Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Notes on a Conference

I’m at the HR Planning Society annual conference this week. My original intention was to live-blog at least some of the sessions, so that I wouldn’t have to rely on my poor handwriting. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen – no wireless in the conference room, and the keynote area is set up in table rounds with people so close together that you can’t fit a computer on the table. So over the next few days, I’ll be transcribing my notes and publishing them. I’m still working on the mantra that authentic and timely trump polished, but given the need to transfer from small notebook to the page, and the associated rethinking of content that will happen, there will likely be a time delay. [Insert appropriate sarcastic comments from my team.]

In the meantime, a few thoughts to people who plan conference centers (specifically the Huntington Beach Hyatt Regency) on ways to improve the conference experience.

  1. Phone access. In 2008, it is unacceptable to have inconsistent or completely lacking cell phone access. Forcing people to run back to their room to get a land line results in less conference session attendance. Those who were lucky enough to have access were still moving all over the building to find the best reception. I can’t believe that this issue is primarily due to mobile coverage issues. If you are building a new conference facility, work with the mobile providers to identify the best way to support access – even if the problem is the cell providers’ it still reflects badly on the hotel.

  2. Wireless access. I don’t understand why hotels still feel the need to charge for wireless access. $9.95 for 24 hours isn’t significant when you are already paying $200+ for the room. Surely the hotel could find a way to factor this into their room fees, and make wireless “free”. Is this really a money maker for the hotel? Similarly, within the conference center area….Make the Wireless Work!! If I’ve already paid for my 24 hours, I want the ability to actually use them during the 8 hours I’m spending in the conference area.

  3. Restrooms. Meg already covered this last year. This Hyatt was built in the last 5 years and to their credit, they clearly tried to address the women’s restroom challenge. And they got close. However, adding stalls but only providing 3 sinks just moves the constraint. As a result the line was within the restroom instead of outside it. (I guess it’s a good sign that people were willing to form a line for sinks…?)

  4. Chairs. Someday, some smart product developer is going to figure out how to create a lightweight, stackable chair that can be produced in mass quantities and is Comfortable. When that chair is created, I will spend all my influence to have conferences only in hotels that use those chairs. Even though the conference had frequent breaks, by the end of Day 1 my back was stiff, and several other people had moved to standing up, or sitting on the floor. In the absence of comfy chairs, maybe hotels could start ordering additional pillows and making them available in conference rooms?

Complaints aside, the Hyatt got several things right – the food was excellent, the hotel layout was conducive to group meetings and interactions, and the staff was quite responsive. And you can’t argue with the location:

[photo credit: quarrier]

Ok, enough with the logistics, on to the conference write-up!

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