by Tamara Muldoon
Computer software technology has become an integral and vital tool for meeting planners. There are software applications for speaker/session management, sponsor/exhibitor management, registration, agenda building, marketing, communication, budgeting, virtual meetings, attendee networking and more.
But there are so many choices and the products are constantly evolving. How do you select the right tech tools for your needs? First, define your objectives. Then, research products which serve that purpose. Compare features, training and support, as well as cost. Investigate a provider’s track record and “test drive” their product before signing a contract.
This is such a broad topic that only a few of the myriad software tools can be included here. This article is not endorsing these particular products, but simply providing examples of the types of tools available.
Some vendors seek to provide a comprehensive event management software program. While an all-in-one product sounds ideal, it can be expensive. Ask about ala carte pricing so you don’t pay for functions that you don’t need.
Cadmium (cadmiumcd.com) offers modules for event management, talk submissions, speaker management, attendee engagement, content publication and expo management. The functions are in one database and interconnected, streamlining work flow. Cadmium also offers a platform for online virtual or hybrid events.
Cvent (cvent.com) has been around for two decades, yet continually updates its suite of products. Its event marketing and management package includes tools for venue selection, call for papers, event management, speaker, sponsor and exhibitor management, registration, attendee engagement, trade show lead capture, budgeting and surveys. Cvent also offers an online meeting platform.
Virtual Meeting Platforms
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, virtual meetings shifted from an option to a necessity. Technology developers went into hyperdrive to fulfill the sudden need for virtual meeting platforms. Some companies were already established in providing video conferencing, webinar and online presentation tools. Others are newcomers to the field.
Zoom (zoom.us) usage has soared during the pandemic, the name almost becoming synonymous with online meetings. While the free app serves for small to medium-sized meetings, paid upgrades allow hosting of large conferences. Options include video and audio conferencing, webinars, chat window, breakout rooms, recording and cloud storage, and support packages.
SwapCard (swapcard.com) is a powerful platform designed to be an all-in-one solution for virtual or hybrid events. With both web-based and mobile apps, this user-friendly product includes tools for registration, audience engagement, networking, lead retrieval, abstract management and others.
GoToMeeting (gotomeeting.com) has long been a leader in online video conferencing. Recent enhancements allow for document sharing, meeting recording/transcription, note taking, screen shots, and more. There is a mobile device option and it integrates with apps like Outlook, Google Calendar, and Slack.
WebEx (webex.com) by Cisco is another virtual meeting technology pioneer. Audio and video conferencing, file sharing, messaging, real-time translation, custom screen layouts and integration with other leading apps are some of its features.
BlueJeans Events (bluejeans.com), a relative newcomer, was developed by Verizon as a virtual meeting and webinar platform. Features such as interactive collaboration, breakout sessions, virtual backgrounds, Q&A, polling, closed captioning and mobile phone app make this a dynamic option. It integrates with the Microsoft Teams platform.
PheedLoop (pheedloop.com) is another recent innovator offering virtual and hybrid event tools. Among its benefits are the ability for concurrent streaming sessions, real-time chat, audience engagement and networking, virtual exhibits, sponsor promotion, mobile app, event registration, on-demand badge printing, call for presentations, speaker and exhibitor management, and integration with other apps.
Conference Mobile Apps
Regardless of whether a meeting is in-person, hybrid or virtual, a mobile phone app is an invaluable tool for planners and attendees alike. It facilitates event participation, viewing conference information, networking and interaction. Planners can send out real-time notifications of changes, reminders, interactive polling, social media links and more. Features to look for include custom branding, customizable templates for easy development, a user-friendly interface, personal agenda-builder calendar and chat function.
Cvent, SwapCard and PheedLoop offer mobile apps. Other vendors include Attendify (attendify.com), Bizzabo (bizzabo.com), Hopin (hopin.com), Pathable (pathable.com), SpotMe (spotme.com), and Whova (whova.com), to name a few.
Effective communication and collaboration are hallmarks of successful events. Many tools facilitate essential functions like file sharing, conference call/video chat, and scheduling calendars.
Google Drive (google.com/drive) is a widely-used, cloud-based platform that allows team members to share and edit documents. It integrates with Microsoft Office formats and common applications such as Adobe, Salesforce and Slack. Other Google applications including Gmail, Calendar, Forms, Chat and Meet make this a versatile and robust tool.
Microsoft Teams (microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-teams) is primarily a communication tool. Its functionality includes online meetings, video conferencing, conference call, and chat groups, file sharing and collaboration. It integrates with MS 365 cloud-based apps and MS Office tools. The basic application is free; a monthly per-user fee brings a host of add-on features.
Slack (slack.com) streamlines workflow through features like file sharing, task automation, voice and video calling, and instant messaging. Using “channels,” set up work groups to simplify communication. Slack has a search function and integrates with most business apps.
SmartSheet (smartsheet.com) provides project management and collaboration capabilities and integrates with other collaboration tools like Google and Microsoft Teams.
Dropbox (dropbox.com) and Box (box.com) both work well for basic cloud-based file storage, sharing and transfer.
Zoom (zoom.us) and Skype (skype.com) each offer a video-conferencing platform that is effective for one-on-one or smaller group meetings. The free versions have participant and time limits; the fee-based levels offer greater capacity.
For remote team meetings, it’s hard to beat FreeConferenceCall.com (freeconferencecall.com). The company now offers video chats and screen sharing in addition to its original voice-only option.
To organize those team meetings, check out Calendly (calendly.com), a handy tool to simplify scheduling. It integrates with collaboration platforms like Slack and Zoom.
Marketing & Event Measurement
Pre- and post-event communications are also an important piece of the event planning puzzle. Managing your contact list, sending announcements and reminders, and evaluation surveys can be streamlined with effective software.
MailChimp (mailchimp.com) and Constant Contact (constantcontact.com) both offer contact list management, custom branding for email messaging and website pages, analytics, social media integration, and message automation. There are many providers of customer relationship management (CRM) software, so compare features and costs before committing.
SurveyMonkey (surveymonkey.com) and Constant Contact are two options for creating sophisticated, branded online surveys for gathering post-event feedback.
Putting It All Together
It’s challenging to find a single product that meets all your needs, creating the dilemma of getting separate software applications to work together. In this case, you may need an Application Programming Interface (API). Vendors like Zapier (zapier.com) provide API software that integrates with thousands of popular applications. For example, you could automate pulling speaker contact and agenda data from one system to send personalized messages from another.
Also, for complex events you may need to layer several different programs. For example, streaming a Zoom meeting to a video service whose link is posted on a virtual meeting platform, plus a mobile app from yet another vendor. If your event has a lot of moving pieces, consider hiring a production company for technical support. These experts can ensure the tech side of your meeting goes smoothly, allowing you to focus on the big picture.