Let Them Eat Cake
Often, attendees are so eager to mingle, they don't want to sit for the dessert course. Indulge their desire to move -- and save money -- by offering CakeShooters, created by Sprinkles Custom Cakes in Winter Park, Fla. These treats cost $3 each (or $36 for a baker's dozen) and can be shipped nationwide. Gluten-free and vegan versions are available. (877) 884-2253; sprinklescakes.net
Open up the tops of these acrylic tables and put whatever you want inside: rose petals, memorabilia, photographs or grass (shown here). Rental cost for the Acrylic Box dining table: $195 per day; $390 per week. (310) 739-7300; girari.com
Shine Your Light
Measuring just 4" x 3" and weighing less than a pound, the HP Notebook Projection Companion fits easily into a laptop case and projects an image for up to five feet. Its modest 100-lumen bulb should be used only for small audiences; however, in a pinch, it simply shines. The Projection Companion costs $499.
Catch Some Waves
For events with budgets that don't allow for professional A/V recordings of sessions, there are alternatives. Handheld devices such as Zoom's H1 Handy Recorder (which records in stereo and transfers clips directly onto a computer) can do the trick with impressive clarity. Just be sure to ask speakers or moderators to clearly repeat questions from the audience. Cost: $99; among retail sites that carry the product is amazon.com.
Messaging and More
The new IML Connector is an audience-response system that also works as a microphone and messaging device. Pass these out in the conference room, and nobody will have to run around with a microphone. You also won't need audio speakers or an interpreter, as the device is equipped with both. Call for pricing. (877) 646-2455; imlworldwide.com/beyondvoting
Tinted and Tasty
Flavor Palette, a catering company based in New York City (646-510-7755; flavorpalette.org), offers entire menus based around individual colors -- a great branding idea. When theming by color, follow these suggestions:
• Start with foods that are already the chosen color. For example, Flavor Palette's red menu brings in tomatoes, beets and berries; the blue menu features eggplant, bleu cheese and blue figs.
• Limit dyed foods to desserts. People are more likely to eat blue cake than blue chicken.
• Use natural ingredients to provide color when possible. For example, use basil and green-tea powder as green coloring agents.
• Bring in colored dishes, linens and uniforms to heighten the effect.
For serving trays that excite attendees, engrave inexpensive round mirrors (e.g., this set of 10 12-inch mirrors, $49) with a logo or message. The Inscriblio engraving tool makes the process affordable ($14.57 at Walmart) and easy. Thanks to Marley Majcher, The Party Goddess!, based in Los Angeles (323-222-8376; thepartygoddess.com), for the idea.
A book makes a memorable pillow gift; when it features a customized jacket, it will be even more meaningful to recipients. For orders of 50 or more, The Book Company will customize the dust wrapper for almost any currently published hardcover book. The custom jacket adds just a dollar or two (based on book size) to the price of the volume. (800) 367-9388; www.thebookco.net
Super-size badge holders give attendees a convenient carrier for their smartphones, but none so stylishly as this one. It holds the mobile device, plus business cards, a room key, and a few credit cards or cash. The name tag gets clipped onto the front. The Tech Exec PDA Pouch costs $3.20 each for a minimum order of 50. (877) 626-3824; pcnametag.com
For an event that focuses on healthy living or wellness, what better venue than a health club? Hold educational or exercise classes, though keep them light: attendees won't want to sweat in front of colleagues. Before signing on, understand that some clubs won't want you to serve food. In New York City, for example, special events can be accommodated at the New York Health and Racquet Club, left. (212-220-0744; nyhrc.com)
Given that tap water is unpredictable at best and that hotels' bottled water is notoriously expensive, smart travelers might bring along this portable filter. Swirl the Wellness Wand into a glass of water, and in 15 seconds, the chlorine -- and the funky taste -- disappear. Cost: $30. (800) 428-9419; wellnessfilter.com
Download mTrip on your iPhone or iPod Touch before a meeting, input how many free days you have and the kinds of attractions you prefer (e.g., museums vs. monuments), and you will get a suggested itinerary, complete with zoom-capable map. The app, available for major cities all over the world, also offers restaurant and shopping recommendations by neighborhood. Cost: $9.99 per destination. mtrip.com