22 great iPhone/iPad apps for event professionals

App_Store

Two years have passed since the last update of my favorite iPad/iPhone apps for event professionals. Apps continue to be born, evolve, and, sometimes, die—so it’s time for my latest list of event professionals’ great apps!

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Providing clearings for your event

Clearings 308017772_e0744a9e4b_b
In the 1920’s, the German philosopher Heidegger wrote about the necessity for clearings: the making of space for something new to happen.

At traditional conferences there are few, if any, clearings. The schedule is densely packed with sessions, decided on months in advance. Attendees sit in dark rooms, being led through a dark forest of content.

Why not include some event clearings for your attendees? There are several kinds you can supply:

Physical clearings
Providing attractive, comfortable lounges close to (but set apart from) your session rooms gives attendees a place:

  • to rest and recuperate;
  • to digest and integrate what they have heard, experienced, and learned; and
  • to meet and connect with other attendees as they choose.

Make sure these places are quiet. Why we are often expected to socialize while bombarded with loud music or constant announcements is beyond me.

Freedom clearings
Giving people the freedom to choose, to some degree, what happens at your event clears a psychological space in their minds. When attendees aren’t constrained to predetermined choices, and the event design supports and encourages them to create what they want, they get excited and motivated to actively participate, which improves their learning and facilitates meaningful connections while they’re together.

Permission clearings
I regularly run events that last several days, and I’ve never expected that people will attend every session possible in an event this long. Yet I recently noticed (via evaluations) that some attendees believe they should attend everything, without a break, regardless of their stamina limitations. So now, at the start of a conference, I tell participants that we’re going to treat them as adults, and explain that I don’t expect them to attend everything. I give them explicit permission to take breaks, to escape for a while as needed, knowing that they will return to the conference, renewed, with energy to enjoy and contribute to the sessions yet to come.

How do you handle providing clearings at your events? What other kinds of clearings can we offer our conference attendees?

Image attribution: Flickr user sheepguardingllama

Innovative participatory conference session: a case study using online tools

Web-2.0-case-study-edACCESS-2010-IMG_1276
Participants working on the edACCESS 2010 Web 2.0 case study

Interested in a highly participatory alternative to talk-at-the-audience conference sessions? Then you’ll want to learn about a brilliant session format we used at the edACCESS 2010 Web 2.0 Collaborative Tools Workshop.

I’ve been running peer conferences for edACCESS, an association of information technology staff at small independent schools, since 1992, and just wrapped up our 19th annual conference, held this year at Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The four-day conference did not include a single traditional didactic session. Only two sessions were scheduled in advance: a Demo Session in which attendees, scattered around the exhibit area, gave short presentations on cool technology and applications used at their school, and the case study described below. All other topics and formats (33 in all!) were crowd sourced, using the Conferences That Work methodology, during the first few hours of the conference.

Before the conference
Joel Backon of Choate Rosemary School designed and facilitated the Web 2.0 Collaborative Tools Workshop session, with input from Bill Campbell and a dose of “inspiration from reading Adrian’s book“. Before the conference, Joel described some of his thoughts in an email to me:

“I will provide structure, but I don’t want to be too prescriptive or we won’t learn anything. For example, if there is disagreement about which tools will be best to use for the project, that is a message everybody should know about Web 2.0 tools. There are so many, it is difficult to obtain agreement regarding which to use, and that impacts the productivity of organizations. At this point, I’m looking for feedback because I am clearly taking a risk.”

I told Joel that I loved the idea of using a case study format for the session, and suggested he add a little more detail (about the IT operations at the school) to his case study. Here are the final case study materials that attendees received. They were posted on the conference wiki several days before the session took place. You may want to check out the link before reading further.

Setting the stage
As we listened in the school theater, Joel spent ten minutes introducing the case study materials. He gave us a list of tools, including a blog already set up on Cover It Live—projected on a large screen in front of us—and told us we had to collaboratively create a one page report of recommendations on how to cut a (fictitious) $1,000,000 school information technology annual budget by 50%.

Oh, and we couldn’t talk to each other face to face! All communication had to be done online.

Normally, a project of this type would take an experienced IT staff days to complete, requiring extensive discussion of every facet of the organization’s infrastructure, personnel, services, and budget.

Oh, and we had ninety minutes! In that time, we had to choose appropriate collaborative online tools, divide up the work, discuss options, make decisions and recommendations, and write the report.

Finally, Joel explained, after the exercise was complete, we’d have half an hour to debrief using good old-fashioned talking to one another, face to face.

My experience
Some participants had traveled thousands of miles to edACCESS 2010, and now here we were, sitting in a theater auditorium, silently working at our computers.

During the first twenty minutes of the session, I was highly skeptical that we would be able to accomplish anything meaningful. (In the debrief, it turned out that most people had had the same expectation.) To see what transpired you may want to check out the complete blog conversation transcript, which provides moment-by-moment documentation of our online conversation. Notice that tweets that included the conference hashtag, #edaccess10, were merged in real time into the transcript.

At around 8:50 a.m., the group started to get organized. Communicating through the blog, people started to suggest online tools to work on specific projects. The tools mentioned were Google products: Wave, and Docs. Our sophisticated attendees were aware that Docs had been upgraded in April to support simultaneous editing by multiple (up to 50) users and they even knew that you had to choose the “new version” on the Editing Settings tab.

Up to this point I had not been working on the project, but was monitoring the blog conversation as a process observer. I asked to receive an invitation to the Google Wave, but a link never came. Eventually I found out that the Wave had only been adopted by a few attendees.

But when I clicked on the link for a Google Docs spreadsheet that had been set up I was astounded. (Check it out!) Attendees had created a multitab spreadsheet with a summary page that showed the current savings in different budget areas that people were working on linked to separate detailed tabs for each area. I was amazed at the work that had been done, and immediately added a small contribution of my own—a column showing the percentage budget savings so we could tell when we’d reached our 50% goal. People used free cells to annotate their suggestions and decisions.

Bill Campbell, who was moderating the blog, used Cover It Live’s instant poll so we could discover the tools we were using. The poll showed that most of us were working on the spreadsheet.

Thirty minutes before the end of the exercise, I suggested someone set up a Google Doc for the report (I didn’t know how to do this myself.) Within a few minutes the report was created and people started writing. I added a starting introductory paragraph and corrected a few typos. It was truly remarkable to see the report evolve keystroke by keystroke in real time, being written by a ghostly crew of 30-40 people.

With fifteen minutes to go, it became clear we could reach the 50% reduction goal, and that the report would be ready on time. The release of tension led to an outbreak of silliness (starting around 10:00 a.m. in the blog transcript) to which I must confess I contributed.

Here is the Final Report.

Lessons learned
So what did we learn? Here are some of my thoughts, feel free to add your own as a comment at the end of this post.

  • First of all, everyone was surprised by how successful our effort had been. I think all of us underestimated the advantages of working together online, where multiple channels of communication and collaboration can coexist simultaneously. This is so different from meeting face to face, where, in general, at any moment one person is monopolizing the conversation. I am pretty sure that if we had done the same exercise face to face, we would not have come up with such a high-quality solution!
  • I think the case study worked well because we trusted each other. The group members knew each other to varying degrees, and we were prepared to accept individual judgments about self-selected areas where each of us chose to work. The exercise would not have gone well if we had been concerned about the abilities of some of the participants.
  • One interesting observation is that we were working collaboratively on publicly accessible documents. As a result, we don’t actually know how many people contributed to our work, or even if they were all at edACCESS 2010! This made it very easy to add new workers; anyone who was given the link to a document could start editing it right away. A private workspace would have required some kind of registration process, which would have encumbered our ad hoc efforts.
  • One weakness in our approach is the lack of any formal checking mechanism for the report we generated. A few people went over the report during the last ten minutes and commented that it “looked good” but if one of us had made a serious mistake there’s a good chance it would have been missed. This exercise was akin to what happens when a group of people responds to an emergency—everyone does the best they can and is grateful for the contributions of others.
  • It surprised me that no obvious leaders emerged, although several people (including me) made group-directed suggestions that seem to have been accepted and acted on.
  • A number of people commented early on that they couldn’t use their iPads effectively for the exercise. We needed multiple windows open to be able to work efficiently, and the Cover It Live transcript wouldn’t scroll in Safari on the iPad (though there appears to be a work-around).

Conclusion
It’s hard for me to think of a more participant-driven format for a successful conference session. For two hours we were spellbound, working and playing hard on our laptops, and then excitedly discussing and debriefing. I wager that all the participants at the edACCESS 2010 Web 2.0 Collaborative Tools Workshop will remember this experience and their associated learning for a long time.

What other lessons can we learn from this experiment? Are there ways this collaborative process might be improved?

Participant-driven association meetings presentation slides and resources

Here are the slides and resources from my June 18th 2010 presentation to the NE/SAE (New England Society of Association Executives) annual meeting held at the Colony Hotel, Kennebunkport, Maine:

Some Research about Face-to-Face Communication at Live Events.

Innovative Techniques in Conference Formats (slideshare).

NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework helps people navigate the range of approaches that are available to them and make design choices that are appropriate for their circumstance and resources.

The Meeting of the Future.

On confidentiality: The Europe/Chatham House Rule.

Do You Allocate Enough Time for Interaction?

6 lessons I’ve learned about using volunteers at conferences

using volunteers at conferences
I’ve never run a conference without using volunteers. I’ve spent over thirty years organizing meetings. Here are 6 lessons I’ve learned about using volunteers at conferences.

1) Is this conference marketable?

One of the most important ways I use volunteers is during the earliest conference planning stages to determine whether a proposed event is marketable.

Here’s my simple rule of thumb when deciding whether an idea for a conference might work.

Can I find at least five people enthusiastic enough about the proposed combination of topic/theme, audience, location, and duration to volunteer their time and energy to make the event happen?

If I can’t easily find at least five volunteers enthusiastic about a conference, I’ve (painfully) learned that the event is almost always not viable.

2) Use volunteers for creative work

You’ve got a bunch of willing volunteers—what should you have them do? I try to use my volunteers for creative jobs at conferences. There’s research that indicates that paying people to do work they find interesting can make them less motivated! Here are some examples of conference tasks well suited to volunteers:

  • greeting arriving attendees
  • introducing attendees to each other
  • facilitating sessions
  • organizing and running fun activities

In general, I use volunteers for creative work, and reserve mechanical tasks for paid staff.

3) Check in with your volunteers

Talk with each volunteer individually well before the event. Ask them how they’d like to help, and come to a clear understanding as to what’s expected from them.

4) Plan to have enough volunteers

Volunteers are sometimes less reliable than paid staff. Make sure you have a few people who can cover for last-minute gaps in your volunteer staff during the event.

5) Reward your volunteers

Reward your volunteers throughout the event. Make sure volunteers receive refreshments, meals, and access to conference amenities. If they are attending the conference, offer them reduced or free admission. Reimburse them for any incidental expenses they incur.

6) Never take your volunteers for granted!

Make sure you recognize their contributions, not only publicly, using appropriate perks, awards, and publicity, but also privately. Show them you genuinely appreciate their contributions, and they will become your biggest boosters.

These are the 6 lessons I’ve learned about using volunteers at conferences.

How do you use volunteers at your events? What lessons have you learned?

Image attribution: flickr user sanjoselibrary – creative commons share alike 2.0 generic

#eventprofs life-work balance survey results

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Having agreed to moderate an #eventprofs chat this evening, I thought I’d whip up a short, anonymous survey on #eventprofs’ life-work balance. I received 21 responses in the ten hours the survey was open, and here are the results:

1. How many days in a week do you normally work?

1

2. How many hours in a day do you normally work?

2

3. How many hours in a day do you spend traveling to work?

3

4. How do you feel about the amount of time you spend at work?

4

5. Do you ever miss out any quality time with your family or your friends because of pressure of work?

5

6. Does your organization offer any of the following options for work/life balance? Are there options you would like your organization to offer?

6

Other comments:

6other

7. On a scale from 1 (extremely poor) to 10 (extremely satisfied), how would you rate your current work-life balance?

7

8. Please add any additional comments about your work-life balance here.

8

Title image attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seeveeaar/ / CC BY-ND 2.0

What issues make it hard for event professionals to maintain a healthy work-life balance? What has helped you or others ? Feel free to add your own comments!

13 great iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch apps for event planners

I’ve had my 3G iPad for two weeks, and it’s already changing how I work. And not just when I’m away from the Mac Mini and MacBook Pro in my office. Here are my current favorite iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch apps for an event professional, most of which are free. (Unless specifically mentioned, you can assume that all apps work on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.)

simplenote_largeSimplenote, free, premium version $8.99/year
I purchased Pages for the iPad but haven’t used it yet. I rarely need elaborately formatted documents. What I do need is a simple text editor that imports ASCII, RTF or HTML files, backs up my writing safely, and synchronizes it across my mobile and office computers.

That’s exactly what Simplenote, combined with copies of Notational Velocity (free, open source) on my office computers do. Anything I write in Simplenote on my iPad gets saved and backed up to the Internet cloud (on a free account at Simplenote). When I open Notational Velocity on an office computer, my notes there are synchronized. Similarly, any notes updated on my office machines are synchronized to the iPad when I open Simplenote. All communications are encrypted.

The premium version of Simplenote removes small ads that appear at the top of the Notes column, and adds automatic version backups (like Dropbox, see below) and a few other features. The ads aren’t intrusive, so I’m staying with the free version for now.

Both Simplenote and Notational Velocity offer blazing fast search and support thousands of notes.

For just pure writing, safely backed up and synchronized, you can’t beat the combination of these two free apps!

Dropbox_IconDropbox & Box.net, both free
What if you want to access other kinds of documents on your iPad? I’ve been using the wonderful Dropbox and handy Box.net for some time on my office Macs, and now there are iPad and iPhone clients for both.

Dropbox works very much like the Simplenote premium service described above when installed on Macintosh computers. All contents of the Dropbox folder on a computer (Macintosh, Linux or Windows) running Dropbox are automatically synced when new files or changes are detected. You don’t have to be continually online; all changes sync once your computer has an Internet connection again. You can create shared folders, allowing several people to collaborate on a set of files.

The free service gives you 2GB of space on Dropbox’s servers, which is plenty for me. A nice feature is that the server stores the last 30 days of versions of your files, so you can revert to an older version if needed. If you want more storage, you can pay $9.99/month for 50GB or $19.99 for 100GB, with these paid plans including the storage of unlimited older versions of your files.

The Dropbox app allows you to access your Dropbox files on your iPhone or iPad. Image, music, movie, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, HTML, and text file formats can be displayed by the app. <https://www.dropbox.com/help/80> Unlike the desktop versions of Dropbox, files are not stored automatically on a mobile device but are uploaded on request by marking them as Favorites.

Dropbox also includes a web interface to your files, so you can access them (and older versions) from any Internet connected computer.

While I was writing my book, I stored all my important files on Dropbox. It gave me great peace of mind to know that up-to-date versions of my book’s many files were being automatically saved remotely and on all my office computers.

box.net_iconBox.net supplies similar functionality to Dropbox, except that it doesn’t have a desktop client. The free Box.net service is limited to 1GB of web-storage and a rather paltry 25MB file size limit. Paid plans are available, but they are less generous than Dropbox’s. Since Dropbox added file sharing features I don’t use Box.net much, but it offers a simple way to provide sharing of files with others and another 1GB of free web-storage is not to be sniffed at. The mobile app makes it easy to share a file via email.

square-logoSquare, app free, card transaction fees extra
Square is a neat inexpensive way to easily accept card payments for small amounts (up to $60). On the iPad you can create lists of the items or services you sell. It took me just a few minutes to set up Square for selling my book three ways—paperback, ebook, or combo—at a presentation or trade show. When you sign up for the service, Square sends you a free card reader that plugs into your iPad or iPhone. You can also process cash sales and send receipts to a buyer’s email address. Square provides a complete downloadable record of all your sales.

Square charges reasonable card fees: 2.75% + $0.15 for a swiped card and 3.5% + $0.15 for a keyed-in card. These are the only charges for the service; there’s no monthly fee or minimum and no contract or merchant account required. This would be a great app for selling promotional items at events.

goodreader-logoGoodReader, $0.99
GoodReader is an inexpensive app that allows you to transfer large files to your mobile device, by Wifi or from an Internet cloud server, and reliably view them. Like the Dropbox viewer, it supports a wide range of file formats. Unlike other mobile file readers, GoodReader has no problem rapidly opening, displaying, and responsively scrolling through the 350-page ebook version of Conferences That Work and other large files I’ve thrown at it.

instapaper_logo1Instapaper, free, Pro version $4.99
Overwhelmed by cool articles on the web that you don’t have time to read right now, but don’t want to forget? Instapaper can help! Just set up a free account, add Instapaper’s <Read Later> bookmarklet to your browser’s toolbar and click it to save any webpage for later viewing. While you’re waiting for your car to be fixed, open the Instapaper app and browse an optimized text-version (nice) or the full graphics version of the pages you’ve saved.

The Pro version is optimized for the iPad, and adds some features I don’t need, but I’ve had no problem running the free iPhone version on my iPad.

TweetDeck_LogoTweetDeck, free
Until Twitter comes out with a free version of Tweetie (at which point I’ll reconsider) my favorite Twitter client for the iPad is Tweetdeck. It makes full use of the iPad screen, showing two columns in portrait and three in landscape mode. The URL shortener works reliably, though I miss the tweetshrink button available in the desktop version that’s useful when a tweet is just a few characters too long.

AdobeIdeasLogoAdobe Ideas, free, iPad only
Need to make a rough sketch? Give Adobe Ideas a whirl. What you draw is vector-based, so you can enlarge or reduce drawing elements with getting an attack of the jaggies. It’s easy to zoom the canvas too, so you can make it larger if your drawing gets more complicated than you originally expected. Separate drawing and photo layers allow you to annotate photos, which could be useful for adding notes to photos taken during a site visit. And a 50-level undo allows me to erase the frequent mistakes I make when I try and draw anything.

wifitrakWifiTrak, literally priceless!
On researching this useful app, which I purchased last year, I discovered that Apple, in March with very little explanation, removed all wifi access-point finders from the App store! (Luckily it is still available on my touch.) This is a shame, because the Wifi networks discovered by my iPod touch’s and iPad’s settings are only a subset of what these devices can actually connect to. WifiTrak is able to find useable access points that my iPod Touch otherwise does not see. I hope that this app will be restored to the Apps store so that you can take advantage of its superior performance.

beath_the_traffic_appBeat the Traffic (iPhone & Touch), Beat the Traffic HD (iPad), both free {No longer available as of September 2017}
What event professional doesn’t want to avoid backed up traffic while driving in town? This excellent app provides live traffic maps, showing traffic speeds and accidents in most major U.S. cities. It even includes live traffic cam feeds in places! A touch can only use the app if it’s connected by Wifi; not very practical while driving. I don’t recommend Beat the Traffic for solo use while driving, but a passenger can help you avoid traffic snarls, and the twenty minute future traffic prediction available on the iPad version can be quite helpful.

evernote_logoEvernote, free, Premium service $5/month or $45/year
Evernote is my go-to application for capturing information I want to be able to find in the future. I use it mainly for web pages, but it will file text notes, pdfs, spreadsheets, photos, voice memos, and screenshots too. Evernote clients are available for most mobile and desktop operating systems. Everything captured is made searchable—you can add your own tags if you like—and can be stored in specific categories (“notebooks”) if desired. The iPad version takes full advantage of the large screen. Your notes are stored on Evernote’s servers and locally and are synced to your mobile device and to Mac OS X and Windows computers running an Evernote client.

You can upload up to 40MB per month (with a maximum single note size of 25MB) using the free Evernote service, and this has always been adequate for me. The Premium service raises the upload maximum to 500MB/month with a maximum single note size of 50MB, and can store any kind of file.

iTalk logoiTalk Lite, free, not officially supported for the iPad but seems to work just fine
Want to record a conversation, a speech, or the amazing jazz quartet that’s playing at your event?
This useful app turns your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad into a high-quality recording device that’s very easy to use. There’s a iTalk Premium version for $1.99 that omits small ads and doesn’t limit the size of a recording that can be emailed. The app includes iTalk Sync, which allows you to transfer your recordings to a desktop computer via Wifi. If you have a touch, you’ll need a microphone and I highly recommend the $25 Belkin TuneTalk Stereo which plugs in to the dock connector and provides amazing quality for such an inexpensive device.

WeatherBugLogoWeatherBug Elite for iPad, free
This is currently the best weather app I’ve found for the iPad. Everything is available from one well-designed screen: weather current conditions, forecasts, animated radar, temperature, windspeed and pressure maps, live weather cam images and more. There’s an iPhone/touch version that I haven’t tried. I downloaded the big kahuna app in this category, The Weather Channel, which looks gorgeous but crashes repeatedly on my iPad and doesn’t display animated maps correctly.

There they are, my favorite 13 apps for event professionals. Which apps do you like? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to disagree, suggest alternatives, and correct any errors that may have crept into this review!

A potential drawback to hybrid events

Virtual audience 603737821_e39a2d268d_o

Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz in the events industry about what are being called hybrid events where there are two audiences: people physically present, the local audience, and people connected to the event remotely, via Twitter, chat, audio, and video streams, the remote audience.

Event planners are excited about this new event model because it has the potential to increase:

  • overall audiences
  • interaction between attendees
  • exposure for the event
  • exposure for event sponsors and the hosting organization
  • the value of attendee experience through new virtual tools
  • the likelihood that a remote attendee will become a face-to-face attendee in the future

Because of these positives, I think it’s likely that events that include local and remote audiences will become more popular over time, as we gain experience about what formats work and become proficient at resolving the technical issues involved in successfully hosting these event environments.

But there’s one thing we may lose if we add a remote audience to our events.

At the face-to-face conferences I run, attendees start by agreeing to a set of ground rules. These ground rules create an environment where participants can speak freely and ask questions without worrying that their individual statements or viewpoints will be revealed outside the event.

It’s hard to convey the difference this assurance makes to the climate at Conferences That Work unless you’ve attended one. The level of intimacy, learning, and community is significantly raised when people feel safe to ask “stupid” questions and share sensitive information with their peers.

I’m not sure that it’s possible to create the same environment of trust when an unseen remote audience joins the local participants. Believing that everyone will adhere to a set of ground rules is risky enough when everyone who agrees is in the same room as you. To sustain the same trust when an invisible remote audience is added is, I think, a significant stretch for many people. If I’m right, the end result of opening up a conference to a remote audience may be a reversion to the more common environment of most conferences today, where asking a question may be more about defining status than a simple request to learn or understand something new.

Do you think that hybrid events can be designed so that they are still safe places for people to ask questions and share around sensitive issues? Or do you think I’m over-blowing the whole issue?