We’ve covered a lot of ground with this four-part series on technology, and this illustrates the depth and breadth of the topic and the important role it plays. Most meeting planners have learned as they go, and this is certainly how it worked for me. To help you feel comfortable talking about event technology and, more importantly, negotiating pricing on Internet service, here is a list of things to know that will help you in the process.
- First and foremost, ask yourself if your event can afford to have poor WiFi service? If it can’t, then be prepared to invest and consider bringing in an IT advisor. They will save you time and money. Consider them your “IT CSM.”
- Budget for WiFi along with all other technical needs.
- Ask for the name of the IT person within the venue so you can communicate with them directly.
- Collaboration is key. Bring all the players together. This must include your AV team because they are a stakeholder for accessing Internet to support your event. I have held meetings to discuss power, Internet and AV – they must all work together.
- Start early. For larger conferences, a lead time of initial discussions on what the venue has for infrastructure is nine to 12 months. This way, if changes must occur, they have plenty of time to make those changes. If the venue must go from a best effort line to a committed bitrate line, the venue will have to go back to the service provider, so the conversation has to start months earlier (enough lead time). Two months with these kinds of changes is not reasonable
- Take your IT person with you on your site visit, and budget to do this. It’s the best way to analyze what the infrastructure is like and how well your event will be supported.
- If the venue is advertising free WiFi, find out what the capacity is and where that WiFi is accessible. If it’s limited, discuss costs to improve the service. Negotiate where WiFi should be accessible.
- Ask about the history of outages on the venue’s Internet line for the last two years and how often has it gone down. Venues are often surprised by the question, but this tells you how dependable the line is. This helps to determine the risk of not having redundancy. (A backup line should the first line fail.)
- Get a guaranteed bitrate to ensure a certain amount of bandwidth. This way the bitrate belongs to you and can not be given to anyone else (and can’t be oversold). If they offer only a burstable rate or best effort, this means it can be available to others – so no guarantee to you. You have to decide if that’s acceptable or not.
- Enterprise-grade service is a committed bitrate (this is ideal) and what you should ask for. However, never assume that the speed for upload and download is the same. In my experience, most venues have best effort lines, and the upload and download speeds are different. Always ask for clarification and know what you’re getting.
- Is the equipment old or new? What speed are we connecting at?
- Be prepared! Some venues I’ve worked in recently barely had any WiFi service.
- Don’t negotiate price too far out. One to 1.5 years is sufficient. The reason is that pricing for Internet continues to go down. If you negotiate and put a price into a longer term contract, you are stuck with that price, and it may not be to your advantage to do so.
- When considering capacity of the line, remember many people are carrying more than one device. Don’t think that because you have 500 attendees, you need capacity for 500. Likely you need to negotiate for 850 simultaneous users for 500 attendees. This will build in wiggle room.
- Ask for monitoring services when you purchase WiFi in the venue, and assign someone to monitor it. Otherwise you could end up with people abusing the system.
- Plan a connection for the technical attendees of your meeting, such as the media, exhibitors, AV team etc. (if applicable). Media often file digital stories which take hundreds of megs of bandwidth. As well, if you are running a conference TV channel, this can also take up a lot of bandwidth.
- Also, if you are renting a venue that is below ground (some convention centres are), this can be an impediment to WiFi service.
- Track what you spend year-to-year for the service you request, and track how much service you are ordering. This helps for future planning. We are in a growth trajectory with bandwidth.
Recommendations to venues
Based on my event planning experience, venues would be wise to monitor the situation closely and modify their systems. Renovations take place in venues frequently, and so should technology (Internet) upgrades. Try to build in as much flexibility to enhance the systems you have installed.
Because pricing negotiations with Internet providers can be tough, why not consider bulk purchasing with other venues? By working with other venues, you can negotiate better pricing which can be passed on to clients. Have pricing structures designed for small events where a per person fee is reasonable, as well as a package price for large conferences. Invest in an IT specialist on staff with strong networking skills. These individuals can also help with negotiating the services to a venue to ensure you are getting the best possible price. Think ahead; don’t think for just today.
We are all learning as we go. Collaboration is key to shaping the future of this industry, and sharing best practices is an integral part of that. Technology is moving so fast. It’s important meeting planners understand and feel confident negotiating Internet service just as they do meeting space itself.
Venues need to continue investing in technology and increasing internet service with the same vigilance as they do in renovating guestrooms and meeting space. Healthy negotiations on price creates a win-win for everyone. With many organizations re-evaluating the costs of running face-to-face meetings, keeping costs down where possible will be very important. Technology can help with that if it is well understood and used effectively.
Acknowledgement: Thank you William Briere, my IT manager for helping me write this series and for providing such valuable insight and great assistance to me over the years.