— Jonathan F. Sullivan (@sullijo) April 2, 2013
The truth is, having worked on a number of conferences, I understand why wifi isn’t a priority. For one, it’s expensive. (Seriously; ask a convention center or hotel how much they charge for wifi. Just be prepared to pick your jaw up from the floor.) Second, most leaders still don’t recognize that internet connectivity is increasingly akin to a utility. You wouldn’t hold a conference without electricity or running water, would you? And finally, conference planners believe that either very few people will use it or that so many will that the connection won’t be stable. Either way, why ask for the hassle?
The truth is that internet connectivity (by which I mean wireless connectivity across most of the conference space, not a room with some ethernet plugs) is a must-have for modern conferences. Here’s three reasons why:
Offering wifi allows participants to help each other. Increased communication among conference attendees means that they can help each other with both mundane questions (locating restrooms, good restaurants in the area, etc.) as well as more esoteric concerns (which breakout sessions are worth attending, what’s the keynote speaker’s web site, etc.). Both of these can help relieve the stress of already harried conference organizers by helping participants assist one another without the need to track down staff.
Offering wifi encourages people to spread your message. I love it when I see people on Twitter sharing insights and questions from conferences they are attending. Most conference even distribute an official conference “hashtag” in order to help participants connect their communications with the conference. (Last week’s NCEA conference in Houston used the hashtag #ncea2013.) This helps non-participants see the value of attending the conference and may influence their future conference attendance.
Offering wifi lets presenters and exhibitors get creative. One of the most frustrating experiences I ever had speaking at a conference was arriving to give a tech demonstration only to discover that internet connectivity was only available in a side room away from the room where it was supposed to be held. Demonstrating live web resources (and incorporating them into presentations) is vital for many presenters, and limiting where internet connectivity can be had puts a damper on our ability to most effectively communicate how to use these tools.
What reasons can you think of for conferences to offer wifi?