Tech Tools Planners Need Now
Developing a technology guide for meetings is like trying to wrap your arms around the Internet. Even defining “event technology” is difficult: Does it include software used in preparation for a meeting, organization tools for planners, gadgets and hardware used on-site, and social media? We’ve highlighted some of the hardware, software, apps and web-based technology you need to know about now or in the very near future to help you plan better meetings, but you’ll have to pick up the April/May issue of Collaborate magazine to see the complete guide. Don’t get the magazine?
An event isn’t going to be well-organized if the person behind it isn’t. The following tools keep planners on track by helping with travel, accounting, scheduling and planning.
Not everyone can have a personal assistant keeping track of emails and tasks. Contactually is a relationship management tool that connects directly to an email inbox and takes note of who the messages are from and how frequently and quickly the user responds to certain emails. The system prioritizes contacts and helps keep track of follow-up. Reminder emails from Contactually keep important relationships top of mind. The web-based platform is compatible with Gmail, Outlook and most email programs online and on all mobile devices. It also syncs with most CRMs. contactually.com | Plans range from $15-$150/month
Faxing a sign-up sheet around to colleagues? Sending reply-all emails to a group? Try the online meeting scheduler Doodle, which easily coordinates schedules with polls that sync with Google, Outlook, Exchange and iCal to help pick the best dates and location for everyone involved. doodle.com | Free or premium plans $39-$479/year
Bring along the ultimate powerstrip, the PowerSquid, which fits in a briefcase, has a flat profile plug to squeeze behind furniture, two glowing outlets, surge protection and a bevy of octopus-like extensions for multiple electronics. powersquid.com | $12.95-$59.95
Keep track of varied interests in one place with this custom magazine app that learns a user’s interests and curates articles and news according to what they read. Now a news/motorcycle/meeting planning/cooking magazine can exist. zite.com | Free | iPhone, iPad
TIP | Use tweetchat.com to join Twitter chats. Sign in on the website using your Twitter account and type in a designated hashtag. The system filters the relevant tweets into a chat room and makes it easy to message the group. Smart pausing prevents new tweets from being added to the top if the user scrolls down to read earlier posts until scrolling back up. No prep work is required for the organizer either. Make sure followers know when to join and what hashtag to follow and it’s all set.
From marketing and registration leading up to an event to on-site gadgets and post-event follow up, event technology enhances connection, engagement and participation throughout the experience.
ITN International’s BCARD badges take interactive name tags one step further. Embedded with Near Field Communications technology, the identification cards double as a way to track attendees within the conference (think: education credits) and as a free pass to public transit and tourist attractions throughout a host city. The host CVB can provide discounts around town, or tickets to a convention-wide event at an area attraction. itn-international.com | Pricing structures depend on size of event and sponsorship opportunities
Anyone who’s ever gotten stuck at the crazy cousin table at a wedding knows the importance of a good seating chart. When there are assigned seats, drama and unhappy guests can follow. Social Tables gives attendees the power to help with the seating chart without the chaos a planner would expect from crowdsourcing this aspect of planning. The collaborative program allows multiple organizers at different locations to determine seating. The organizers’ purest intention, though, is to allow guests to pick their own seats. Planners can put guests into categories giving them certain options of where to sit, and guests have the ability to interact beforehand and pick their seats, ideally with new contacts. socialtables.com | Free
The best way to take payment on-site, this tiny device attaches to a smartphone, accepts all major credit cards and charges merchants a 2.75 percent rate. It makes registration a breeze, and direct-deposit payments are in the bank the next day. square.com | iPhone, iPad, Android
Events are social. We plan gatherings to initiate connection and interaction among colleagues. Social media gives that interaction a year-round platform, encourages face-to-face connections and offers the potential to elevate events to a new level. New players in this field add excitement to what planners can achieve through social networks.
The hottest trend in social media, Pinterest, beat YouTube, Reddit, Google+, LinkedIn and MySpace for percentage of total referral traffic in January and is fast on Twitter’s heels. The social networking site is an online pinboard where users share things they love on the Internet. It’s perfect for the visually stimulating world of events. Planners can go in several directions with it. A planner might create a board that markets an event, pinning articles about education, images that go along with the theme, speaker videos and host city information. Or, the planner might create a personal idea board with centerpiece possibilities, great food and beverage presentations or cool audiovisual. And, if the site seems geared too much for the female set, its manly (unrelated) counterpart, gentlemint.com, has a rougher exterior. pinterest.com | Free | iPhone, iPad, HTML5
Technology has increased engagement at face-to-face events and extended lifespans online. One of the pioneers in this area is Pathable, a custom online community for events, which had a makeover at the end of last year that made it even better. More than simply a custom social networking site, the platform was designed with events in mind. It integrates with registration systems, giving attendees a virtual presence and allowing them to network with one another, create custom agendas and download session handouts. Attendees, speakers and suppliers dialogue in forums, and a virtual trade show floor gives additional exposure and connection opportunities to suppliers. The benefits of 2.0? Allows all of that engagement year-round, makes it all mobile and browser-based (i.e., faster). pathable.com | $3,900-$27,200/year | iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows phone
Today, in order to mobilize attendees, many meeting planners have to mobilize their content. Making the event website mobile, having an on-site mobile app and using a personal mobile device as a tool are necessary.
Competition fuels engagement, and gaming—the No. 1 most popular mobile activity—turns attendees into active participants. EventMobi has created GamifyApp, a customizable gaming app for events. Attendees earn badges by checking into exhibitor booths, answering questions about education sessions or taking part in an event-specific scavenger hunt. Organizers receive data about who checked into locations, which they can share with exhibitors or use for their own feedback. gamifyapp.com | $2,500 or combined with EventMobi packages starting at $799 | iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry
This is not your average tripod. The Swivl base holds a smartphone, and automatically follows a presenter wearing a Swivl sensor. The speaker is free to move around and stays in the camera’s view. swivl.com | $159 | iPhone
It is possible to connect with the non-tech savvy. This app from LinkedIn converts a picture of a business card into a digital contact and finds the new contact on LinkedIn. cardmunch.com | Free | iPhone
An app, social media, online registration system and print pieces are all important aspects of event marketing, but they all link from or to a crucial information hub: the event’s website.
Share personal profiles, a “like” box, photo albums or an event’s Facebook page on a main website to draw attention to the event activity on the social network. Users don’t have to leave the website to like the event’s page or check out photos from previous events. facebook.com/badges | Free
Don’t forget there are still more tools in the April/May issue of Collaborate, and read an interview with Consumer Electronics Association. Let us know in the comments below some of your favorite meetings technology tools.