A few years ago, I created a workshop for Toronto Net Tuesday on event management and technology – trying to get nonprofit professionals who run occasional events – conferences, workshops, fundraisers ) but are not necessarily specialists to reflect on how technology can help them (and when it can’t) and how to go about selecting new tools. I conducted a survey with 50-odd events professionals beforehand, with a clear winning trend in the “most radical game-changer of the past 10 years” category: Internet everywhere, the Cloud and smartphones. However, the same respondents were pretty much all going back to pen and paper for “brainstorming, draft schedules, site sketches, meeting or interview notes, to-do lists & thank you notes.”
To prove the point, I’ve listed below all the tech and low-tech I’ve used on a recent event – a 2-day, 100-delegate industry conference that I planned and delivered for the Jazz Promotion Network. I was hot-desking in a co-working space, working remotely with colleagues in charge of programming. I’ve identified with a * apps or software that are free to use or that I already owned.
What I used on my own
- WordPress.org for conference details and updates
- Eventbrite to track registrations and sales (service charge) * (except service charge on paying tickets)
- MailChimp (setting up templates, creating segments, lots of tracking) * free up to 2,000 subscribers
- Twitter (I use TweetDeck for my own account, but I find that I don’t like so much to mix it with another account that I temporarily look after) *
- Microsoft Office 365 (mainly Excel to manage the registration master then Word to format the handouts to print) *
- Gmail (I synched my .org.uk professional address for the conference with a new Gmail account, so I could set up all the systems I’m used to – labels, Priority Inbox, and the much-maligned Streak that lets me know when people read an email) *
- Google Analytics to measure my campaign results *
- Google Forms for an online registration form and an upcoming feedback form – for the purpose of a small event, I find it infinitely easier to use than Survey Monkey *
- Yast (to track my project hours) *
- Facebook – not at all for the event (I didn’t have the capacity to manage both a Twitter and a Facebook account) but for social distraction as I was working on my own. I especially enjoy everything greyhound-related and the Donkey Sanctuary Facebook feed. *
What I didn’t use myself
- InDesign to create the delegate badges template – it looks so simple when a professional graphic designer whips up a layout in a few minutes, but it’s still a mystery to me.
What I used with the rest of the team
- Google Docs for collaborative documents (such as drafting a press release) *
- Dropbox for reference documents *
- Skype (much more often that “normal” phone calls) *
What was decidedly more arts & crafts than digital
- Guillotine and scissors to cut the paper badges *
- Laminator to make nice solid badges (double-sided to avoid the inevitable twist to the dark side) *
- Punch-hole – again for the badges * (all supplies and machines kindly provided by London Jazz Festival and Manchester Jazz Festival)
What called for pen-and-paper
- To-do lists updated daily on a new page of my notebook
- Notes taken in meetings or during phone / Skype conversations
- Scribbles (also during phone calls)
- Quick drafts (usually continued in Google Docs)
- Sketches of layouts and floor plans
On the day
- The conference venue had free wifi, which is always handy, but rather strangely very bad phone reception, which could have been more inconvenient if the event hadn’t been so self-contained.
- I had an internal wireless phone so I could pretend to radio the venue’s operations team
- And we had to endure typical teething problems with Powerpoint that were easily fixed with a bit of Microsoft-whispering magic
I still remember being bewildered by MailChimp back in 2009 – and now I find it perfectly normal to set up my own templates, integrate with Twitter and generally speaking use most features available in an intuitive manner, without wasting any time (except when I tried to merge two accounts – unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be possible). I use far less pen-and-paper compared to only a couple of years ago, and I got completely used to working in a remote manner (although I need to be part of a social space, like a café or a co-working space, at least some of of the time).
For comparison, in 2006/7 I was working on another, larger conference, using a very clunky CRM software (Act!) and an unreliable company server, making file sharing a high-risk exercise. From 2007 to 2009, I coordinated the Manchester Jazz Festival with a pay-as-you-go mobile phone that was always running out of credit in the middle of a crisis call and with access to emails only in the physical office – about 30 minutes’ walk from the festival site. The festival operations relied vitaly on a 5-drawer filing cabinet that contained all the necessary information – contracts, schedules… I also think that I was sending newsletters via Outlook, so it probably wasn’t very pretty.
We have come a very long way!
While I have used more tech than the above in my life – such as volunteer management software, which I seem to love to talk about – I have borrowed the title for this rather prosaic post from a touring Mammalian Diving Reflex’s production called “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had” recently presented at Luminato Festival 2014.