Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

December 14 2012

Working Smarter: Head in the Cloud

By Timothy J. La Fleur, CMP

With the binder-vs-tablet debate raging on, one meeting professional decides to go paper-free. And doesn’t look back.

Two years after Apple introduced the iPad, the binder-vs.-tablet debate continues to rage, with meeting professionals falling on either side. I made the switch a year ago, ditching paper event specs in favor of my Motorola Xoom. I’ve done five events since then, and have loved every minute of being paper-free.

If you’re thinking about following suit, you should approach this transition with the understanding that a tablet is much more than just a device on which to view your event specs. About a year and a half ago, I decided to create an approach that would allow me not only to view my specs on my tablet and phone, but also to edit documents, see specified reports, and keep real-time event information along with budget actuals. And all that information would be available to my clients, suppliers, facility, and event team, flowing seamlessly across all our electronic devices via cloud networking.

Really Real-Time

I took the first beta version of this approach on site at the Palais des congrès de Montréal last March for a 7,000-person, breakout-heavy association meeting, and was able to view all my event specs - including contracts, BEOs, and floor plans—from my mobile devices. I didn’t have a tablet yet, so I ran everything from the four-inch screen of my Android smartphone. Data consumption was tricky, but by using the caching ability of Dropbox, the multitasking functionality built into my Android, and the ThinkFree Office suite, I was able to effectively manage the entire show from my phone.

Among many other things, I was able to record actual F&B numbers - such as attendee room counts and spend, accounting for any food item that was to be charged on consumption—directly into my specs on one of my devices. From there I was instantly given percentages of guarantee vs. actual attendance numbers as well as variances of actual F&B spend vs. the forecasted F&B spend.

Thanks to the cloud, this information was instantly synced with all my other devices, including my laptop, along with my client’s devices, giving my client real-time meeting information. In a culture in which knowledge is power, this real time data has proven to be invaluable both for myself as the planner and for my clients, allowing them to be completely up to speed on the progress of their meeting.

Looks Great Off Paper

Over the last year and a half that I’ve spent working to figure out how to use mobile technology effectively, I’ve come to appreciate just how invaluable a paper-free toolbox can be for planners— especially when it comes to:

  • Knowing that an app allows me to sign and/or call out edits to PDFs (such as contracts and BEOs) from my phone or tablet without ever having to print them out.
  • Being able not only to note on a floor plan during a walk through exactly where I want to relocate security guards, F&B locations, and VIP seating arrangements on a floor plan, but also to share that information with my colleagues without having to print it out, mark it up, scan it, and then email it to them.

These are just two of the many ways that mobile can make a meeting professional more productive and efficient—both during the planning phase of a meeting and on site.

Take Away

Before You Plug In Switching from paper to tablet can bring challenges. First, you need to know how to use the applications on your tablet that will power your event specs file and other information platforms. You also need to become comfortable with working off a tablet screen as opposed to paper, and not always physically writing event notes with a pen but instead making notes directly to online files. Understanding how your cloud network works in relation to Internet connectivity and how it caches data is also important.

Training on a truly mobile approach - available from a variety of sources - is a must. But your time and effort will be rewarded in cost savings on time and supplies, along with increased accuracy and flow of information. Not to mention relieving the heavy binders from your already tired arms.

More Resources:
Read Convene’s initial Working Smarter article on “Binders vs. Tablets” at http://bit.ly/Convene-tablet.  

Working Smarter is sponsored by PSAV Presentation Services, www.psav.com.
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