January 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January 2001 Current Issue
January 2001 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

TECH FILES

BY Bob Walters


SETTING UP A CYBER CAFÉ

Keep attendees from ducking out by providing areas where they can access their e-mail

One of the most meeting-friendly uses of technology is the cyber café, offering attendees not only e-mail access, but a wealth of other computer-based services.

What started as a learning center to help meeting-goers embrace the new technologies is now a requirement at many shows. Many attendees rely so heavily on these areas, using them as surrogate offices, organizers have had to impose time limits.

BEFORE YOU BREW...
Can your show handle a cyber café? Consider these requirements.

Wired and ready? Does the venue have the ability to host a cyber café? Even today, many facilities still do not have fast-enough bandwidth to host even a minimal number of PCs and connections. If you haven’t yet, add technology and Internet access questions to your RFP, and make this one of the criteria during the site inspection.

Equipment and setup. Once you have determined your venue has the ability to host the café, determine who will procure, set up and manage the equipment. Some larger facilities have this equipment and staff available, and they often are an affordable solution. But it is worth evaluating local companies that might have more expertise with the technology.

What’s on tap? Next, determine just what services will be offered to attendees. Cyber cafés can take many forms, from offering simple networked PCs with Internet access to providing use of hot-synch cradles and/or wireless access for handheld devices, laptops and Web-enabled phones.

The most basic menu should consist of at least e-mail and Internet access, a product and/or session locator and an interactive survey to determine the value of the cyber café as well as desired future capabilities. (Make sure you can easily update the information to keep attendees informed.)

Other popular offerings include:

  • a show-only message center and trade-show floor map;
  • session updates, speaker profiles and downloadable session materials;
  • personal scheduling tools for the meeting, along with updated agendas;
  • destination guides to restaurants and attractions;
  • cybertainment crossword puzzles and interactive trivia games designed to focus on the meeting’s products or messages;
  • discussion forums/chat rooms.
  • Will it make money? Decide if you want to use the cyber café as a revenue generator. Some events sell banner ads or enhanced links for exhibitors on the first screen users see when they sit down. This extra advertising time can help smaller exhibitors who have trouble competing with the mega-booths.

    Set limits. The goal is to improve the experience of the attendee, not exchange the long lines at pay phones or elevator banks for equally long lines at the cyber café. Some organizations have found that a five- or 10-minute limit works well, giving people enough time to check and respond to a few e-mails or search for products and sessions, but not enough to shop online.

    PC police. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure the cyber café is monitored by knowledgeable people who can provide assistance and gently move traffic through the area.

    PORTAL PROVIDER
    Several companies offer cyber-café packages. One of the more robust systems is the CyberCentral digital portal solution from New York City’s AppliedTheory Corp. (www.appliedtheory.com), which offers all the services in the above menu. After the event, AppliedTheory compiles reports of session attendance, Internet traffic, survey responses and user analysis.

    Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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