15 Digital Tools To Plan Your Next Event

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Here’s a handy guide to three of the biggest technology timesavers out there: templates, online registration/attendee management systems and mobile applications.

Templates

Ask most meeting planners what their favorite technological tool is and they’ll say, “Excel spreadsheets.” And there’s good reason for that. Those are the planners who remember when everything had to be done by hand and kept in big, bulging binders.

Now there are spreadsheet templates planners can download for everything, from conference agendas to hotel room assignments, attrition calculators and F&B budget trackers. Even newbie planners can appreciate how that can improve efficiencies.

Just don’t get stuck in a rut, planning all your events by someone else’s template. To find out how to customize templates to meet your needs, read Kevin R. Johnston’s great article on that topic.

Online Registration/Attendee Management Systems

The easiest way to manage registration is by using online software and e-blast services. Planners for small, casual events have had success inviting attendees using free tools like Evite, and even Facebook, provided their social network was engaged enough.

EventBrite is a more sophisticated service that lets you create an events webpage, promote it through social networks, and collect payments and donations; it even makes name badges. It’s free for free events; for others, it takes a small percentage of each payment transaction, and it has a mobile app for iPhone users.

Other pay-to-play services range from Constant Contact, which makes e-mail marketing campaigns easy, to Attendee Management Inc., RegOnline, SignUp4 and Cvent, which offer a full suite of event and travel management tools in addition to registration.

3WayStreet also makes it possible to “matchmake” appointments between attendees and exhibitors; CrowdVine creates a private label social network for attendees with a lot of bells and whistles. But with greater sophistication comes hefty fees, so shop around and don’t get stuck in a long-term contract; technology (and more affordable options) evolves too fast.

Mobile Applications

If you’ve made the migration to a smartphone, there are mobile apps that can help you keep organized on the go.

The Android-powered Event Planning Tools app features a meeting space (person per square foot) and event budget calculator. On the iPhone, mobileXtend allows American Express Business Travel customers to manage travel arrangements and Eventbrite offers event registration apps.

But there’s also a mobile app for everything from turning voice notes into e-mails (Dragon Dictation) to managing expense reports (HandyLogs). Even some convention and visitors bureaus, (Visit Frisco Texas jumps to mind), have apps that can help planners learn more about destinations. But if you’re really looking for a research timesaver, send an RFP through your meeting destination’s CVB and let them help you discover the best options for your group.

(Kristi Casey Sanders is the editorial director/chief storyteller of Plan Your Meetings. She frequently speaks at industry functions about how meeting professionals can prove their worth, meet responsibly, integrate technology into events, create innovative experiences and maybe even change the world. She will be a session leader at IAAP's EFAM 2013 conference for administrative professionals July 27-31 in Anaheim, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @PYMLive or @KristiCasey. And check out her videos on PYM's YouTube channel.)

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