The Conference Attendee's Bill Of Rights
I believe it is time to issue a similar bill of rights for conference attendees. As someone who attends many conferences in multiple capacities (blogger, moderator, speaker, chair filler) and rarely has to put a dime of his own money into it, please allow me to shamelessly grandstand on behalf of those who are mad as hell and don't want to pay to attend a poorly executed conference ever again.
1. Yes, we need our stinkin' badges
Admittedly, this is pretty basic, but registered attendees want badges ready for them when they arrive -- preferably ones that are legible (tiny white type on a light background is a #fail). If you insist on the lanyard type, make the badges two-sided and shorten the string to avoid those awkward chesty once-overs. (Expert Tip #1: Bring your own big-type badge and attach it to your collar after registration.)
2. SRO = surefire registrant outrage
Having a full room is a great way to reassure attendees they aren't the only fools who registered. That said, not having enough seats or not being prepared to bring in more when the first batch fills up simply reveals that you anticipated a much higher no-show rate or you were too cheap to get a bigger space. Either way, standing folks are not happy folks (unless they're doing so back at their trendy standing desk instead of going to your event.)
3. WiFi that works
A constant conference complaint is that the WiFi connection is slow or flat-out doesn't work. This is a huge lost opportunity for organizers, since it means that much of their scintillating content won't get shared, retweeted or otherwise consumed by those unlucky bastards slaving away back at the office. (Expert Tip #2: Bring your own WiFi hotspot, since -- trust me -- this problem won't go away any time soon.)
4. Can you hear me now?
Henceforth, it should be a fundamental right of all attendees to be able to hear the presenters. If they can't, you're approaching #EpicFail -- and we're only on my fourth demand. Having a sound system that works is a start, but that will only get you so far if there's a cacophony of conversations emanating from another area. (Expert Tip #3: If you see vendor exhibits in the same room as the main stage, just talk to the vendors, since at least you'll be able to hear them.)
5. No more speakers who yell at the audience
Yelling is not oratory; it is what our parents and clients do when they are really really angry. And when that happens, most of us just shut down, hoping the unfortunate emotional storm will pass. Gesticulate, inflect, pause, emphasize and debate to your heart's content. But leave the tirades, rants and harangues for your office mates -- or better yet, watch "Anger Management" one more time. (Expert Tip #4: Bring a happy face sign and carry lithium for old yeller.)
6. Thou shalt not sing to the choir
Conferences should not be confused with churches -- enough with preaching to the converted! For example, you don't need to tell attendees at a social conference to be social -- they get that by now. What they do need are facts and cases, not rhetoric and dogma. Better yet, bring in contrarians to challenge the smoke blowers. The conversation (and social chatter) will be way more interesting and informative.
7. Ban all panelists who insist on winging it
As a frequent moderator, it is really easy for me to tell who's prepared and who isn't -- and frankly, the latter are either too arrogant or too inconsiderate to be worthy of stage time. Even geniuses know an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of wishful spontaneity. (Expert Tip for moderators: If your panelists won't join a pre-panel call, give them the wrong time and address for the event.)
8. Power to the people
Even if you''re not a blogger, chances are you'll have one or more electronic devices going while you're at an event (after all, how else can you check your email while tuning out a yeller?). And soon enough, you'll be looking everywhere (even under tables) for power, which is tiresome, if not embarrassing. Readily available power strips should become an inalienable right, not a coveted rarity.
I have at least two more demands, but am over my allotted word count -- a sin I find objectionable in speakers. So this might be a good time to ask for audience participation. What say you?