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 UPDATED: The Paperless Conference Binder – Using Tablet Computers and iPads at Events

©2012 Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP

Meeting planners need to track a myriad of details at events (catering orders/guarantees, room/AV sets, staffing, exhibitor requirements, registration numbers, decorator details, entertainment, speaker requirements, transportation details, VIP requirements just to name a few). Meeting planners also spend much time at an event on their feet without easy access to computer files.

Consequently, meeting planners have commonly printed out key logistics documents including contracts, BEOs, and supplier arrangements to carry around in thick, heavy 3-ring binders – sometimes call “event bibles” containing all the event details. Planners regularly consult these “bibles” to make notations such as changes in meal guarantees, actual meal counts, schedule changes, etc. in order to keep a clear record of all activities, changes and problems occurring at an event.

As paper documents are heavy, difficult to search, difficult to back-up, difficult to share with multiple stakeholders, and require chopping down trees, there is a huge need to improve this process for planners.

Fortunately, with the advent of tablet computers such as the iPad, Kindle Fire, Android tablets and more than 100 other tablet computer providers, this problem is rapidly going away. Tablet computers have a large, high resolution screens that are perfect to view spreadsheets, event orders, and other event documents. The touchscreens are intuitive and easy to use. They are fast (instant on),sleek, light (the iPad weighs about 1.4 pounds/.65Kg) making them easy to carry around and access at an event.

And the best news is that there are hundreds of thousands of apps available, many of them for low cost or free. Many of them can help planners transition from paper-based to digital document management at events. Listed below are some of my favorites

Conversion to PDF:
The best method for viewing a variety of documents on iPads is PDF (Adobe’s Portable Document Format). PDF is the most widely used iPad document format; it locks in the original document formatting; it keep documents in their original form while allowing the ability to annotate and make notes using document readers mentioned below.

The conversion of Microsoft Office documents into PDF is a simple process. For the person managing most of the documents (the document administrator), a strong PDF conversion tool such as PDF Creator (US$34.99) should be used as it has a number of desktop tools and shortcuts to make this process very fast and easy.  There are also more basic free tools to do this as well (such as CutePDF).

If needed, there are also document scanners to convert existing paper document to PDF as well. Many that can accomplish this task are reviewed in this article.

Cloud-based Storage:

Dropbox
A cloud-based storage system such as Dropbox is recommended to move documents from your desktop to you tablet device.  The free  version starts at 2.5GB of storage which can be increased by inviting your colleagues to use it as well. Dropbox provides100GB of storage, enough for tens to hundreds of thousands of documents for US$9.95/month.   The iPad and Android tablet apps are free. The beauty of Dropbox is that it integrates with a number of other document management tools listed below. Additionally, all standard Microsoft Office documents are viewable on the iPad using Dropbox. 

To use, simply drag the files you wish to sync into the Dropbox folder (as you would any other file folder on your desktop/laptop computer). Any file dropped in this folder will sync automatically with the Dropbox folders installed on your other devices.

You can allow others access selected components of this folder if desired, making it very easy to share large files or to collaborate on documents together.

All standard Word, Excel, PowerPoint and .PDF files in a Dropbox folder can be viewed (but not edited) using the iPad or several other mobile devices.

For Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, Android, Blackberry systems

Document Readers/Notetaking Apps: 

GoodReader
As mentioned previously, all standard Microsoft Office documents are viewable on the iPad using Dropbox. However, in order to annotate or take notes on the documents, documents should be converted to PDF.

 A document reader will be needed to simplify and organize these tasks. GoodReader  (US$4.99) is an excellent iPad app for this. GoodReader is a file viewer supporting PDF and TXT files and can handle most other file types: MS Office -.doc, .ppt, .xls,(.docx, pptx, .xlsx), iWork ‘08/’09, HTML, and Safari webarchives, images, and audio/video files.

GoodReader has an excellent search utility allowing users to search folders and sub-folders to locate files. It can search by name, recently read, recently added, and starred files. The “Find Files” search capability is quite fast and efficient.

This app is very good for managing multiple documents and folders. Also, the ability to annotate, highlight, and take notes on PDF files is very strong. Planners can view PDF files on the iPad, to make comments, to highlight text, and save it back to Dropbox for future analysis, discussion and sharing.  It also integrates with Dropbox.

PaperPort Notes for the iPad
A free reader that does a number of the same tasks is  
PaperPort Notes is a very robust, free note taking tool for the iPad. Features allow users to:

  • take typed and/or free hand notes quickly and easily
  • use Dragon voice recognition to capture ideas and notes simply by speaking
  • use annotative tools to quickly markup documents
  • add audio page-by-page comments within the written notes
  • combine full documents, individual pages, content from the web and notes into a single document.
  • employ powerful search, copy/paste, reordering and bookmarking tools allow you to quickly navigate your notes while staying organized
  • access and share content using your favorite cloud storage services

It also integreates with Dropbox.

Evernote is a great, free note-taking app syncs seamlessly with your computer, phone, tablet computer and the web.  Features include the ability to:

  • sync all notes across the computers and devices you use
  • create and edit text notes, to-dos and task lists
  • save, sync and share files
  • record voice and audio notes
  • search for text inside images
  • organize notes by notebooks and tags
  • email notes and save tweets to your Evernote account
  • connect Evernote to other apps and products you use
  • share notes with friends and colleagues via Facebook and Twitter
  • take photos and link to these notes

This app is perfect for a site inspection, using the iPad to take photos of the meeting rooms with voice notes and text annotation and is very useful as a general note taking tool as well. Price: Free for iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and WebOS

Penultimate (US$0.99) is a great tool for taking notes by hand on a tablet using a stylus. Pentultimate also integrates with Dropbox.

Document editors; 
There may be a need to acutually edit Microsoft documents, rather than just annote PDF files. Here are a few options to do so:

Office2 HD is an inexpensive (US$7.99) option to accomplish this. This gives users the ability to open, view, create and edit Word (DOC & DOCX), Excel (XLS & XLSX), and PowerPoint (PPT & PPTX) files on the iPad. Office2 HD also integrates with Dropbox. This option is recommended for basic editing only and is not recommended for heavy duty data entry or complex document creation. 

DocumentsToGo was originally developed for the iPhone, this app is much better suited for tablets with larger screens. With DocumentsToGo, tablet computers users can:
  • view, edit and create Microsoft Word, Excel PowerPoint files
  • view Adobe PDF files
  • view, edit and sync files stored in Google® Docs, Box.net, Dropbox, and cloud-based storage systems.
  • view and edit email attachments
  • use automated 2-way file synchronization with included desktop application with version revision history.

The downside is that this product requires an internet connection access the documents. Price: US$9.99 for both iPad and Android OS.

iWork Pages is a streamlined word processor allows user to open, edit, save and email Microsoft Word files or convert them to RFT, PDF or .EPUB files. It also allows you to share your work on the web using iWork.com cloud storage. Instead of printing out the Word document to carry around, Pages allows planners to access and edit them on the go using tablet computers. Price: US$9.99 for iPad only.

iWork Numbers does the same thing for Microsoft Excel spreadsheet as Pages does for Word allowing users to edit, save and email Microsoft Excel files or convert them to RFT, PDF or .EPUB files. Spreadsheets can be great project management tools to use at events. Numbers will allow planner immediate access to them at an event. Price: US$9.99 iPad only.

Other helpful apps:

Voice-to-text dictation:
Dragon Dictation is an easy-to-use voice recognition application that allows you to speak into the microphone of your mobile device instantly converting your voice to text content. This can be used for note taking at events, dictation and other options. The recognition accuracy rate is quite high if you speak clear, accent-free English in a relatively quiet environment. Price: Free for iPad and iPhone

Room diagramming:

Total is designed for real estate appraisers and agents, this tool could be used by planners during a site inspection. It allows for very precise room dimension diagraming. You can take notes, attach photos, and use a free-hand drawing tool as well. Price: Free for iPad, iPhone, Android, and Tablet PC

Project Management:

eTask is a simple online, mobile project management tool with features including the ability for you and your teammates to:

  • track leads
  • maintain client information
  • manage projects
  • track tasks and time
  • establish and maintain employee timesheets

Project management tools are a natural for events that have lots of timeline and project elements. This is one many emerging tools to help with this.
Price: Free for first month, $10/month/user thereafter for iPad and iPhone

Asana is a free (for up to 30 members) shared task list/to-do list management application for teams to manage projects and events. It is very simple to use and could be quite helpful to monitor and manage group activity and establish deadlines. It also integrates with Dropbox using integration apps such as Zapier.

Video conferencing:
Skype
 is a widely-used free app has full iPad integration for free one-to-one video conferencing.

PowerPoint slide presentations:
SlideShark is a free app for viewing and sharing PowerPoint presentations on the iPad with animations, fonts, colors and graphics intact.

Screen sharing: 
JoinMe is a free app that allows remote viewing of a computer screens, sharing ideas and collaborate in real time.

Technology site inspections:
TechSpec is a free app for iPads, iPhones and Android devices to assist meeting planners assess hotel technology capabilities. Developed by Jim Spellos and myself with the support of QuickMobile

These are just a few of the many apps available to help meeting professionals. There are many, many more to come with increasingly specialized applications for event professionals emerging daily.  Already, there are companies such as Ootoweb and Active Network  providing iPad apps to integrate with their online registration and attendee managements systems. Many more are coming! Increasingly, meeting planners are trading in their thick three-ring binders full of paper for tablets and are coming into this century in how to manage event data while running events.

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a speaker and independent consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site: www.corbinball.com and followed at: www.twitter.com/corbinball





 

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