Are high-tech tools truly enabling us to do our jobs faster, cheaper and more efficiently? Consider the cost of a transaction with your bank. If you visit your branch, the transaction costs the bank $1.07. If you use the phone, the cost drops to 68 cents. Via an ATM it's 27 cents; if you bank online, it's a scant 10 cents.
But what does this mean to today's special event professional? Is the Palm Pilot or Blackberry you were given last Christmas making your life easier, or is it still sitting in the box it came in?
There are a dizzying number of high-tech devices out there, and the new versions just keep on coming. But once you get ahead of the learning curve, high-tech tools can free you up to be as creative as possible in designing special events.
THE WONDERS OF WIRELESS
In the past several years, we have moved from pagers being the acme of personal wireless technology to gadgets that Mr. Spock would envy. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) have evolved from electronic date books to full-functioning computers that fit in your pocket.
If you haven't yet read the manual that came with that PDA, consider this: Your handheld can take care of your e-mail, address book, calendar, calculator and expense tracking, plus shoot photos for you. In addition, programs are available for site checklists and conference schedules.
PDAs such as the Palm and Sony models can handle a huge array of tasks (for example, add-on modules are available for MP3 player and cell-phone capabilities) but they don't offer direct Microsoft Windows applications. Windows-based Pocket PCs — such as models from Casio and the Compaq iPAQ (which I use) — handle the myriad Windows applications. Although the Palm system has a large share of the market, don't let it scare you away from considering the Pocket PCs. (Remember Lotus 123, Word Perfect and Netscape Navigator, then think about Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Internet Explorer.)
Exciting as PDAs are now, watch for a flood of new devices that combine the full functionalities of pager, PDA and cell phone. We will send and receive e-mail, surf the Internet, find our way via GPS (global positioning system), and probably buy a soft drink from the corner vending machine using this all-in-one device. Kyocera, Ericsson, Samsung, and Nokia already have PDA phones on the market, and more are on the way.
INSTANT EVENT INFO
Watch for wireless access to become an even greater asset to events. Program information, announcements and news will beam to guests throughout the event venue via their wireless PDAs and Web phones. Personal meeting agendas and appointments with exhibitors will be downloaded to attendee calendars. Instant messaging and event-specific e-mail will allow us to find and communicate with one another, and to solicit participation in attendee polls. Will your guests be hungry on their free nights? Let them download information about local restaurants. Do you have to change the starting time of an event? Send an e-mail update with all the new information.
Have you ever felt your heart sink at the prospect of finding that one special someone at an event with 5,000 attendees? The Spotme device from Shockfish Communications is a small, programmable device that attendees wear; its “scan neighborhood” function allows users to find specific individuals. It can also be set to vibrate when a key contact walks by, even displaying that person's photograph. (Just remember this works both ways — be sure to find the “off” switch when you don't want to be found.)
A potential client rushes up to you at the event, eager to learn more about your work. If you download the free iPresentation technology from Presenter Inc., your Pocket PC can display a basic Power Point presentation. Going one step further, you can purchase enhancements that enable you to add video and audio to your presentation.
Special events are all about personal contact, but what if a key player simply cannot attend an event? The “teleportation” technology from Teleportec captures and transports life-size digital images of presenters as digital signals. The image of the person appears behind a podium, large enough for an audience of several hundred to see clearly. The teleporters and podiums can be shipped worldwide via air freight. The largest system displays a group of people head to toe, enabling celebrities or corporate leaders to make eye contact with guests in remote locations.
It's great to be able to access information, but it's even more important to understand it. Today's technology tools enable us to capture and analyze data — expenses, staffing needs and time constraints. This in turn enables event professionals to show the true value of events. It can mean the difference between being viewed as a strategic asset to a business or simply as the party planner.
Jeff Rasco is senior vice president of JRDaggett & Associates, strategic consultants and managers of “people-to-people” interactions. A 20-year veteran of the meetings profession, he is based in Austin and can be reached at 512/842-1613 or via e-mail at [email protected]. See this story on the Web at www.special events.com.
WEB SITES FOR TECH WANNABES
A wealth of Web sites await anyone who's ready to learn more about how high-tech can help.
FOR PALM USERS
www.palmgear.com Its tips and tricks section has shortcuts that will help new Palm users get up to speed.
www.nearlymobile.com More new user tips and suggestions for Palm users.
www.electricpocket.com And still more tips and suggestions for the Palm.
FOR POCKET PCS AND COMPATIBLES
www.tucows.com Downloads and reviews of almost everything!
www.Microsoft.com/mobile/pocketpc/default.asp Features, buyer's guide, downloads and how-to information.
www.compaq.com The site for iPAQ users.
www.casio.com Details on Casio's line of Pocket PCs.
AND MORE HELPFUL STUFF
www.shockfish.com Details on the Spotme device for tracking individuals.
www.teleportec Details on teleportation technology.
www.presenter.com More information on the iPresentation utility.