by Michael J. Shapiro | November 01, 2011

Gone are the days when creating multimedia to market an event required an enormous investment in software and the time to master it. Following are six examples of low-cost, easy-to-use software applications that could potentially be of great service to planners. These programs, which either reside online or run on mobile devices -- or, in some cases, do both -- can be used to create a variety of multimedia projects. For simple, fun ways to create and share videos, slide shows, podcasts, presentations and photos, read on.

Animoto logo FLAnimotoLite version, free; Plus version, $5/month or $30/year; Pro version, $39/month or $249/year; Reseller, $499/year

Constructing a slide-show clip doesn't get much easier than with Animoto. You need provide only the photos (and/or video clips), and this online application does the rest, stringing together images in time with a selectable soundtrack, complete with transitions and effects.  

The end result is pretty sharp and can be embedded on an event's website or Facebook page to build buzz for the next event. The free version produces 30-second videos, but the paid versions allow for slide shows that last as long as 10 minutes. These paid versions also provide a bit more user control over the final product, with adjustable parameters such as photo-display speed and resolution. With the Pro version you even get the option of removing the Animoto logo (so that no one knows how little you had to work to create the video), as well as adding licensed music from Animoto's soundtrack catalog and creating a live link at the end of the video -- to send viewers directly to the event registration page, for instance. Animoto offers a number of selectable theme templates, which determine the look of the slide show and the nature of the photo effects; the ones available at the Pro level do look a bit more, well, professional.

The nice thing about slide shows, though, is that they needn't always look that professional to be effective. Attendees typically enjoy seeing snapshots of themselves at a meeting or convention that just ended, even if those snapshots aren't of the highest quality. On the other hand, top-notch images combined with a more professional template result in a very different clip, which might do more justice to your event's public image. Animoto is a flexible app that can serve both approaches.  

Animoto event slide showWe really liked the variety of photo-importing options provided: Upload images from your computer (or iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, using the companion mobile app), or retrieve photos from Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, Picasa or Photobucket. Those retrieval options open up the possibilities for creating clips that use attendee-contributed photos. And we loved the opportunity to integrate Animoto directly into a post-show photo-editing process, using plug-ins made for either Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. In practice, the Lightroom plug-in was a little buggy and didn't always properly export every photo we selected. But for the most part the automation was a real time-saver.

The mobile app is effective as a quick way to throw together a video using photos that reside on an iPhone or iPad, though the app isn't optimized for the latter -- it runs only at the iPhone resolution and display size. While that makes a certain amount of sense, given the greater likelihood you'll be snapping photos with the smaller device, we'd love to see a version that's more iPad-friendly and makes use of all that screen real estate. With Animoto's ability to retrieve photos from a number of public sites, there'd be no reason not to produce videos on the iPad, whether or not the photos were shot with it.