Back to the Future in Meetings

I felt like Marty McFly, marooned in the ’50’s.

Getting settled in to a conference this week (ePharma Summit in NYC), I noticed immediately that something vital was missing.

Yeah. Power.

For several years, I carried my own power strip to conferences, because provision of places to plug in was a spotty proposition. But I figured, in 2010/2011, that all venues and meeting planners “got it” and it was no longer necessary to string my own cord to plug in my computer, keep my iPhone charged, and help others do the same. We all know that computers and smartphones are pretty much essential now at any conference – right?

Nope. Then I overheard a conversation that floored me. One of the conference organizers was describing the price that would be charged for the provision of outlets in the meeting room, and I just about went into cardiac arrest. Because I don’t have verification, I’m not going to mention specifics, but if what I heard was even in the ballpark of reality, then “gouging” has just gotten a whole new definition.

The Wi-Fi was awful, too, by the way.

I’m not a meeting planner, but I think that robust and easy-to-access Wi-Fi, and provision of loads of power outlets/strips, should be the ticket to entry in negotiations. Why even consider a venue that either doesn’t have the electronic goods, or wants to charge a year’s salary for something as mundane as a power outlet? Maybe if enough potential business walked away, these hotels and meeting places would finally get the message.

And while we’re at it, free Wi-Fi for every attendee room should be a given. We’re all tired of being charged 10 bucks a day for Internet access. It’s no longer an extra – it should be a given.

Back in 2005, or in 1955, I could understand this. But we’re in the future now. Plugs and wireless are no-brainers. Let’s make it so.


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Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

14 Responses to Back to the Future in Meetings

  1. John Mack says:

    Yeah, I will NEVER stay at the Sheraton again! No WiFi in the room — had to use cable connection, which I can’t do with my MacBook Air. And the “free” WiFi in the lobby — which seemed robust — was annoying: you only got 30 minutes and then it shut you down and you had to re-apply! Of course, with the MacBook Air, my battery power could last all day, so lack of power strips was not a hardship for me. I also had my iPad to share the load (ie, check email for example). So I agree with at least one of your rants.

    The more critical problem was the way Q&A was handled — not very gracefully, I must say.

    Speaking of the future of meetings, It is time that conferences become MORE SOCIAL and allow much more interaction with the audience and even use tools like Twitter to have the audience ask questions or respond to questions from presenters. The conference organizers, however, did a great job using social media tools prior to the meeting to facilitate NETWORKING, which was the main benefit I got out of the conference. Perhaps networking with live people IN PERSON is the real reason we attend these conferences. In that sense, it was a GREAT success for me at least. Very few of these conferences have over 500 attendees as this one did. That was major.

    I might also add that sometimes the audience at these meetings is not paying enough attention to the speakers when they are multi-tasking with their computers in front of them. It’s as if they do not want to be engaged. Very few people, for example, sat up in the front rows, which I practically had to myself! Because of that, I was able to get recognized when I wanted to interrupt the speakers with questions!

    • John, I’m sure you’re going to be the exception (a MacBook Air plus an iPad) – most folks had either a laptop or a smartphone or both, and were running out of juice within a couple of hours. Add to that the spotty connectivity and that made the technology aspect even MORE distracting – because it didn’t JUST WORK!

  2. Joseph Ruiz says:

    Yep, hard to believe you even have to write about something like this. You would think it would be basic. Another Pet Peeve is hotel chains that offer free wifi in their lower end properties and charge for it in the higher end unless of course you care to go the lobby where it is free.

    Hope you were able to enjoy the conference instead of running around looking for outlets.

    • Here’s what I had to do to find some power – I sat way in the back, next to the false wall separating the ballroom for the exhibit hall, and spotted an unused extension cord behind one of the booths on the other side. I threaded it to the base of the wall and plugged in there. Having to take such measures is a total distraction.

  3. This is by far one of the absolute WORST things about large events. Even at Blogworld and Pubcon (two of the largest tech events!) there was not enough power places to plug in unless you sat against the walls in the back. It should not be this hard…

  4. @stales says:

    When I checked out of the hotel, I filled out the comment cards complaining about the awful lack of technology in the rooms and in the conference areas. I also followed up with an email to Sheraton’s customer service. Let’s see if I get any response.

    Maybe that’s why there was no new info regarding social media from the FDA team – they figured “hey, the hotel is stuck in 1999, our policies can stay there too!” Just kidding… well, maybe not. Great to finally meet you Steve, and John Mack too!

  5. Phil Simon says:

    No arguments here, Steve.

    The word “gouging” is very apt here. Why wouldn’t you want people tweeting and mentioning your conferences’ speakers and presentations? Why make it hard or cost-prohibitive? Penny wise, pound foolish.

    • And if you are hotel venue, why would you want to unleash a bunch of real-time complaints about something so petty as power outlets and reasonable Wi-Fi? The Sheraton Towers in Manhattan did itself no favors by hosting this event.

  6. Suki Fuller says:

    I was not in attendance but given it was the “ePharma Summit” – how ironic…this is usually a problem when attending Pharma/Healthcare scientific focused conferences. Maybe this should be one of the future items for discussion.

  7. sally says:

    Hear, Hear, Steve.

    These things are two of the reasons I stopped going to digital and ePharma type meetings, along with the ridiculous need to let sponsors present their sales pitches.

    Like Suki I find it ironic they claim to looking at future trends in digital but their meeting logistics are stuck in the 1990s. It’s not as if the registration is reasonable either – they’re often twice expensive than a 5 day scientific conference!

    Wifi and electric access should indeed be standard in 2011

    • Sally, I will say that it actually has gotten better at most of the conferences. This was a real throwback, though. Five years ago, I’d have pretty much overlooked it as status quo. No more.

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