by Bob Walters | August 01, 2007

A meeting planner’s on-site checklist, circa 1980, would have included preprinted badges, a roll of extra blank badges, colored markers for filling in names, an alphabetical list of attendees, a list of payments due and lists of everything else you can imagine.

A planner’s on-site checklist, circa 2007: extra sheets of badges, a notebook PC and/or a USB flash drive. Really, it can be this simple! Today, you can copy your registration system -- the database and all relevant information -- to a USB storage drive and take it with you to plug into any USB-equipped PC or notebook on site. While it really is this easy, there are some items that you’ll need to take into consideration before you get there.

Take stock

First, look at what you use to manage your registration internally. Is it a series of spreadsheets? Do you use documents, or possibly a database management system? What is required to provide access to the information? Several industry technology surveys point out that the tools used most frequently by meeting planners are the Microsoft Office products: Word, Excel and/or an Access database solution. In this column, we’ll focus on those products, although the same concepts apply if you are using other tools.

Consider equipment

If you are taking a notebook with you, you’ll need to make sure it has the necessary software applications loaded and a copy of your registration files and tables. If you are renting equipment on site, make sure the vendor has the necessary software loaded on the PC, and confirm that it has a USB port.

Since we all have some requirements to print on site, make sure the proper printers are available for rent, or consider investing in a light-weight portable printer. The HP DeskJet 460C, which sells for around $200, weighs seven pounds and is both Bluetooth and wireless capable, in addition to being USB equipped. For something smaller and less expensive, check out the HP 350C Portable DeskJet, which typically sells for less than $100, weighs four pounds and is USB compatible. The 350C also will run on battery power (purchased separately); if you are using the USB printer feature, don’t forget your USB printer cable (also sold separately).

Test and Re-Test

It goes without saying that you should always test either the equipment or the USB flash drive before you actually leave for the meeting. If you are taking your registration information/system on a notebook, then set up a similar environment to what you will have on site, and test it. Disconnect the notebook from your network; test the wireless connection to the Internet, and hook up the printer to print some sample badges. If you run into problems, at least you’ll have the opportunity to solve them before you have attendees standing in front of you.

If you are backing up everything to a USB flash drive, then go through the process and connect the drive to a different PC -- one that has the proper Microsoft Office or other required software -- and then test your ability to access, modify and print from these files.

Finally, if you are taking one of your printers, pack an extra set of ink cartridges along with your badge and printer paper. Even if the printer performed well during your test run, sometimes things change, and you should always be prepared.

I would suggest the same steps if you are renting a printer on site: Make sure the supplier has the proper printer cables and an extra set of printer cartridges if you need them. Also, confirm that if you don’t need the spare cartridges during the event, you won’t be charged for them.

Bob Walters,based in Fort Worth, Texas, is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.