If choosing meetings technology seems
a daunting -- and expensive -- task, consider the many web-based
programs and services now available for free or a nominal fee. The
following tools can significantly enhance your meeting without even
nicking the budget.
This might just be the fastest and
cheapest way to get the word out about up-to-the-minute changes to
your meeting and to give your event a voice. Link the
organization’s website to a blog, and direct attendees there for
Get an expert member or speaker to
write posts, zeroing in on content of interest for attendees. Or
set up the blog as a discussion forum for attendees. This does,
however, require a moderator to keep inappropriate content and
restricted information off the site.
Blogger (www.blogger.com) is
free and has a number of useful functions, like adding both photos
and audio files to posts. Typepad (www.typepad.com), another popular blogging
service, now costs anywhere from $4.95 to $14.95 a month.
Sure, PCs and Macs come with adequate
calendar and scheduling programs; they work just fine when you’re
networked to the people you need to reach. But what if you need to
access calendar data for people outside your immediate organization
or you want to publish a schedule of events online? The basic free
services from Meeting Wizard (www.meetingwizard.com) and Trumba Calendar (www.trumba.com) offer
just this functionality. Both companies make money by selling
customized versions and upgrades of their programs.
For coordinating meeting dates, Meeting
Wizard handles all the tasks: sending basic e-mail invitations,
summarizing responses, switching dates, and sending confirmations
and reminders. Meeting details can be saved directly into
Microsoft’s Outlook calendar.
Trumba Calendar allows users to put an
event calendar on their sites, including links to each event’s web
page. The program supports iCal and RSS feeds (see sidebar), allowing participants to receive
notification when content has changed.
Set up a 50-person conference call in a
flash using the following companies, which make their money by
offering an 800-number for participants to use. The call organizer
pays about 10 cents per minute per phone. If participants agree to
pay for the call using their own long-distance service, the
conference call is free to the organizer.
Here are a few companies to try.
* Free Conference (www.freeconference.com) creates no-cost calls for as
many as 100 people and lasting up to three hours. A recording costs
$10 and is available only when using the company’s 800-number
FreeConferenceCall.com (www.freeconferencecall.com) allows free calls
for up to 96 people lasting up to six hours. The service also
offers a free recording.
* At Quality
Conference Call (www.qualityconferencecall.com), there is no
time limit; up to 250 people can call in.
Can free tech tools handle
registrations, surveys, e-mail marketing and more? Indeed yes,
thanks to Express Planner. Visit www.expressplanner.net, click on “tools,” register and
go. The registration element even processes credit cards using
Payflow Pro and other merchant services.
Offered by a consulting company called
PureThink LLC, the software was built solely by John Mark Suhy,
vice president of technology for the Herndon, Va., firm. Extras on
the website include forums for support, user feedback, new-feature
requests and more.
PureThink makes its money through
consulting and an ad that appears just on the planner pages
(attendees do not see it). The meetings management tools also can
be customized for a fee.
5. Google Earth
Google’s satellite map (earth.google.com) is
incredibly useful for site selection; whether it will save time is
up to the user’s self-control (it’s addictive). The free program
opens with a map of Earth against a backdrop of the galaxy. Zoom in
and cities come into focus, then buildings and, in some areas, even
In a city under consideration, find the
convention center, then overlay the list of hotels Google provides
for a great guide to the area. In remote locations, the resolution
is pretty lousy, but for U.S. cities, the program is probably the
best one around for mapping.