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Meetings software that works for you.

Meetings represent a significant source of nondues income for many associations. As experienced meeting managers can tell you, controlling costs is a key factor in producing a successful meeting.

Managing people and organizing events are equally important in producing a meeting that is memorable and that sends members away feeling that their association addresses their needs. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of meeting and event management software packages on the market today.

Meeting and event management software has three primary components: administration, registration and event control, and reporting.

Meeting administration monitors the functions required to set up a meeting. These include establishing key hotel contacts and phone numbers, setting up financial interfaces, and establishing user-defined event and session parameters.

An event can be a dinner, general session, golf outing, or any other function that brings people together. A session can occur within an event. For example, different educational tracks at the same conference would be different sessions within the same event. Everything that happens in the meeting administration area is designed to register attendees and account for both money and people.

Capturing information

Most systems have a link to a central data base so they can capture registrants' names and addresses and other information electronically. This linkage is valuable because individuals considered membership prospects can be identified during registration and the association can quickly follow up on them if their names, addresses, telephone numbers, and areas of interest are captured and assembled into a marketing list.

The next important series of functions deals with registration and event control. Software features, for example, may include establishing attendance limits within each event and assigning registrants to a waiting list when the attendance limit is reached. In some organizations, this also refers to the assignment and posting of the continuing education credits earned by those at an educational event.

Features should also include on-line batch controls for payment posting. The system should prompt the user for the correct payment amount based on the events the attendee has selected. In the case of overpayments or underpayments, the system should automatically generate either a check request or invoice.

Tracking programs

Some meeting management systems also have program development tracking submodules. This feature makes it possible to tabulate performance ratings for an instructor or speaker, track courses and materials, provide the status of a course, and interface to a word processor for generating standard letters.

It's also critical to track attendance at meetings through an interface with individual member records. In essence, after a meeting has concluded, you should be able to post a meeting attendance credit to an individual member's data base record. This function greatly enhances an association's ability to target future mailings on educational events. You also want to be able to track the consumption of services by individuals who are either members or who represent member entities.

The reason meeting reporting has been selected as an independent subject is its importance as part of a meeting management system. A well-written meeting management system should be able to

* Interface with a word-processing system for generating personalized confirmation letters, badges (where appropriate), tickets, and personalized correspondence. In many systems an interface exists so that specialized graphics software can be integrated for producing badges and tent cards.

* Generate registration rosters and labels by event and session, along with waiting list reports; cancellation reports, with any penalties linked both to accounts receivable, for invoice processing, and to accounts payable for refund processing; and event and session statistical reports.

* Link registrants with their guests via special reports.

* Create and print a meeting roster of directors or download that information for production by an outside printer. Some systems also provide housing control reports.

* List registrants by date of registration. Keeping track of the date of registration becomes very critical in accommodating members who wish to attend certain meetings.

* Add notes to a registrant's record, which allows an association to serve attendees who have special dietary requests or need other nonstandard arrangements. A quality meeting management system should possess features that allow the staff to ensure that all member and attendee needs are taken care of promptly.

Managing exhibits

Exhibit management software tends to be a specialized module and is only relevant to associations that promote and manage exhibits and exhibitors.

An exhibit management module manages three things: people, booth space, and contracts. Many of the features of a registration and event control module, as described above, are normally part of an exhibit management module. It is important to note that you are dealing with both exhibitors and meeting attendees, and that each of these groups needs to be managed separately.

In exhibition management, flexibility is the key. The rules of exhibition management may change, depending on the organization, city, or event, and the software needs to be able to keep up.

Exhibit space management is also very important. The ability to calculate room sizes and then create the optimal layout was formerly available only on specialized systems. Many new systems now provide this capability.

Booth assignment is another key feature, especially if exhibitor rules relate to booth assignments. For example, does the association use a first-registered, lottery, or point system for assigning booths? Do exhibit rules restrict the placement of competitors' booths? Are there restrictions on booth size?

Payment reconciliations are also important for a trade show management system. Some exhibitors want additional features in their booths. Some end up acquiring additional space or reconfiguring space during the exhibit or just prior to the exhibit.

Contact management--the ability of the show provider to provide an exhibitor with a list of key contacts for follow-up--is an area of growing importance. A number of different systems on the market that manage contacts will be discussed in a future article.

The primary feature to look for in meeting management software is enough flexibility to meet the needs of the user. It also pays to test a variety of packages before deciding on the software that is right for your organization.

Maynard H. Benjamin, CAE, is executive vice president of the Envelope Manufacturers Association of America, Alexandria, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Technology at Work
Author:Benjamin, Maynard H.
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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