Did you know that Wi-Fi is one of many ways your attendee data can end up in the wrong hands? Find out the top 8 things event planners need to STOP doing NOW to minimise the risks of a data breach! Get ‘The Event Planner’s Guide to Data Security’ here.
Wi-Fi is part of the fabric of events. When people arrive at events, often the first thing they do is to log on to the Internet using the readily available Wi-Fi. However, considerations on whether the Wi-Fi provided at a venue will be robust enough has recently become more of a priority for many event planners.
In fact, a new report from Event Industry News this month has found that more than 80% of hospitality and event professionals have requested a transparent industry standard that is clear on service levels for Wi-Fi. And more interestingly, over half (53%) would be willing to pay for dedicated speed for an event. Clearly event planners are starting to pay a lot more attention on the whole issue of Wi-Fi connectivity and how it impacts their events and their reputations.
When it comes to making decisions around Wi-Fi, it is important that both event programme design and security issues are considered together. Have a look at our top eight considerations when assessing Wi-Fi needs around your events:
1. Are You Using Audience Voting and Polling?
One of the best ways to engage with your delegates is to actively involve them in some sort of poll or vote. It’s a good way of finding out how delegates feel about topical issues and a very effective way of getting them more engaged. However, you need to be sure that your delegates can take part in the vote. This is where the issue of Wi-Fi connectivity is important. Is there enough internet capacity for them to be able to log on? Remember, if the Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough then your delegates will not be able to participate.
To avoid challenges, you should explain to the venue events manager exactly what you want to do and let them confirm whether they can handle your requirements or not. You need to be secure in the knowledge that the Wi-Fi will do its job and not let you down. If the venue cannot provide the connectivity, it may be time to make an alternative plan.
2. Do You Need a Dedicated Connection for Webcasting?
If you webcast your event, you cannot use the same Wi-Fi accessed by all the other delegates in the room or even in the same venue space. You could try but you would probably end up in troubled water. To webcast you will need a dedicated Internet connection that is solely provided for the web-streaming company.
If you have decided to webcast your event and have engaged the services of an online host, they will also need their own dedicated Internet connection. This needs to be separate to the one that will be used by the web-streaming company.
The basic rule of thumb is that for any part of your programme that cannot be dependent on the general Wi-Fi, you will need dedicated Internet connections. Bear in mind that some venues will charge for the connections and pricing can differ substantially.
3. Can Your Social Media Moderator Do Their Job with the Venue Wi-Fi?
Using a social media moderator at events is becoming more and more common. It means you can increase your level of engagement with delegates at the event and those that are not attending. Being able to pull together comments from the social media channels can help create more excitement around your event too.
You will need to decide if you can use the Wi-Fi in the room (as it will be used by all the other delegates) or whether you need a dedicated internet connection (as mentioned above). You may decide that the role of a social media moderator is more of a ‘nice to have’ than a ‘must have’ and therefore you could make use of the venue Wi-Fi on the understanding that there may be times when your moderator may not be able to access the internet (if the Wi-Fi has become overloaded by other users). As long as you understand your event objectives and priorities then you can make a plan that is right for you.
4. Can You Accommodate Speakers?
One thing to be aware of is what your speakers (facilitators) are going to do during their sessions. It sounds simple as you know what your speaker will present. However, if you haven’t talked through exactly what they will need to deliver their session, you could be in for a surprise and it may not be a pleasant one.
Some speakers (facilitators) will just assume that the technology will work and that the Wi-Fi will be fine. But to avoid problems, you should make sure you know exactly what your speaker needs. Find out whether they have a requirement for a dedicated Internet connection. For example, he or she may want to show news in real-time or they want to use a presentation tool which needs uninterrupted Internet access. Your speaker may want to do a before and after poll to check whether the delegates have learned something new as a result of their presentation. Make sure you understand their requirements. Only then will you be able to decide whether the Wi-Fi will be sufficient or if extra connectivity is needed.
5. Have a Back-Up Plan!
It is always good practice to have a back-up plan that is not dependent on Wi-Fi. Despite the best reassurances of the venue manager, the Wi-Fi may not work in the way that you need. Or there could be an unforeseen problem that occurs during your event. If you have a problem, you need to be able to switch to your back-up plan without missing a beat. After all you need to keep your delegates engaged throughout. They may forgive technology that doesn’t work. However, your delegates will expect you to have an alternative plan. Even if it is a low-tech alternative, you will need to keep your programme going.
At one event, the voting was Wi-Fi dependent. However, too many delegates all seeking to access the same venue Wi-Fi at the same time overloaded the system which then didn’t work. The result was that people couldn’t connect, which meant that delegates couldn’t vote. The facilitator of the voting session had no idea what to do next. There was no alternative back-up plan. Do not let this happen to you. Always consider alternatives and have a plan in place on what you would do if the Wi-Fi didn’t work.
6. Don’t Forget About Your Event App!
Event apps go hand in hand with Wi-Fi connectivity. You want your delegates to download your app and the first thing they are likely to do is to use the venue Wi-Fi, rather than using their own mobile data. What is important to remember is that you need to ensure you have sufficient Wi-Fi for all your delegates to be able to download your event app. Not just some, but all your delegates.
One of the most important things to remember with apps and Wi-Fi connectivity is the issue of data security. It can be easy to forget just how vulnerable apps are when it comes to data security. Not having the adequate security controls on your app could lead to your delegates being hacked. Free or very low-cost event apps may have less security in them than other more premium apps (although this isn’t always the case). Make sure you ask your event app provider about the security measures they have built in and how they’re looking after your attendee data.
A serious security flaw in the 2018 UK Conservative Party Conference event app allowed members of the public to access the private mobile and email addresses of attendees, including cabinet ministers, MPs, party activists and journalists. Anyone who downloaded the app found they were permitted to log in as a politician or journalist using only their email address and no password. Do not let this happen to your events.
7. Look Beyond Wi-Fi That is Free
Wi-Fi that is free (and possibly fast) is no longer good enough for event planners when it comes to data security. In fact, a recent poll from Eventsforce found that 50% of event planners see Wi-Fi security as a top concern around their events. And in the Event Industry News research study we mentioned earlier, it was reported that 66% of event professionals have paid for a separate dedicated Wi-Fi name and password over the past 12 months
With the heightened awareness of GDPR in our industry (which came into effect on 25th May 2018), events can’t really afford using Wi-Fi without robust security. You should not encourage your delegates to log on to an unsecure open network. However, if the only network available is unsecure then you need to point out the potential data security issues. Some delegates may decide to use their own data allowance rather than risk the venue Wi-Fi.
The findings from Event Industry News report and the Eventsforce poll are a good sign. Wi-Fi always used to be about speed and being free. Now data security is emerging as a key issue. It’s not surprising really, hacked delegates are bad for business. Make sure you understand just how secure the venue Wi-Fi really is, otherwise you could face the serious issues of losing your brand reputation and business.
8. Stay Alert for Rogue Wi-Fi Networks
Whether you are using one venue, or one hotel or several of both it is important to stay alert to the challenges of logging onto a trustworthy Wi-Fi network, wherever you happen to be. If you or your delegates sign onto a rogue network, then problems will follow. A clever rogue operator will make their network seem authentic. You could easily pay money or give information away without realising it is going to the rogue operator and not your intended recipient.
The challenge for many event planners and delegates is that it can be hard to spot the rogue operators. They are very sophisticated and when time pressures are a constant issue (especially in the fast-moving world of events) it can be easy to be caught out.
Only recently, Russian hackers carried out a vast hacking campaign. They were using parked vehicles outside of hotels and international organisations and they hacked into Wi-Fi networks. They used various hacking tools that spoof Wi-Fi networks. Unsuspecting users then connected to legitimate looking networks that were controlled by the criminals.
With all these points in mind, here are some questions you can ask your venue provider with regards to Wi-Fi connectivity at your next event:
- What network should our delegates be logging onto for our event? What network should they use when in other parts of the venue?
- How often do you change your passwords? For example, could our event be hacked by someone who attended your venue earlier in the year?
- Can your Wi-Fi connectivity address my event needs? Can you provide a dedicated connection?
- What is the most secure Wi-Fi that you can offer for our event given our programme requirements?
- Are you in control of your WiFi and connectivity or are you reliant upon a third-party provider?
- What problems have your experienced with your WiFi provision for event planners?
There will be other questions that you will want to ask but these above provide a start point for you to delve into the security side of venue Wi-Fi. Also, remember to communicate with your delegates, make them aware of your event’s Wi-Fi capability and security issues and you will not go far wrong.
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