Innovation is alive and well on the Web, with new sites that make organizing meetings more efficient and less costly appearing nearly every day. Consider some typical meeting planning tasks: find meeting space, mail requests for proposals (RFPs), manage speakers, organize conference education programs, manage registration, and deal with suppliers. These tasks can be simplified, streamlined, and in some cases almost totally automated using Web-based applications.
Here are some of my favorite meeting management Web sites.
Hot Dates and Rates You can now use the Web to find hot-deal inventory for meetings: MadSearch (www.madsearch.com) includes hot dates and has an e-mail newsletter, while www.hotdateshotrates.com offers special rates.
Site Research and Selection PlanSoft (www.plansoft.com) is one of the most comprehensive databases of meeting facility information on the Web. Another notable site is EventSource (www.eventsource.com).
Requests for Proposals (RFPs) Meeting organizers can now use the Web to send RFPs to multiple hotels instantly and at no direct cost. PlanSoft has offered this option for more than a year. SmartRFP (www.smartrfp.com) is a new site that offers a guaranteed 48-hour response.
Registration Templates The hot trend in Web design is to build meeting registration pages in templates, which allow anyone to create new forms on his or her own Web site with no Web design experience. All you do is go the password-protected administrative area of your site, fill in the "simple templates" boxes, hit the "update" button, and a description of your event, along with a customized registration form, appears instantly. A demo of this technology can be found at RegWeb (www.regweb.com).
Program Coordination Coordinating speakers and program content for large meetings can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. SaratogaGroup (www.saratogagroup.com) and Neology (www.neology.com) both are very powerful online event content management systems that can help manage these tasks efficiently; they also allow you to post program and registration modules online.
Customized Marketing Just as shopping malls changed the retail landscape in the 1970s, e-commerce is changing the way we purchase goods and services in the coming decade. Mass marketing will give way to customized "one-to-one" marketing on the Web. For a great example of this, go to The Walt Disney World Swan-Dolphin Hotel site (www.swandolphin.com). If you click on the "Meeting Space" button and fill out the meeting profile form, you are then able to see PERK, the personalized electronic response kit, which is 500 Web pages of meeting information on the hotel, customized for you (using your name, profile, and so on).
Industry Research Industry magazine Web sites are an excellent resource for information on nearly any meeting management topic. The "Archives" section of MeetingsNet (www.meetingsnet.com), for example, contains thousands of articles from and other Adams Business Media meeting magazines and is fully searchable back through 1996.