E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

The Future of Conference Events – Looking after the Health of Attendees

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MoganI am sure that by now most of you folks out there would be up to date with a good number of the discussions that have been going on around the subject of how to improve the overall experience of attendees to various different conference events. Specially in the area of Technology / Web / Internet related ones, where there seems to be a growing tendency to be even more connected during the event than everywhere else.

Well, today it is my turn, although I am not going to focus on the content nor the form improvements of the events themselves (I will be doing that at a later time after I have reflected plenty more on what some of the folks I have been following for a while now have been saying so far), but on something else I also feel it is equally important and that has been in my mind for a long while now: the logistics!

Not to worry, this is not going to be a post where I will keep objecting about the poor quality of wireless connectivity throughout the duration of the event itself, but something more fundamental, which is eventually going to change the way I will engage in upcoming events, from now onwards, since no-one seems to be caring about such important issues as my own health!

Yes, indeed, one of the things I have noticed in most of the events I have attended both this year and last year was the lack of commitment and involvement from the conference organisers to look after the health of the attendees of the event, specially that one from those folks heavily involved with both live con-blogging, or live tweeting, amongst various other online activities, where the conditions are far from being optimal.

I am not sure about you, but I am starting to get tired of having to spend a good amount of hours sitting on uncomfortable chairs, with both my Mac and my Nokia N95 on my lap, rather live con-blogging, live-tweeting or taking pictures, in very awkward positions that by the end of the day my wrists only feel just that: pain, pain, pain! I am having enough of that, if you ask me.

I have been working with computers for over 12 years so far and all along I have been watching out for my wrists, elbows and shoulders as to help me prevent from suffering repetitive strain injury (a.k.a. RSI). I try to exercise as much as I possibly can, move around, sit in a comfortable, ergonomic position, ensuring my Mac is just on the right place for me to inflict the less pain I can to my body. And that seems to be working all right (Knock on wood!). Except when I go and attend conference events. The whole concept of ergonomic postures disappears entirely and my wrists get to suffer not only during the event itself, but also for a few more days afterwards, while I try to recover from it all.

So I am having enough of it. Really. And I feel sorry, because after attending a couple of events already this year and still going through the same thing, I have decided that my participation in sharing further thoughts, clippings, knowledge snippets, etc. live is going to be reduced dramatically, specially if conference organisers don’t look up to improve such overall experiences. "Why?", you may be wondering, right? Well, because if I don’t do it, NO-ONE will! And we are talking here about people’s health conditions, in this case, my own health; the one I need to treasure and nurture if I want to keep feeding myself and paying my bills.

I know that this may sound a little bit like a shocker and perhaps a trivial thing for most folks, but, like I said, I am starting to get tired of how inconsiderate conference events can be in this case, when it could all be fixed with putting together a number of good seats and tables, specially for those folks wanting to share with the rest of the world what’s happening at that event live.

Yet, it is not happening. Of the last 30 or so events I have attended in the last 18 months, only one of them got it right, EventoBlog in Seville, Spain, in November last year, which is the one of the various reasons why it still remains one of my favourite events to attend! They had a large room, with an overall amazing free wi-fi experience, but what I enjoyed the most from a logistics perspective was the fact they had plenty of tables at the front of the room where folks could sit comfortably, stay connected at all times with whatever the device and type away, respecting our health! Just brilliant! The way it should always be. For sure!

I just wish other events would learn from them about how increasingly important these health issues will become, specially as more and more people start engaging and participating from social software tools to share their experiences live while attending these conferences. So if next time around, whenever I get a chance to attend another one of them, you don’t see much live activity coming from me, you may already know the answer as to why that’s happening … I am just watching after my own health!

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  1. Luis, Thx for linking to my post at “Future Business”. So many things that can be improved about conferences. I worked in a business that provided speakers for conferences so I have seen a bit behind the curtain. My explanation for your experience is that many conference organizers are trying to squeeze every last penny of margin from their conferences. Where they can cut a corner, they will to save a tiny bit of cost…usually to the detriment of the attendees.

    I am in the process of building a business that will provide ways to consume keynote speakers other than in person. I hope that will be one step in the right direction to far superior conferences. Website for speakerinteractive.com coming in the next few weeks.

    All the best, Swan

  2. Luis–thanks for speaking out on this. I also write about the changing nature of events in an online world, and am struck by the increasing and inherent stress of being at events, whether blogging or attending, while dealing with the pressure to take care of business back home. This is challenging for the nervous system, even in advance of the physical issues you mention. If interested, my most recent post on how Twitter is changing events can be found here: http://www.conferencebitesblog.com

  3. Thanks for the link Luis – hoped you liked the post.

    Love the topic of watching out for the health of the attendees. I think in some cases these shows are still catching up to the users both in services and expectations. One conference I love is Gnomedex because Chris and Ponzi really do a great job on the space, the wifi, having power at every seat and a decent desk/chair combo combined with great healthy food, plenty of hydration and lots of breakout space to meet and talk to folks.

    I have found with one large conference provider that they are still catching up with the users as far as expectations go. The conference quality is great, but the wifi sucks, or you can only plug in at the “charging lounge” which is as far from the action as you could get or the food is a really crappy box lunch.

    There was a day (in the mid 90s) when everyone DIDNT have a laptop and shot video or recorded audio or livestreamed anything. THey were happy that the schwagbag had a pen and pad to take notes with.

    These guys are still catching up 🙂

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