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by Michael Shapiro | March 7, 2011

In theory, mobile charging stations are a fantastic idea at events. Attendees are desperate for power sources, and wall outlets have plenty of disadvantages -- principally, that many attendees aren't toting their chargers around, and there are never enough electrical outlets to go around anyway. Charging stations promise convenience, the possibility of shorter powering-up times and, with some units, even an excellent opportunity for sponsorship.
 
In practice, however, things may not go so smoothly. I've yet to use a station at a conference that actually worked for me. At a recent industry gathering, I tried powering up my nearly dead iPod touch, to no avail. The charger wasn't compatible with the unit, despite the fact that the plug fit correctly — because my iPod was last year's model, perhaps? Tough to say, but it's fair to conclude that technological compatibility is one of the biggest challenges these stations face. There are a whole lot of different mobile devices out there, and not all of them were purchased in the last couple of months.
 
Beyond the technology, though, there's a whole mess of considerations. And a mess was pretty much what that recent scene was, with the charging station sitting in a high-traffic hallway. The station was packed with attendees desperate to juice up their phones, with nowhere for them to go -- thereby creating a real bottleneck between sessions. (A number of fellow energy-seekers told me the machine didn't seem to be working for them either, but other attendees appeared to be accomplishing their goal.)
 
Overall, though, no one seemed too terribly upset. Fortunately for meeting organizers, charging stations are still a bit of a novelty. Just the fact they're present leaves many attendees feeling cared for. So now's really the time to experiment, and to develop best practices. I was mulling this over Friday morning when I saw a post on the MeCo forums from a meeting coordinator (Stacey Deak) seeking advice and best practices on this subject. The only advice she'd received thus far was sent directly by Beth Cooper-Zobott, director of conference services for Equity Residential. She and the original poster were kind enough to share these tips. They apply to a collection of electrical outlets rather than a dedicated charging machine -- thereby avoiding the compatibility hassle -- but many of the considerations are the same:
 
1.  Make sure that you have security (one of your meeting's team members or another person) monitoring the area.  They cannot step away for a break or to help someone else, in case attendees are not keeping a close eye on their devices.
2.  The best place for charging stations is in your general session space, because people don't want to be too far away from their phones.
3.  Have some way of identifying each phone when the person uses the station: Think about having slips of paper (similar to those used by the airlines for luggage) that the person can slip around their phone cord to identify it easily, because lots of phones look alike.
4.  Have a reminder poster/notice to turn off the phone's ringer so that it doesn't interrupt a presentation (if in a session) or ring nonstop if the owner steps away.
5.  Consider providing spare cords/chargers for common phones, in case attendees don't have theirs.
 
I think the general session tip is a particularly good one, and I would add that stations should be available anywhere people are working and/or socializing: a networking lounge, the press room, speaker lounge and staff office for starters. I understand Concur set up a lounge area around a charging station at a recent conference, which I think is a great idea. Give people room to wait and socialize while they're charging up. Feel free to leave more tips here in the comments section.