Could your event-planning toolbox use a makeover? The following online tools — most of which are free — can give your meeting a modern edge without putting a dent in your budget, by helping you:
- Announce up-to-the-minute changes with a blog. Or set up the blog as a discussion forum for attendees. Link your organization’s Web site to a blog, and direct attendees there for updates. Tools: Blogger (free; www.blogger. com) and Typepad ($4.95-$14.95 per month; www.typepad.com).
- Publish a schedule of events online. If you need only to reach internal employees, the calendar on your PC or Mac will work just fine. But what if you need to reach people outside your office’s walls? Tool: Meeting Wizard (free; www.meetingwizard.com) sends e-mail invitations, as well as confirmations and reminders.
- Create a registration system online. Express Planner allows you to handle registrations, surveys and e-mail marketing, and it even processes attendees’ credit cards using Payflow Pro. Tool: Visit Express Planner (free; www.expressplanner.net), click on “tools,” register and go.
- Map out the hotels and attractions around your meeting site. Plug in your site’s address on Google Earth, and a satellite image of the area comes up. In the window titled “Layers,” check the boxes for roads, dining or lodging. As you click, pushpin icons appear, showing you what’s nearby. E-mail the view to attendees. Tool: Google Earth (free; earth.google.com).
- Blast a message from your computer to attendees’ cell phones. Say it’s the day of the awards luncheon, and you need to push it back an hour. You can deliver the message to everyone quickly, with a text message to their cell phones. All you need is a list of phone numbers, and a few cents per message, per recipient. Tool: Bigfoot (sms.bigfoot.com)