Tablets are perfect accessories for today’s in-person events, conferences and meetings. Instead of handing over a stack of printed materials, attendees can be given (or loaned) devices that provide them with almost unlimited event information, accurate and updated, at their fingertips as they move from room to room.

Whether you decide to outsource tablets to a specialist or handle the application development and tablet deployment in-house, there are four key steps that will set up your event for maximum success with minimum risk of disruption.

1. Define Your Context

Discussing tablets at “meetings and events” covers a wide swath of information. You already know the details of your event, but the team working on the tablets isn’t going to have the in-depth knowledge you do. This means you need to provide all the context so everyone is on the same page from the beginning. Start by answering a few questions:

  • How many attendees are there going to be, and what percentage will be using your tablets? Is this something you’re giving everyone for free, or do they have to ask and pay for it? Is it only for certain attendees, such as session chairs and speakers, or is this for everyone?
  • Is this something that will be required to participate in the meeting, or will the tablets be optional, just used to add greater depth? For example, some meeting and conference organizers have used tablets for crowdsourcing participation in sessions: they run polls, get feedback, use them to ask questions of the speakers and even as part of voting during formal meetings. If you go down that path, then anyone without a working tablet can’t participate, and this changes the level of importance of the device.
  • What parts of the event will be linked to tablets? Are they just for general event information? Will they be used in sessions to complement the speakers’ audio-visual presentations? Will they be part of any trade show lead gathering or literature distribution? Are the tablets going to be part of any full-day tutorials or side-channel sessions?

Your goal in setting the context is to settle the big picture of what is going to happen and how the tablets will be used to get everyone on the event and technical implementation teams rowing together. Without the big picture and context, people will come to the project with preconceived notions of what tablets mean and will almost immediately be at cross purposes with each other.

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As you think through and define the context, also play devil’s advocate with the technology. People have many opportunities to meet and interact over the internet; in-person conferences, events and meetings now exist in a more rarified space. You want your event to be about the people interacting with each other. As you define context, try to avoid technologies and use cases that encourage a “head down” posture in the meeting room. No speaker wants to look out and see everyone staring down at their lap. Your context description should have technology there to support the event in the most unobtrusive way possible, and never overwhelm the attendee or pull their focus away from what’s most important.

2. Describe Your Applications

In an event or meeting context, a tablet will often be running multiple applications. Tablets are inexpensive, but they’re not cheap, and it’s likely that the full-fledged deployment will be integrated with multiple parts of the event.

At this point, you don’t have to find the exact application you want, but you should be able to describe how the tablet will behave and how the user experience will be improved. For example, if you want tablets to have a copy of the presentation for each session, you should say so — but also continue into the finer details. Some speakers won’t want their slides “previewed” in advance of their talk, so you may have to release the content to the event application on a particular schedule. Or, you may not want to have only the presentation material, but supplementary information as well. In some cases, the tablet might be a portal for users to view and hear recordings of presentations they missed earlier in the week, which means the presentation materials will have to get matched up with the presentation.

If tablets will be part of the trade show or exhibit hall or will be used in lead generation or session registration, this may require additional hardware beyond traditional tablets, such as Near Field Communication (NFC) readers at check-in desks or exhibitor booths. Your event may be able to take advantage of Bluetooth-based beaconing tools that track a device as it moves around a large space, or it may be geo-fenced for security reasons. This kind of detail will also help you decide on the model of tablet needed, most specifically the screen size. In many cases, a smaller tablet (typically 8-in. screen size) is more portable, still has plenty of screen size for applications such as viewing presentations or supplementary materials, and is easier to handle while seated.

You may also want the tablets to be internet-connected — or you might not. Most people will be walking in the door with smartphones and laptops anyway, so it’s not as if you can block them from scrolling through Instagram during a presentation. But by defining whether “internet” is an application for the tablets as well, you help the team who will configure and deploy the tablets understand what you want.

By making as complete a picture of the application mix and operation of the devices as possible, you precisely define your vision for how the tablets will work. The more clearly you tell people what you want, the more likely you are to actually get it.

3. Clarify the Infrastructure

Events and meetings happen in a different physical space from the typical office. Although venue suppliers do their best to deliver a predictable and solid experience, every event planner knows that something will always go wrong — hopefully nothing major, and nothing that can’t be corrected quickly. When you mix tablets into your event, you’re adding complexity that will make additional demands on the venue’s infrastructure. It pays to think through these things carefully to reduce the risk of problems.

For example, tablets in events should not depend on high quality Wi-Fi (or cellular coverage) throughout the event. Yes, there will probably be Wi-Fi most of the time, depending on where the attendee is and how many others are near them, but it may or may not work well. So tablets should be self-updating in the background and not require a web connection at all times.

If you anticipate a lot of data transfer or updates during the event, you may want to have some servers physically located at the event space, so that you’re using the venue’s Wi-Fi but not necessarily their internet link for your high-priority data transfer. An example of this is streaming: If you plan on streaming your event to local tablets, the venue’s internet link may be unpredictable or have insufficient capacity — but if you only need local Wi-Fi without internet, you have a much more controlled environment.

People have been dragging laptops to meetings and events for decades, so most venues have a way to deliver power for charging already. But you may want to extend that by placing charging stations in common areas, along with other tablet-specific materials such as screen cleaners.

4. Design the Deployment

A tablet doesn’t exist by itself — it has to be configured, deployed and supported. Tablet vendors have tools that will make this easier, but there are countless variations to consider. Samsung offers a cloud-based service, Knox Configure, that will grab a tablet as it is powered on the first time, update the operating system, download applications, store local information and lock down the tablet so that it only runs the applications you select.

Even with the controlled setup of Knox Configure, you still need to tell your technical team how you want the tablets to be deployed. Some aspects are easy, such as event and corporate branding. But there’s a whole lifecycle to consider: Are you going to collect the devices at the end of the event and reuse them? This would call for a configuration that is tightly locked down, reducing the possibility that a user will be tempted to take the tablet home with them, and ensuring that the tablets can be quickly recycled from event to event.

Attendees who aren’t completely familiar with the devices will also look to you for help if something goes wrong. Having a deployment tool such as Knox Configure that can quickly reconfigure devices will help keep the focus on the event and not on the supporting technology.

Are the tablets meant to be a gift to attendees? In that case, you can start with an initial configuration with just a one-time push of settings so that the tablet immediately becomes the responsibility of the attendee. Or, you can take a hybrid approach: push a configuration at the start of the event that you can update and control (Knox Configure calls this “dynamic” profile), then convert to a static configuration which returns control to the user as they head out the door on the last day.

By focusing on these four points: creating context, identifying your application requirements, providing a solid technical infrastructure and designing a solid deployment, you will flesh out a vision of how tablets can improve the user experience at your event — and you will give technical teams enough information to deliver what you need.

Want to learn more about customizing tablets for event-specific use? Download this free guide to customizing devices, or watch a roundtable discussion on using Knox Configure.

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Joel Snyder

Joel Snyder, Ph.D., is a senior IT consultant with 30 years of practice. An internationally recognized expert in the areas of security, messaging and networks, Snyder is a popular speaker and author and is known for his unbiased and comprehensive tests of security and networking products. His clients include major organizations on six continents.

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