The power of computing has dramatically changed the lives of meeting professionals over the past few years. According to one industry expert, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
As technology keeps doubling in power each year, the changes will be “even more astonishing,” said Corbin Ball, a consultant and analyst who recently conducted a webinar for Meeting Professionals International (MPI) on the top trends in meetings technology.
Ball knows firsthand of what he speaks: he was a meeting planner for a high-tech association for 18 years, and for the last 14 years he has been a meetings technology analyst, examining how business processes can be improved for meetings and trade shows. He currently heads up his own company, Corbin Ball Associates in Bellingham, Wash.
Ball provided webinar participants with an overview of must-have tech tools that he considers to be among the best, from social media programs and mobile apps to event management software, services and sites.
Many are free, but some carry a price tag, which prompted Ball to emphasize that his assessments are based strictly on his own testing and evaluation. “I am an independent analyst,” he said. “I have never taken a cent from a tech product.”
Meetings Management Products
Almost all technology products for meetings and events now have a strong web base or are completely web-based; as a result, the products are cheaper and easier to use, Ball said.
One important benefit of web-based software is that there is less need for direct IT support because support is handled remotely. Also, web-based services are designed to exchange data easily.
Among the software products Ball covered in the webinar:
Ootoweb.com: Out of the Office Meetings Management. A full-service tool designed for out-of-office meeting planning and management. This new product is not free but it offers financial advantages over competitors because of its fee structure, Ball said.
Floorplangenie.com: A floor plan exhibit design function for trade shows. The product is free for three uses per year; after that, there is a cost.
Babcycad.com: A product that uses 3D technology to create a trade show booth; free.
Mogotix.com: An electronic ticketing product; free. “This is where mobile ticket will be going,” Ball said.
Polleverywhere.com: A survey product; free for up to 30 people surveyed.
Join.me.com: A desktop sharing tool that allows virtual meeting attendees to share their desktop with others; free.
Cvent: A longstanding suite of products that has built up a supplier database of more than 100,000 strong. It produces a full menu of event planning products for fees that vary depending on use.
Social Media Tools
Social media has become “a huge topic” in event planning and has had a profound impact on the industry. “The power is shifting from planners and exhibitors and it is now the attendees who are in control,” Ball said. “It’s bottom up, not top down, and that changes the rules.”
The following sites provide free network and collaboration options that are web-based and “can be used to increase buzz about events and to communicate before, during and after events.”
Facebook: “It is easy to create an event on Facebook using the Facebook Events tool,” Ball said. The site can be used for any size event, large or small. “If a site has 550 million users and provides a free tool, why would you not use it for open meetings to engage people and increase attendance?” he asked.
Wiki sites: These sites are great for sharing and collaborating, and for planning meetings. Wiki sites with good meeting applications include: www.zenbe.com/shareflow and docs.google.com. Both allow multiple participants to look at and work on the same document at the same time.
Wiki tools are far better than email, “which is not user-friendly for planning meetings,” Ball said. “You need to move beyond email for managing a project. With Wikis, potential attendees can interact on the same page, and it can all be organized.”
He provided an example from his own experience: “I have been a judge of a tech awards program, and we used to all fly to London to do the judging. When Google Docs came along we started doing the judging on a spread sheet. The judges went into the shared documents and made comments and noted scores; these were then automatically ranked. Then we had a two-hour phone conversation to validate it all. This saved days of time and thousands in costs.”
Social Review Sites
Just as TripAdvisor revolutionized travel planning, social review sites are beginning to change event planning. There are now several social review sites for planners that provide peer-based information, including: www.elitemeetings.com and www.meetinguniverse.com.
These sites and others to come “will be increasingly useful,” Ball said. “These days, a brand is not what the brand says it is; it’s what others say about it online.”
Mobile Meetings Apps
Mobile and wireless products for meetings and events will be proliferating in the near future, said Ball, noting that smart phones have already changed the playing field. Case in point: The ability to exchange business cards simply by scanning the smart phone of a colleague is already available on some of the devices.
Ball believes that iPads and their clones “are ideal for events because delegates are away from their desktop computers and can use these tablets as their mobile computers.”
Among the meetings/events mobile apps already available are:
Quickmobile.com: Will develop customized apps for specific meetings and events. Ball calls these apps, “Swiss army knives for events. They can provide information on agendas, speakers, nearby attractions, GPS and more.”
Followme.com: Allows delegates to keep track of colleagues and friends at a meeting. Agendas can be shared and attendees can track each other through the exhibit hall – finding out who’s nearby.
In our next report, Travel Market Report interviews Ball to get his advice and insights on how meetings planners can maximize their use of technology.