To do their job, meeting planners must wear many different hats. These include site selector, negotiator, F&B planner, vendor overseer, audio-visual expert, conference coordinator, accountant, communicator — the list goes on and on. And on top of their many other time-consuming and demanding tasks, planners need also to be math whizzes and prepared to answer logistical questions on the fly.
Enter Super Planner (see box on opposite page), a meetings management mobile application, available at Apple’s iTunes Apps Store for the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, that can perform all of these calculations, and many more, right on the spot.
For meeting professionals, Super Planner is but the latest manifestation of the fast-moving mobile revolution. More and more, planners are using mobile devices and accompanying apps to leverage the power of the Internet to save time and money through enhanced efficiency. “The biggest thing out there is mobile technology,” said Jim Louis, chief information officer/meeting planner at Best Meetings Inc. in Bloomington, MN. “So many of the Internet advances these days deal with mobile.”
Meetings App Alerts
To be sure, there is an avalanche of apps out there — more than 250,000 for iPhones and BlackBerrys — with new ones popping up daily. To help sort out those most useful for meetings and events, Kristen Strand, CMP, CITE, CMM, of Vancouver, Canada-based Invenia Incentives, created
MeetingApps.com. The new online portal includes a directory of free apps (all for the iPhone so far — BlackBerry and Android apps will be listed “in the near future”) pertinent to meetings, events and travel in more than 24 categories, including meetings management, air travel, tools, conferences, convention and visitors bureaus, food and wine, hotel search, venues and more. Planners can sign up for automatic app alerts, which notify them about the best free apps based on functionality and relevance to meetings.
An example in the CVB category is the Visit Denver app, created by the Denver Tourism & Visitors Bureau. The “Official Visitors Guide to Denver,” this app covers the best of the Mile High City, with all the information planners need on what to do in Denver, where to stay, where to eat, where to shop and other helpful tips.
Exhibitions and incentive travel producer IMEX Group partnered with Invenia to launch the site. IMEX will promote MeetingApps.com at the new IMEX America exhibition scheduled for October 2011 in Las Vegas.
Knowing Where To Go When You Get There
Another useful mobile application (in the reference category) for planners is xe.com, available on the BlackBerry, Android and iPhone. This is a universal currency converter, so planners can quickly learn how much a venue in Madrid, Bangkok or Moscow will cost in U.S. dollars. Planners also can access xe.com directly from their desktop computers or laptops. The GPS-Google Maps app, also available on Android, BlackBerry and the iPhone, provides directions for the locales you visit, as well as information on how to get to local points of interest.
Will Your Website Work On A Mobile Device?
Mobile magic is definitely great. However, will your websites, programs and applications all translate seamlessly to the mobile devices that your attendees use? Better find out before your next big event. “Meeting planners need to know what technology they make available and what mobile devices their attendees will be using to get that information,” said Louis. “For example, make sure that your website is mobile-friendly. If you use Adobe Flash animation for your website, that will not work on iPhones, iPads, iTouch devices.”
Louis advises planners to create HTML versions of all of their Flash applications for mobile devices. Planners and their webmasters can use Quickmobile (www.quickmobile.com) to convert their Web content into a format that works on mobile phones.
Jim’s ‘A’ List Of Mobile Apps
Tech whiz Jim Louis recommends the following mobile-friendly applications for meeting planners and other industry professionals:
Movitas (www.movitas.com) provides hospitality-focused mobile solutions. It is popular with hotels, resorts, casinos, sports and entertainment venues and conference centers, as well as meeting planners. “They can use Movitas to set up websites for their conferences and events that work well with mobile devices.”
Mofuse (www.mofuse.com) advertises itself online as “the worldwide leader in mobile CMS” and “the easiest way to be mobile.” Planners can use Mofuse to immediately syndicate their desktop content to their mobile websites.
EventMobi (www.eventmobi.com) is an interactive mobile app designed exclusively for meetings and events. It detects which mobile phone the planner is using and instantly adapts itself to that device. EventMobi runs beautifully on the iPhone, BlackBerry, Palm, Windows Mobile, Nokia Symbian and Android Google phones. The app also provides real-time polls and surveys. It features an easy setup.
Ootoweb.com allows planners to download all of their meeting information to their iPads, iPhones or iPod touch devices via a custom application. Thus, planners can manage all of their disparate information on the go. “Instead of the meeting planner having to carry his or her big binder around, the event information will all be on their iPad [or other ‘iDevice’],” said Louis. Of course, a meeting planner’s “big binder” or “bible” contains all of the event logistics, including attendee registration, what is going on in every single room at every single time slot, what are the audio-visual requirements of the room, what F&B is needed, and all other special details. Planners also can create mobile websites for their events.
The Academic Perspective
James Hogg, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. When it comes to mobile apps, Hogg offers the following advice: “Planners should look at the three main app smart phones. The best apps vary by phone. The main areas to focus on are productivity apps, business documentation apps and travel/destination apps.” Hogg’s specific apps category recommendations for meeting planners:
Business Productivity Apps. Calendar, e-mail, contacts, CRM (customer relationship management), Bento (personal database), project management, plus social media apps for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. “Don’t forget about secure apps for corporate remote logins (VPNs).”
Documentation Apps. Excel, Word, PDFs, PPTS, and all apps dealing with any type of documentation.
Destination/Location-Based Apps. Most are GPS-driven. They provide locations for food, attractions, hotels and points of interest.
Do Most Attendees Have Mobile Phones?
“This is where the planner needs to know his or her audience,” said Louis. “They can find out through e-mail surveys. Also, they can put these questions in their registration forms: ‘Do you have a smart phone?’ ‘If yes, which one do you have?’ If planners work in corporate environments, they can contact their IT departments and learn which operating systems are being supported for mobile, and what versions exist before going forward [with event website design and development].”
Being productive on the go is a given for meeting professionals, and the newest aids to that end are online collaboration tools. Through such applications, planners can work together on projects from different locations. Louis recommends CentralDesktop.com. “It is a free plan,” said Louis. “You can have up to two work spaces and up to five members that need to work together on a project. People can access it no matter where they are. CentralDesktop.com is more of a project management application. However, that is good for planners because a meeting is a big project.”
What new social media tools are available for meeting planners?
“One of the biggest things for meeting professionals lately are tools that help schedule when your ‘tweets’ go out,” said Louis. “Socialoomph.com has the ability to schedule Twitter updates. “We are using Twitter for our third year [on behalf of conferences for Continuum Meeting Group, one of Louis’ clients]. “We send out information on when the general sessions start, where the lunches are served, where the closing session will be held and so on. We use Socialoomph.com ahead of time to schedule certain updates at certain times.”
With 500 million online members, Facebook (www.facebook.com) is the social media heavyweight. Planners can set up Facebook pages for their events. Attendees can then access these pages to get updates about their events. “If planners pay for SocialOomph’s professional plan, they can send their Twitter updates to Facebook,” said Louis.
Networking At Events
People register for and attend out-of-town meetings not just to secure new information and keep up to date, but also to network with their colleagues from other cities. Pathable (www.pathable.com) helps them do so. It is an online community and social network service for conferences and events.
The online community embeds in a conference’s website and integrates with its registration process to provide a place where attendees can get to know each other long before the event begins and stay connected when it’s over. Pathable also offers a mobile interface for attendees to access their personalized schedules at their meetings and events.
Pathable creates an online space where attendees can connect with each other, and with speakers and sponsors. As the Pathable website states, “When the event is over, the community lives on.”
“We know that people are going to events to network, to meet their peers, but this is difficult to do,” said Jordan Schwartz, Pathable CEO. “Pathable helps attendees make connections at events, which means the attendees get their ROI.”
MeetingMetrics (www.meetingmetrics.com) provides a set of state-of-the-art online tools that planners can use to optimize meeting effectiveness, measure event results and demonstrate their ROI. Ira Kerns and his firm, New York City-based GuideStar Research/MeetingMetrics, developed the MeetingMetrics methodology. MeetingMetrics’ comprehensive online toolset includes an ROI survey.
“Since all of our surveys can be completed by any mobile device with an HTML browser, providing feedback on sessions, speakers and entire events from a mobile device is literally in the attendee’s hands with real-time reporting online for meeting managers’ use,” said Kerns.
A Virtual Necessity
“The Internet is essential regarding how we all communicate in our day-to-day lives,” said Carling Dinkler, president, Custom Conventions, a New Orleans- and Las Vegas-based DMC. “Keeping in touch with our clients is a vital part of our mission, and doing this online is very important in the world today. Tweets, texting and Internet messages make communicating much easier for planners than ever before. Social networks also are outlets that planners should use to stay in touch. Plus, they are important in branding our companies and the services we provide.”
The Internet is a high-tech bullet train changing the way business gets done at seemingly supersonic speed. Mobile devices are not only quickly becoming the Internet’s standard boarding pass, they are indispensable tools to keep planners on the fast track. C&IT