Editor's Note: Welcome to Association Meeting's newest column, appropriately named “Cool Tools.” We asked James Spellos, CMP, founder and president of New York-based meeting professional training and consulting company Meeting U., to use the column to keep us all up-to-date on the cool technology tools and tricks of the meeting-planning trade. If you've been to a meetings industry conference in the past few years, you've probably been to a Spellos technology session. We are glad to have him share his expertise here as well.

I'd Like To Ask the Audience, Regis

Audience-response systems have been around in our industry for more than 20 years. (If you don't know what an ARS is, just flip to that network showing all game shows, and watch them ask the audience a question on that Who Wants to be a Gadzillionaire show). For us, the problem has frequently been that they're pricey to implement and need lots of prep work. With the explosion of Web 2.0 tools forcing us to consider interactivity in all parts of our meetings, it's good to see some products that are affordable and user-friendly. For a more traditional approach (using hand-held devices), check out Turning Technologies' Turning Point system (turningtechnologies.com). Even cooler is PollEverywhere (polleverywhere.com). Instead of traditional devices, attendees get to use their mobile phone and text their answers to a Web site that shows them the answers in real time. Either way, you can't go wrong.

It's a Martian Twitter Thing

So, do you know about Twitter (twitter.com)? It's a microblog (that term alone would take me two columns just to define). Actually, it's a mobile blog that answers a simple question: What are you doing now? In the new tech world of always being connected, Twitter allows you to follow what your family, friends (or perhaps prospective meeting attendees or sales clients) are doing. So what about Mars? Well, somebody who deserves a raise at NASA decided that the current Phoenix Mars Lander mission should use the technology to tell us earthlings what it's seeing. Using a first-person perspective, you can get “tweets” (yes, that's the term used) about what the mission is uncovering, and you can interact and ask questions. If NASA can find a way to use it on Mars, can you find a way to use Twitter to market your earthbound meetings and properties?

The Pen Is Smarter Than the Sword

Have you heard about the Pulse SmartPen from LiveScribe (livescribe.com) ? Just released a few months ago, it's a pen. Well, actually, more than just a pen; it's a pen that has a built-in microphone, so that when you're writing your notes at a session it is also recording the presentation. What's really cool is when you use their specially designed notebooks, the pen can access any part of the audio presentation by just clicking on the note you were writing when that part of the message was delivered. Imagine your kids using these to help them with their schoolwork…or, just maybe, as a premium giveaway at your event. Perhaps a bit expensive for that now, but it is a seriously cool tool.

That's all for now.

James Spellos, CMP, is founder and president of Meeting U., a New York-based company that provides training and consulting to meeting professionals. He also is a frequent speaker on technology at meeting industry conferences. Contact him at jspellos@meeting-u.com.