powered up. One+
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