Nearly all meetings have a common denominator: networking. But as meetings get larger, this becomes more difficult. Finding people with like interests is a challenge — and standard name badges are inadequate. Fortunately, some new tools can help:
Web-Based Attendee Scheduling Programs
Rio, a new scheduling program from Columbia Resource Group (www.crgnet.com), is a convenient, Web-based addition to birds-of-a-feather programs and other events designed to segment audiences into interest areas.
The meeting manager provides a list of profiling questions when the online registration form is developed. As part of online registration, attendees are asked if they wish to make their names and profiles available to other registrants in a searchable online database. If an attendee is interested in XYZ product or someone from a certain city or someone who works for a certain company, others could find him based on the selection criteria.
Upon finding a match, attendees can then invite each other to meet using the Rio online scheduler. The inviter looks for a free time slot (the meeting manager can make all general sessions and other conflicting times off-limits) and sends a request for a meeting (received by the invitee as an e-mail from the Rio scheduler). E-mail and direct contact information is not disclosed. The recipient can accept, ignore, or decline the invitation. If the invitee declines, she can suggest an alternate time. If the invitee accepts, both sides are notified by e-mail and automatically assigned a table number in the meeting area.
This appointment, as well as all of the other events, can be added to the users' Outlook calendar with a mouse-click.
Wi-Fi and Cell Phone Systems
Venue Maitre'D (www.venuemaitred.com) has developed a wide range of tools for meeting planners. Venue Messenger is a wireless messaging service that lets attendees send messages (text, scribble, or voice) to online or offline users at the venue using PDAs. Venue Match is a profile-based matching service for events and trade shows. Using PDAs, attendees can sort the attendee list by various criteria and use Venue Messenger to make contact.
Other Wireless Networking Devices
SpotMe (www.shockfish.com) is another interesting networking tool. As attendees register, their digital pictures are taken, and they are handed a small wireless PDA-sized device. Using radio frequency detection, this mechanism determines their location and the relative location of people around them.
Highlighting and clicking on a name will show another attendee's picture and their contact information. Currently available in Europe, similar systems are being developed in the United States.
During a meeting, people collect hundreds of business cards. The need to enter them into a personal database may be replaced by a new device called Fobulous from Exclaim Enterprises (www.exclaimenterprises.com). About the size of the car alarm control on your keychain, it stores up to 500 “virtual business cards” and can beam them directly to a PDA using an infrared port. Or, using its built-in USB port, the cards can be downloaded directly to a computer database.
In quantity, the devices sell for as low as $10 each, so they can be used as branded giveaways for many types of meetings. They are also reusable.
Corbin Ball, CMP, is a www.corbinball.com., consultant, and writer focusing on events and meeting technology. With 20 years' experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. He can be contacted at