“Smart” meeting management tools are those whose functionality, ease of use and price point are most appropriate to the individual planner’s duties, tech savvy and budget. Photo courtesy Cvent
While the culture of technology has always bred the desire to have the “latest and greatest,” practical needs should really be the buyer’s guiding principle. Within the dizzying array of meeting management tech tools on the market, the newer, trendier products will not always have the features most conducive to a given planner’s work. The “smart” meeting management tools, then, are those whose functionality, ease of use and price point are most appropriate to the individual planner’s duties, tech savvy and budget.
Part of the services provided by Kellen, a leading association management services company, is to help clients select the best meeting management software. “While we love new technology and seeing what’s on the market, it’s always going to roll back to what’s appropriate for our client,” says Martin E. Bay, CMP, vice president, meetings operations and procurement with Kellen. “With our associations, we’re not always looking for the latest, greatest technology; it’s a very slow process for us. I would never say our clients are on the cutting edge of using technology, but they’re using it consistently and correctly.”
Thus, the smart selection and use of tech tools is what’s important, and that process begins with a needs assessment. The following review focuses on case studies of products that have matched the meeting management needs of various planners, covering functions as diverse as registration, abstract management and exhibit floor management.
Planning a meeting entails basic project management responsibilities, from allocating resources to task tracking to spend reporting. Megan Ogden, CMP, director, meetings & events, National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), has found Smartsheet an effective tool for such purposes, superior to the Excel spreadsheets her team had been using to manage the planning of NACE’s annual conference. “Whereas in Excel you can only put a comment in a cell, with Smartsheet, in each row you can add attachments and comments. For example, you can put another copy of the contract in a certain row,” she explains. “I also use it to communicate with our suppliers.” With regard to the general session, for example, Ogden uses Smartsheet to communicate with her A/V company in real time, adding logos to be used for the screen, scripts for the confidence monitor, special A/V requests and so on. The tool has been so effective that “now our entire marketing department uses it for our production schedule,” she adds.
Ogden also oversees the call for papers for NACE’s annual conference, and CadmiumCD’s Abstract Scorecard has proven itself to be an ideal tool for the process since 2014, when her team first adopted it. “We collect about 425 conference proposals, and it streamlines the entire process for us so we’re not manually entering data using a web form, and then translating it into content that is easy for our conference committee reviewers” to digest, she explains. “It’s an automated system that also generates the average scores for the proposals versus using Excel spreadsheets and manually computing those scores.” Abstract Scorecard thus both saves time and improves quality control. “Not only do we internally have success with the product, but our users, the actual proposal submitters, provide positive feedback,” she notes.
It’s generally advantageous when a tech tool can be used for more than one meeting management function. For example, Ogden’s team also works with CadmiumCD for speaker management, via the Conference Harvester. Functions include collecting speaker bios and photos, presentation materials, contracts, financial disclosures and travel requirements, as well as session scheduling. “It allows us to migrate all the accepted proposal information into the tool so the speakers are not resubmitting their bios or their photos,” Ogden explains. “All of the proposal information is migrated into the speaker system, and it allows us to sort speakers into different groupings. We can send notifications regarding PowerPoint deadlines, additional A/V request deadlines, etc.” She adds that CadmiumCD has “excellent customer support,” a valuable complement to any tech product.
Shannon C. Fagan, CMP, HMCC, senior meeting/exhibit manager for the Front Row Meetings and Events Division of Association Headquarters (AH), has worked with Coe-Truman Technologies’ OASIS for abstract management for about 18 years and says, “This is the first year we’re utilizing the speaker management portal within the same product.” Fagan also serves as director of meetings and exhibits for the American Transplant Congress, a citywide convention whose speaker and moderator management needs are extensive, to say the least.
OASIS supports functions such as notifying submitters, inviting speakers, collecting their information and scheduling their sessions, showing them completion status and sending reminders for the various tasks they may have. Fagan particularly appreciates the “ability to upload membership lists in order for us to have a crosscheck of membership features.” She says, “They provide us administrative access so we’re able to generate a lot of different reporting. That’s such a big functionality because in working with medical meetings, we need to get very granular sometimes with our reports, and they provide a lot of great features for us to do that.”
The ability to integrate with event apps is also a welcome feature in a meeting management tool. OASIS allows integration between the speaker management portal, abstract tool and the event mobile app Fagan’s team uses, ATIV Software EventPilot. EventPilot, she feels, offers “good scheduling features for a medical meeting.” She says, “It provides the ability for abstract viewability, which is extremely important for a medical meeting when you are looking to build your schedule among many abstracts being presented at one time. You can add in keywords to search, look at the program by day, search by speaker and search for exhibitors. The app also connects to our Twitter account, so there’s a Twitter feed at the bottom of the app. That’s great for sharing and networking.”
For onsite presentation management, AH currently partners with PSAV, utilizing its Content1. “The software allows for onsite capabilities where speakers can walk into a Speaker Ready Room and their presentation is filtered out into that room,” she explains. Speakers use the tool to upload and access presentations, and can make changes in real time so all participants have the latest version.
Cvent Connect MGM Grand Hotel Las Vegas, NV, USA July 2019 – Drew Bird Photography
A2Z has been a frontrunner in the area of exhibitor management, offering features such as floor plan management, an exhibitor portal, booth and sponsorship contracting and more. A relatively new tool in this space is Blueprint by Freeman, introduced a few years ago. “It’s a really impressive product that’s not as expensive, and it’s got a lot of features we like so we’ve been rolling it out,” Bay says.
Blueprint’s online floor plan management program allows all stakeholders — organizers, exhibitors and attendees — to access a live copy of the floor plan in real time. With Blueprint Pro, the plan can be embedded in the event website. Booths are tagged as “sold” or “pending” on the floor plan, ensuring sales staff and exhibitors have the latest information. Sponsor logos and banner ads can also be added. The tool can be used to send invoices to exhibitors, who book and pay for booth space in Blueprint via its ecommerce platform. The system accepts all major debit and credit cards, and invoice payments, from exhibitors in more than 135 currencies. Attendees can use the online floor plan to bookmark booths to visit, as well as share contact information with exhibitors. The tool also integrates with a registration system, CRM and other applications.
AMS EVENT MANAGEMENT TOOLS
Association management software (AMS) has a built-in registration tool and typically other event management features. But selecting the best AMS hinges on a variety of factors beyond meeting management, as these are intended for overall association management. Thus, in some cases, it may be preferable to pair the AMS with separate event management products. Kellen first determines the best platform for its clients’ member databases. “That is going to determine a lot of what we do with meetings management,” Bay says, For most large clients, Kellen works with iMIS, but also selects from other AMS products, including NetForum, YourMembership, internet4associations (I4A) and a new one called Impexium.
Regarding the latter product, Bay comments, “We like Impexium, which is one of the new kids on the block, because it not only does registration but also offers some of the things Aventri does, such as booth sales and call for abstracts. It’s got a lot of neat features to it. But you would only use those features if you’re using it for the client member database in the first place. If you’re using iMIS for the member database, you wouldn’t go over to Impexium and try to use their tools for registration because it’s not set up to do that.”
DEDICATED EVENT MANAGEMENT TOOLS
Arguably the major player in this space, Cvent, recently won the “Best Overall Event Management Solution Provider” award from MarTech Breakthrough last August. There were more than 2,500 nominations from all over the world. According to James Johnson, managing director at MarTech Breakthrough, a leading market intelligence organization, Cvent “continues to grow and innovate. With two decades in the meetings and events industry, they now offer the most comprehensive end-to-end meetings management platform in the market.”
An example of that growth and innovation came at the end of last year, when Cvent partnered with miMeetings, a leading provider of managed ground transportation solutions for meetings and events. According to Cvent, planners can now source, select and compare multiple ground transportation vendor bids and negotiate pricing directly within the Cvent platform; eliminate transportation errors with patented flight validation through real-time FAA connectivity; and leverage comprehensive post-event accounting and reporting by incorporating ground transportation spend directly into Cvent’s budgeting tools.
Cvent is one of several event management products Bay considers for Kellen’s clients. “I like Cvent as a registration tool but it doesn’t necessarily have all the other tools built into it that you would want,” he notes. “So, if you’ve got a conference that is going to be selling booth space and has an educational component so that you’d want to do a call for papers, Cvent is not your tool; you’ll have to use Cvent plus other tools and then figure out how to integrate them.”
Bay adds, “With Aventri it’s all built into the same software.” Aventri offers abstract management, barcode scanning, lead retrieval, booth appointment setting, a booth sales module with a floor plan, an event website tool and other features. One of Aventri’s advantages, Bay says, is that it works easily with multinational groups, utilizing multiple payment gateways and many different languages.”
He continues, “It’s also “extremely user friendly. We’ve got a tremendous 24/7, 365-day support team via email, online and telephone calls,” he says. “And it’s very intuitive, whereas the meetings module within an AMS might not be intuitive because it wasn’t built to be an event management system; it was built to be a membership database, but they’re trying to offer this registration module on top of that.”
Nonetheless, there are cases where even a comprehensive, dedicated event management tool like Aventri needs to be supplemented. For example, if a more robust abstract tool is desired, Bay recommends a full-service, online abstract management and processing system such as Precis.
Other event management tools on Kellen’s list of options include Expo Logic, with functions including online/onsite registration, face recognition, badge printing, session tracking and lead retrieval; and Swoogo Event Management, an up-and-coming product. Swoogo offers features such as registration with conditional logic-based questions and branding for registration pages; integration with EventMobi; marketing tools such as Google Analytics site tracking, social widgets and CRM integrations; and Swoogo Live mobile check-in for attendees. Swoogo’s latest capability, introduced last year, is 1:1, a networking function that allows organizers to enable attendees to schedule one-on-one meetings within the convention. Added in response to customer requests, the tool also reports these meetings in order to ensure an attendee is not double booked.
Not only are new event management tools regularly popping up in the marketplace, but existing products are often undergoing enhancements. Thus, it pays to keep an eye on these developments with the goal of optimizing the work of convention planning, and perhaps switching to a more promising product. Bay says his team is “always looking for new options” in event management tools. “We get invited to tech conferences and we send someone to the big [meeting industry] shows, such as PCMA Convening Leaders and Expo! Expo! Those events are great for discovering new technologies.” | AC&F |