Event technology can provide a bewildering range of choices for the meeting planner. A good place to start making sense of the range of options is to look at how software can be utilized at the various stages of the event lifecycle.
This series has been looking at the the lifecycle from the point of view of an association’s annual conference. We are now at the point of looking at tools that can help you in your day-to-day work in the months leading up to the conference. About the time of your previous annual conference, you may have already opened up the call for papers for your next meeting.
Developing Your Conference Program Schedule
After this process is complete and your speakers are selected, you need to move to the next phase of building your program schedule. Building the conference schedule is one of most challenging jobs a planner faces. Many things need to be taken into consideration – room availability, travel plans, A/V, speaker requirements, time conflicts, and so on. On top of this, planners are typically barraged by many changes, including a number of last minute headaches. Even worse, hundreds of files often need to managed include speaker photos and Power Points.
Many planners are currently managing this process in a way that does not help the cause. Typically, their “tools” often consist of little more than speaker “surveys,” spreadsheets, word docs and, of course, post-its. Fortunately, the latest in speaker management software automates much of this into one unified database. The best speaker management products offer the following tools that will help build your schedule:
- Online speaker portal page. If you have a call for papers, your prospective speakers should have a place where they can fill out the intake forms. After the speaker is selected, however, you will probably need to collect additional information such a travel needs, AV, disclosures and so forth. Your speaker management software should be able to seamlessly update the portal page to manage this new information.
- Unlimited file uploads. Speakers should be able to upload as many files as needed. These files typically include Power Points, photos and so forth.
- Support for Co-Speakers. These people should also have a place to enter their data and upload their files.
- Handling exceptions. Sometimes speakers need to withdraw or make changes. Your administrator should be able to note such changes and update a status of a speaker to an interim state such as “Withdrawn.”
- Lock down and track fields. When a speaker is accepted, it is typical to limit changes to the proposal. For example, you may not want the speaker to change the title of the presentation. Similarly, you may want to be notified of all changes as well as view a log of all updates.
- Email Communications. You should be able to use mass Emails to keep your speakers up to date on what you need. The Email text should be totally customizable, with personalized mail merge tags available so speakers can read their key information directly from the message. You will probably need to send target blasts, such as to those speakers who have not completed new required fields.
- Create Time Slots. When it is time to build your schedule, the tool should allow you to create any time slot you need in addition to the general sessions and breakouts. Other possibilities, include registration and exhibit hall hours, poster sessions, round tables, meals and so forth.
- Assign Sessions to Time Slots. Your speaker management software should allow you to assign the corresponding sessions to the time slots. Great products will even allow you to validate that the speaker and his/her co-presenters are not speaking elsewhere at the same time.
- Publish the Schedule. Once you have created the schedule you should be able to make it available to all interested parties. Capable software will allow you do many things with the schedule including producing a Word document that you can send to your printer (if you are still using one!), display schedule on your website, make available to your mobile app, and tie to your online registration forms. Access to imported files, such as photos and Power Points, should be part of this process.
- API access. If you have IT or marketing help, an API (Application Program Interface) allows those developers to pull data from the speaker management software in real-time to display on your website or send to internal systems, such as your CRM.
- Rinse and do again! Only if you are anointed (or the meeting is small) will your schedule not change. You should be able to make updates after it is published, with the changes being immediately reflected on your online and mobile platforms.