Gray's Journal

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Selecting The Right Technology For Your Meeting

You have just been given the daunting task of planning the next big corporate meeting for your company. But before you even have a chance to ask what the proposed date is, questions and ideas start flooding your head. What is the budget? How many people will be attending? 200 people? Which conference center will hold that many people?

The stress of meeting planning can be all too overwhelming, but thankfully there are tons and tons of meeting planning technology products that can perform nearly every job in planning that successful meeting. The problem is not every product is "one size fits all." The right meetings technology solution can bring a huge benefit in cost, time savings and customer service. The wrong choice can be far more costly than just the price of the software and implementation.

So how do you choose which ones will be beneficial for you and your company? This article will help decide on the most efficient technology products for your meeting and eliminate the ones that may be insignificant.

Inventory your office. 
First before anything else, examine your current office environment. Determine what is currently being used and what could use modification. Here are some questions that need to be posed:
  • What meetings processes are being managed via paper?  Do you maintain a large file cabinet of meeting facility information? Do you send your RFPs via fax? Are you accepting registration via the mail or fax? Do you use paper surveys? Do you draw and update your exhibit plan by hand? Do you schedule your rooms manually? A piece of paper is a white flag of inefficiency. Often these should be the first targets to be considered for technology upgrades.
  • What over-the-counter software (Excel, Word, Access, etc.) are you using? If you are relying on these (especially word processing files) for your meeting planning processes, this should be a warning.  Flat files (i.e. word documents) are highly inefficient in terms of managing data from meeting to meeting. 
  • What meeting planning software and other technology tools do you currently use? What works well and what doesn't?  Are there newer versions that will work more efficiently?
  • What is the budget and time frame to change?
Determine which types of solutions are needed.
After inventory has been completed, examine the issues found. The next step is to determine which solutions will be needed to solve these technology problems. As stated earlier, there are tons of technology tools that can assist in meeting planning. Here are some areas where technology can help:
  • Attendee matchmaking and networking
  • Budgeting
  • Badge making
  • Customer Relations Management (CRM)
  • Event web sites and portal management
  • Exhibit sales and floor plan management
  • Groupware and online collaboration
  • Housing and room block management
  • Incentive tracking
  • Lead retrieval
  • Marketing, communication and attendance building
  • Meeting specification
  • Meetings consolidation, procurement and request for proposal (RFP) management
  • Onsite technology (registration, cyber cafes, product directories, internet access)
  • Registration
  • Scheduling
  • Site selection
  • Surveys
  • Travel and ground transportation management
Decide on specific features needed.
Once you have narrowed down what you need, the next step is to develop a list of specific features required. Brainstorm a feature list of specific features desired in the “ideal” system. 

Once the list is compiled, it should grouped by feature area and ranked (must have, good to have, nice to have but not necessary). Delete the ones that, upon further review, are not deemed important.

Evaluation and selection 
Now you are ready to to start looking at technology vendors. Here are some steps that will help the vendor evaluation and selection process:

  1. Determine the list of technology vendors providing the desired technology tools or services. 
  2. Narrow down your choices to a select few (3-5 choices)
  3. Set up full product demonstrations. Depending on the size of the sale and the elaborateness of the products, these can either be in person or via web demo. Software companies often have a demo version.
  4. Make the final selection from the information gathered.
  5. Set up a full implementation and evaluation timeline.
The final steps are to implement the solution, train the staff, and set up measurable criteria and goals for successful deployment.  These goals should be centered on measurable decreases in meeting management costs, fast meeting turnaround, and/or improvement of customer services – often all three. With the successful addition of these technology products your meeting planning will become easier and more efficient. 

These technology product guidelines are accredited to Corbin Ball, CMP. Ball is a consultant, writer and speaker focusing on events and meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. He has been named by MeetingNews Magazine for 4 years as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry. He is also MPI’s 2002 International Supplier of the Year. He can be contacted at his extensive web site:

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