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

May 3, 2012

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 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

Low cost apps to replace the paper conference binder at events:


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,, 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
This 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 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
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.

PaperPort Notes for the iPad
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

This product is especially strong to annotate Adobe .PDF documents – the type of file that iPad natively handle well.

Price: Free, iPad only

This great note taking tool 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

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

This file sharing and synching utility allows users to create a sync files connecting all of your devices. The 
free  version starts at 2.5GB of storage which can be increased by inviting your colleagues to use it as well.

To use, simply drag the files you wish to sync into the Dropbox folder (as you would any other file folder on your 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.

I personally drag my PowerPoint deck and videos for my presentations to Dropbox before I fly out as a simple, easy backup in case of lost or stolen computer problems as these files are also accessible via the Dropbox web portal.

Price: Free for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, Android, Blackberry systems

Task 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

Dragon 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

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: and followed at:


1980-2012 – A 30+ Year Timeline of Meetings Technology Innovation

March 21, 2012

Technology changes in the past three decades have been astonishing for both the meetings industry and for society in general. To see how far we have come, I felt it would be helpful to put together this chronological list of significant technology milestones with societal technology events in “black” and meetings industry innovations in “red.”  These list is far from comprehensive. Send me your major meetings technology milestones to include!

Worldwide, the number of computers in use is 1 million.

Conferon develops a system of wireless headsets and beepers for meetings that is designed to improve on-site communication. This is before the widespread use of portable radios.

Several registration companies (Galaxy Information Services, CompuSystems, and Registration Control Systems) offer basic computerized badge production and lead retrieval (via embossed plastic “credit” cards) to the trade show industry. Before these cards, exhibitors wrote down attendees’ badge numbers, which the registration company later matched to the contact information.

Galaxy provides the first computerized on-site registration. Using 12 registration stations transmitting over one 1,200-baud modem, this innovation eliminated the need for an on-site mainframe computer.

Ray Shaw of Intermedia in Brisbane Australia imported U.S. computer components to build a CP/M computer. He wrote “Camputer” which lead to Version 1 of EVENTS which eventually became Amlink. A 400-person conference was run on Events V1 during the year. The original program was a flat database, produced nametags, rooming lists, reports and confirmation letters. It took about a week to set up the software for each conference.

Commodore VIC-20 hits the market — the first color computer for less than US$300 — and sells more than 1 million units. The monitor was a TV set, the storage was a cassette tape, and the “killer apps” were video games.

IBM releases the first personal computer

MeetingPro, the first database software for the meeting industry, is released for continuing medical education events, enabling personalized confirmation letters, big-print name badges, accurate attendance lists, and basic market tracking. This product was later renamed as PeopleWare.

Compression Labs begins selling US$250,000 video conference systems with US$1,000 per hour line charges.

Eric Orkin launches Delphi Management Systems, the first comprehensive meetings and group sales, marketing, and catering software for the hospitality industry. It became Newmarket Software in 1985.

Events V2 (which eventually became Amlink) was rewritten in PL1. This reduced the customization time to less than a day per event. This was run on a 24-user MP/M computer which connected to a Compugraphic typesetter to produce abstract books, conference publications etc.

Apple releases the Macintosh Computer, the first widely produced computer with a mouse and a graphical user interface.

Galaxy ran 120 tradeshow registration workstations from a single microcomputer built by Digital Systems Corporation

Events V3 (which eventually became Amlink) was demonstrated a Technicongress in Paris. This was the first meeting planning software suite seen in Europe.

Microsoft releases Windows 1.0 in is initially sold for $100.

CD-ROMs is released with the ability to store 270,000 papers of text on a single disk.

The first Internet domain name is registered by Symbolics, a Massachusetts computer company on March 15, 1985

Phoenix Solutions releases MeetingTrak 1.0, another very early meeting planning relational database product.

The first badge making software, PCNametag, is introduced at MeetingWorld in New York. Using a dot-matrix printer, it could produce 120 badges per hour. Attendees lined up three deep to see the product.

The first IBM PC virus in the wild was a boot sector virus call Brain.

The first commercial mailing list program called LISTSERV is developed by Eric Thomas.

Compaq introduced the first 386-based PC compatible computer.

MeetingMatrix, the first room diagramming software created and released by E.J. Siwek.

Meeting Industry Microcomputer Users Group is formed by Judith Mathews. For several years, MIMUG met before the annual meeting of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). The tabletop software displays were among the first technology education for the meeting industry.

The first association focusing on meeting technology is formed. The association, its name lost to history, lasted about two weeks before being co-opted by MPI to become the Computer Special Interest Group.

PowerPoint 1 (originally called Presenter) is released. It provided only black-and-white images, had only one transition, and ran only on Macs.

IBM and Sears joint “videotext” venture starts operation under the PRODIGY name.

1D barcodes emerge as the first generation of paper-based automated lead systems for tradeshows.

Sixteen hotel chains contribute $100,000 each to fund a startup company, The Hotel Industry Switch Co., to electronically link the global distribution system companies, such as Sabre, with hotels’ computerized reservation systems. THISCO eventually became Pegasus, and now processes more than 300 million transactions per month.

From 1987 to 1989, the global number of fax machines more than doubles to 2.5 million units.

The number of computers in use worldwide reaches 100 million units.

The Internet bulletin-board system Quantum Computer Services acquires a new name, America Online (AOL). From 1989 to 1998, AOL grew from 100,000 members to more than 14 million members.

PCNametag and LasersEdge develop software for laser-printer badges.

McNametag, one of the few meeting-industry software programs ever written for the Macintosh computer, is released.


Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web.

Computer companies introduce notebook computers with advertisements showing happy users with their “freedom machines” by pool sides.

PlanSoft begins development of Ajenis, the first attempt to standardize meeting specification communications between meeting planners and hoteliers. The software eventually rolls out in 1995 but is not widely adopted, in part because of rising competition with early web-based tools.

School Home Office Products Association is the first group to use smart cards (plastic cards with integrated computer chips) for lead retrieval at its trade show.

At the start of 1993, the web had a total of 130 sites.

America Online and Delphi started to connect their proprietary email systems to the Internet, beginning the large scale adoption of internet email as a global standard.

Apple computer introduced the first PDA (personal digital assistant) called the Newton.

MPINet, the first online discussion group for meeting professionals, is created as a forum on CompuServe. The formation committee of 16 people met in December 1993, and the service went online the following month. It grew to more than 2,600 members before closing in 1997 losing ground to web-based forums.

Laurence Canter sent the first spam e-mail — “Green Card Lottery 1994 May be the Last One!! Sign up now!!” — creating a huge uproar in the internet community. As a result, Canter lost his job, and his Internet service provider cancelled his subscription.

To keep track of Web sites of interest to them, two Stanford students created “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” which soon was renamed Yahoo!.

The first software product to track meeting spend and sourcing is introduced by McGettigan Partners (now Maritz). This evolved into Core Discovery, originally provided only to McGettigan clients. In 1998, the company released an upgraded version with a web interface to the general public under the name Real-Planner. In 1999, this became a separate company, StarCite, with a package of Web-based sourcing, attendee management and spend-tracking solutions.

Registration Control Systems and Galaxy provide magnetic stripe cards for trade show lead retrieval.

The number of U.S. homes with one or more personal computers increased by 16% in 1995 to about 38 million households, up from 33 million in 1994 and 25 million in 1993.

Conferon creates a separate entity, PlanSoft (later known as Mpoint), the first comprehensive searchable meeting facilities online database and RFP (request for proposal) engine. This was a unique consortium of a privately held company (PlanSoft), two associations (MPI and the American Society of Association Executives), and three hotel companies (Marriott, Sheraton, and Hyatt). came online in 1997.

Reed’s InterMedia trade show is the first to use two-dimensional barcode paper-based lead badges, allowing exhibitors to extract full contact information directly from a badge.

Holiday Inn opened the first hotel Web site with online purchasing of sleeping rooms.

The first online meeting-registration tools emerge — all hand-coded by programmers.

Lee Travel took over Internet World Tradeshows to managing housing. They provided the first housing web site in 1996 to track room blocks and real time housing inventory. From Lee Travel grew in 1998, one of the major pioneering attendee management, housing and meetings consolidation products. Their product was originally called ERS – Event Reservation System and was one of the first template-driven housing and registration products. B-there was later purchased by StarCite.

Microsoft NetMeeting, a web collaboration tool, is released with Windows95, allowing people to use their computer to “meet” and work together from remote locations. It was soon joined by WebEx (1996), PlaceWare (1996), and others to provide audio, slides, screen-sharing and file-sharing collaboration capabilities.

The San Francisco Miyako Hotel (now the San Francisco Radisson) provided the first online request for proposal, built by Cardinal Communications.

Passkey, one of the first online housing companies, is founded by hotelier Bob Motley and Brian Layton. The first Passkey-enabled single property meeting was for the New Orleans Sheraton Hotel for 900 people in 1998.

Cardinal Communications creates the Meeting Industry Mall, the first Web-based interactive meeting industry portal. From this grew the MIMlist, the first listserv for meeting professionals.


Most of the major hotel corporations and meeting industry associations developed web sites.

The first template-based meeting registration tool is released by RegWeb by Cardinal Communications. This allowed planners to set up semi-customized registration pages without a web designer. This is the precursor to the thousands of meeting industry application service providers to follow.

Google opens workspace in a Menlo Park California garage in September and is recognized as one of the “Top 100 Websites” by PC Magazine in December 1998.

ExpoCardWeb started allowing exhibitors to access leads via a web-based tool. provides a free online meetings cost-analysis tool.

Lee Travel provided the first generation of an online integrated housing, registration, and air-booking product that incorporates zone fares.

In April 1998, the Open Source Summit event was held. This was a pivotal event significantly boosting the idea of free, publically developed (open-source) software. This has grown into a much lower price and faster software development model including the Linux and Android operating systems and hundreds of thousands of mobile applications.

Several pundits predict total a computer system collapse because of the Y2K bug (the inability of older computers to distinguish between the year 1900 and the year 2000). Almost no problems are encountered in the New Year, but fears lead to major system upgrades throughout the global corporate environment. became one of the first websites to offer “distressed inventory” — hotel meeting space and sleeping rooms — usually at short notice and at discounted rates.

September 1999 – launched one of the event planning application service provider (ASP) products (renting web-based applications versus software installed directly onto a computer), with online credit card acceptance for registration fees. at about the same time launched a consumer-oriented site, which was eventually purchased by Ticketmaster.

Sixty percent of U.S. households own at least one computer.

The LoveBug worm/virus infects 2.5 million PCs and causes an estimated $8.7 billion in damage.

Application service providers (ASPs) explode onto the meeting planning scene, fueled by enthusiastic venture capitalist funding. Several of these companies do not last past the bust in 2001.

The first virtual trade show, ExpoExchange, is held.

SpotMe presented its mobile networking device in London, allowing attendees to see pictures and contact information of people standing within 30 feet (10 meters). Session information, audience polling, surveys, attendee lists and more were later added. This was the precursor of many mobile event apps seen today.

GetThere Direct Meetings provided the first online group space reservation tool. This is followed in 2003 by other group room block reservation tools such as Groople and Hotel Planner, primarily for small meetings.

APEX (Accepted Practice Exchange) initiative is started by the Convention Industry Council, the first voluntary standards initiative for the meetings industry. 

Apple released the iPod, which became the most popular MP3 player in history leading to a disruptive and sweeping change in the music industry.

Wikipedia, the largest and most popular general reference site on the web was launched in 2001. It now has more than 17 million articles written collaboratively by volunteers around the world.

Use of online meeting and collaboration tools such as WebEx and PlaceWare (now Windows LiveMeeting) spiked after September 11 terrorist attack in New York.

November 12th: and TRX ResAssist offer the first online, real-time group air-booking products.

StarCite offers the first Web-based, two-way, real-time RFP tool for meeting space and rooms.

Growing numbers of attendees search online travel site such Expedia (launched in 1996), Travelocity (1996), Orbitz (2001), and others — to find low-cost hotel accommodations at events. Booking “outside the block” creates significant attrition problems for planners. In 2004, to combat the problem, Hilton launched its Group Reservations Identification Program, allowing planners to compare registration lists with hotel guest room reservations and thereby account for all attendees staying at the hotel.

Hyatt rolled out E-mmediate Meetings, an online meeting-booking tool designed for small meetings. From this came E-mmediate Response, the first real-time, two-way connection between an RFP site (in this case StarCite) and a hotel sales system.

Web-based business meetings matchmaking programs are developed. The first was Columbia Resource Group’s Rio product. Others to follow were IntroNetworks and ExpoExchange’s Smart Event.  Similar to the widely used social matchmaking programs, these programs assisted attendees to find people of like interests at meetings. These were the meeting industry precursors to Facebook and other social media sites.

Mobile web logs (MoBlogs) are first used in a meetings setting with technology companies leading the way.

Intel incorporated Wi-Fi (wireless internet receiving capability) in their Centrino chip opening a floodgate of wireless internet adoption in the next few years.

Web services standards were developed making it much easier for different online programs to share data through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).  This allowed online databases and software to become much faster and easier to develop.

In May, the amount of SPAM e-mail exceeded the amount of legitimate e-mail for the first time.

A number of strategic meetings management programs (then known as meetings consolidation products) were developed and refined.

Intellibadge was the first to use RFID (radio frequency identification) to track attendee movements in the exhibit hall and meeting rooms for IEEE meetings.

Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) wireless high speed internet access is deployed in more than 6,000 hotels,

The first product from APEX (the online glossary – was delivered. Many more products (voluntary standards) were later released including meeting history standards, site profile, requests for proposals, housing/registration, and green meetings.

Google indexed more than 8 billion pages on the web.

Facebook (limited to Harvard students only) started this year.

The number of online bookings for Hilton Hotel exceeded those of their call centers for the first time.

Two of the major meetings technology vendors, PlanSoft and SeeUThere, merge to form OnVantage  

YouTube, the first video sharing site came online in 2005 and has grown to one of the most popular sites on the web. YouTube used more bandwidth in 2010 than the entire internet did in 2000.

The two oldest meeting planning software firms (Peopleware and Amlink) merge under the Amlink name. 

Twitter, the micro blogging site opened with 140 characters maximum per message.

iTunes downloaded its billionth file in May of 2006.

Web 2.0 technology (later to be called social media) started to be used by the meetings industry including blogs, video blogs, and wikis (interactive web sites).

The two largest meetings consolidation technology vendors, OnVantage (a merger of PlanSoft and SeeUThere) and StarCite (a merger of StarCite, b-There and RegWeb) merge.

Mobile phone technology providers such as LogOn develop products for meetings including a variety tools such as product directories, networking functions, schedules, and audience voting via standard cell phones.

Apple introduces the iPhone in June revolutionizing the mobile phone industry. More than 74 million iPhone were sold in the next 4.5 years.

Google releases GoogleDocs providing free web-based spreadsheets and word processing tools.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin Texas became the tipping point in of popularity for Twitter increasing tweets from 20,000 to 60,000 per day (in 2011 this grew to 200 million tweets per day). 

Amlink merged with Certain Software in April 1, 2008.

Active Network acquired two major online registration companies: RegOnline and WindgateWeb.

Cvent launched the Cvent Supplier Network, the largest free marketplace that connects event planners with venues. More than $7 billion worth of group business flowed through the system in the next four years.

Digital television became the broadcast standard in the U.S. and other parts of the world, opening the door to web-based TV services. launched:  the first web-based RFP tool designed for meeting professionals to source cruise meetings and events.

Apple introduced the iPad, another revolution in portable “tablet” computing.

There are 4.7 billion mobile phone subscriptions (2 out of every 3 people on the planet). There are more people with mobile phones that have running water or toothbrushes.

Skype provieded high-definition video conferencing. This gave planners the ability to stream good quality video signal for free at events.

Mobile apps specifically for events and tradeshows saw explosive growth with hundreds of new companies providing services emerging.

Amazon releases the Kindle Fire tablet computer/eReader in October and sells more the 25 million by the end of the year.

There are more than 600,000 iPhone/iPad apps and 400,000 Android apps.

More than 5.6 million iPhone apps are downloaded daily.

There are more than 800 million Facebook users (more than 1 in 10 on the planet).

Major revolution occurs in the Middle East kindled by mobile phones and social media.

1.2 billion mobile apps were downloaded over the Christmas 2011 holidays.

FutureWatch 2011 Survey and others indicate that more than 80% of meeting professionals use smartphones and other mobile devices in their jobs. Yet, relatively few planners (9%) have used mobile applications yet for their own meetings.

The first “virtual wine tasting” occurs at Event Camp Europe using Google Hangouts (a free multiple location video conference product). Attendees at the main location in London, and pods of attendees in Poland and Sweden, were all provided wine. Using this free video conference too, attendee in all locations simultaneously heard/saw the description of the wine from the host, felt the wine glasses, saw the color and legs of the wine, smelled the bouquet and tasted it.  All five senses were engaged.

Cvent received a $136 million investment, the largest round of funding in the history of the meetings and events technology industry.

Active Network acquires StarCite.   Previous merges of these two companies include some of the major pioneers of meetings technology: RegWeb, b-there, seeUthere, PlanSoft, OnVantage, RegOnline and WingateWeb — another step in the consolidation of major meetings technology companies. 

This list is far from comprehensive. Please send in your meetings technology milestones to include.


Thanks to the following meetings technology pioneers whose contributions and fact verification made this article possible: Janet Christodoulou, Coleman,  Bill Duncan, Doug Fox, Bruce Harris, Deb Huffington, Peggy Lee, Mike Malinchok, Rodman Marymor, John Pino, Jeff Rasco, Elaine Rickman, E.J. Siwek, Bruce Small, Ray Thackery, Ed Tromczynski, Nick Topitzes, Robert Walters, Dick Zeller


Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a speaker and independent third-party 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: and can be followed at


Wi-Fi: The Lifeblood of Events – Should It Be Free to Attendees?

January 14, 2012

©2012 Corbin Ball Associates

As the use of mobile event apps continues to explode, there is an increasing demand by attendees to have easy-access, barrier-free and, hopefully, cost-free Wi-Fi in the meeting space and in sleeping rooms. Consider these statistics:

  • Free in-room Internet access ranked as the most desired guest-room amenity. — Synovate survey, 2011, 6,300 people, 10 countries
  • 47 percent of respondents said a hotel must cater to their technology needs before they book it, with wireless  access a top priority. — Synovate survey, 2011, 6,300 people, 10 countries
  • Internet access is at the top of things most guests care about hotels (including luxury, upscale, mid-scale full-service, economy/budget, and extended stay properties) — J.D. Powers Survey, 201
  • Free Wi-Fi affects the choice of venue (64% yes; 31% maybe/depends on other factors as well; 5% no) – InStat survey, September 2010

Increasingly, meeting attendees are carrying around one or more wireless internet-enabled devices. They are business travelers and expect to check email, use social networks (40% of all tweets are mobile), and wish to take advantage of a wide range of mobile meeting and travel apps. For international attendees, the cost of roaming fees is often prohibitively expensive. Wi-Fi is their lifeline to stay connected. 

With this growing need and demand by attendees, planners are pressing venues for free event Wi-Fi and are making this a key criterion for venue selection. Associations such as ABPCO (Association of British Professional Conference Organisers) have a country-wide initiative to promote free basic conference Wi-Fi for attendees (see for details). 

The Challenges:

There are many issues involved:

  • 60% of travelers in the US, Europe and Australia indicate they already have had a poor hotel downloading experience because the system was slow. — Ttnooz, Nov. 2011
  • Many facilities are unable to keep up with the demand. The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (the world’s largest technology show) asked attendees to turn off their phones and Wi-Fi to enable access for the keynote presenters.
  • The demand for broadband is exploding for many events. For example, 5,000 attendees consumed one terabyte (one thousand billion bytes) of data via Wi-Fi in four days at the London Frieze Art Fair, Oct. 2011. This is one example of many.
  • 90% of meeting professionals have smartphones and/or iPads/tablet computers and 62% use their apps constantly throughout the day (M&C Research Survey, December 2011).
  • A November 2011 white paper by iBahn, a major hotel internet provider, notes that 25% of devices on their network are iPads. These video streaming and media consumption devices use 400% more data that the average iPhone,
  • 25 million iPads have been sold as of June 2011 (UnwiredView) and an amazing 5 million Wi-Fi only Amazon Kindle Fire tablets are estimated to have been sold in the last three months of 2011(J.P. Morgan, December 2011).
  • This explosion of iPad and other tablet computer is driving bandwidth requirements to what is felt by some hotels to be unsustainable levels. To quote David Garrison, iBahn CEO in the November 2011: “The iPad is the final nail in the ‘all internet is free’ coffin.”
  • There is a big discrepancy between event organizers and venue managers on whether attendees should receive free Wi-Fi: 90% off organizers say yes while only 48% of facility managers replied favorably (IAEE Survey, July 2011).
  • 64% of venue managers and CVB stakeholders feel that show managers have unrealistic expectations when it comes to what they want and are willing to pay for regarding event Wi-Fi (Red 7 Media, Summer 2011).

Some solutions:

The facts are that the Wi-Fi at many venues is not satisfactory (it sucks!) and with increasing bandwidth requirements things are getting worse. What can or should be done?

Here are some recommendations:

  • Meeting venues need to plan on high double-digit annual growth in Wi-Fi bandwidth requirements at least for the next five years. The good news is technically this is completely feasible. According to Ian Bull, Head of Sales Business Development for the Wireless Technology Group for Cisco, there is “significant growth potential for Wi-Fi using micro cells and Wi-Fi Hotspot 2.0 technology. Even very large venues with thousands of simultaneous users can be managed in a way that good quality wireless internet signal can be provided.”
  • Venues must step up to the plate and build the infrastructure for this growth. This will increasingly be the deciding factor in venue selection.
  •   Meeting venues should provide detailed assistance to meeting planners to help them determine the Wi-Fi and internet requirements. It is not enough to reply “yes we can provide Wi-Fi.” Many questions need to be asked, such as: Wireless internet for how many people simultaneously? On what devices? For what apps? In what locations? How much bandwidth is needed? Venues must know their capabilities and limitations well and communicate them to clients.
  •   Meeting planners also must educate themselves as well to the specific needs of their attendees, their expectations, their internet requirements, and must be very clear to venues about what they expect in detailed requests for proposal.

Dealing with Costs:

A major challenge is cost. Meeting venues are for-profit entities and the demand for internet services is growing exponentially. How can these costs be offset or limited?

Here is my view:

  • Venues should provide basic, mobile-friendly Wi-Fi internet access (512kb/s) throughout the entire facility (sleeping rooms/lobby/meeting rooms/exhibit hall) for free without the need for extensive log-in procedures. 512kb/s is fast enough to check email, tweet, and do some basic web browsing but not fast enough to stream HD video, download audio files, etc.
  •  Provide a reasonable rate “premium service” for attendees who desire more speed.
  •  Charge reasonable rates for specialized services: dedicated bandwidth, dedicated IP address, VPNs, specialized exhibit services, etc. As an example, the Las Vegas Convention Center (one of the largest in the world) in November 2011, launched their internet service plan: free for basic service, $13/day for premium service, and $100 for exhibitors.
  • Another option to offset costs is for meeting planners to solicit internet sponsorship. Internet access and mobile apps have many opportunities for splash page or banner ad sponsors. These page views are completely trackable and can provide great visibility to attendees using a much desired service.
  • With the increase in smart phones and tablets, cyber-cafes are going the way of the banks of pay phones. Divert the sponsorship funds and other monies spent on these services to help offset the cost of attendee internet access.
  • Venues should also look for sponsors.  Meeting attendees spend money at nearby establishments. Many of these businesses would likely be willing to pay for advertising space on conference Wi-Fi services to gain visibility.
  • Planners, exhibitors and attendees should expect to pay for premium internet services. Venues are for-profit entities and have every right to charge to cover costs at the minimum.  However, planners and attendees should not be gouged with exorbitant fees.  Hotels, convention centers and other venues should not consider internet services a major profit center any more that they consider providing lights and water for attendees and guests – Wi-Fi has become an expected utility.
  • The price gouging employed by a number of upper mid-scale and luxury hotel properties (i.e. US$9.95/day/each device) must stop! Planners and hotel guests commonly will be making venue decisions based on fair policies for internet access.

Wi-Fi challenges will likely get worse before they get better. The increasing demand will exceed the supply as venues struggle to upgrade their internet infrastructure. It will be incumbent on all venues to gear up for these increased bandwidth demands. It will also be important for planners, exhibitors, attendees and venues to educate themselves on the issues and help each other find the optimum way for providing Wi-Fi for events. As Wi-Fi increasingly becomes the communication life-blood of events, we will all need to work toward optimal solutions.


This article with hundreds of other free articles, dozens of free software tools and thousands of categorized meetings technology links can be found at:

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a consultant, writer and speaker focusing on events and 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 has been named by MeetingNews Magazine for four years as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry. He has also chaired the judging committee for EIBTM Technology Watch for meetings technology innovation for the past eight years. He can be contacted at his extensive web site: and followed on Subscribe to TechTalk News, the meetings industry’s longest running and largest technology newsletter sent every other month to over 9,000 subscribers in 70+ countries:

Bonus Trend: 12+ Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012: Face-to-face meetings and trade shows will remain vialble

December 7, 2011

©2011 Corbin Ball Associates

This is last in a series of 13 weekly blog postings covering the major technology trends affecting conferences, events and trade shows:

Bonus trend: Despite the economic downturn and the increased use of virtual meetings technology, face-to-face meetings and tradeshows remain viable (a repeat from last year’s predictions).

Virtual meeting and web conferencing usage is up and conference attendance has dropped for some markets in these economically challenging times. However, meetings and tradeshows can still provide very good value for your education, networking, and sales budgets. Events offer unparalleled opportunities to bring buyers and seller together, to build relationships, to brainstorm, to network. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing. The events, tradeshow and hospitality industries are relationship-based and events and tradeshow are some of the best ways to build these relationships.

Although webinars are good for short information exchange, meetings offer a much richer learning experience. What happens in the meeting room is important – people have made the commitment to be there and are not as distracted as in the office. However, the conversations in the hallways, receptions and exhibit hall contribute greatly to the information exchange. Meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than any virtual meeting. There is no such thing as a “virtual beer!” 

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a consultant, writer and speaker focusing on events and 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 has been named by MeetingNews Magazine for four years as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry. He has also chaired the judging committee for EIBTM Technology Watch for meetings technology innovation for the past eight years. He can be contacted at his extensive web site: and followed on

12 of 12 Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012: “Indoor Positioning Systems” will assist in event and trade show way-finding and navigation.

November 29, 2011

This is the twelfth in a series of 12 weekly blog postings covering the major technology trends affecting conferences, events and trade shows:

12. “Indoor Positioning Systems” will greatly assist in event and trade show way-finding and navigation.

Standard GPS does not work indoors. Standard Wi-Fi triangulation only gets to about a 100 foot (30 meter) accuracy — not good enough for precise tracking though an exhibit hall, venue or for person-to-person finding at an event.

New technology from at least two companies ( and promise to overcome these challenges to provide very precise positioning (as fine as 1 meter) by tracking Wi-Fi enabled smart phones, carried by an increasingly larger percentage of the population. These tools will be able to provide:

  • precise positioning
  • personal navigation through a venue/exhibit hall with optimized routing
  • friend/contact finding and networking (with permission)
  • location-based content delivery (exhibit discounts or video as examples)
  • optimized exhibit hall viewing by product category
  • exhibit hall “hot spot” and traffic flow analytics
  • several other features will likely develop from this exciting technology.

In addition to venues and convention centers, this technology holds great promise for shopping centers, airports, hospitals and museums. A short video demonstrating the application in a museum can be seen below:

Wayfarer Indoor Positioning System

Check in next week for a bonus trend and a summary of the impact of technology innovation for events.

11 of 12 Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012: Free, easy to access Wi-Fi is increasing expected by meeting planners

November 23, 2011

This is the eleventh in a series of 12 weekly blog postings covering the major technology trends affecting conferences, events and trade shows:

11. Free, easy to access Wi-Fi is increasing expected by meeting planners

Free basic Wi-Fi broadband internet access is expected by planners for attendees in the meeting room, guest rooms and the lobby. Although some luxury properties are clinging to internet fees as a profit center, internet access is viewed by attendees as a utility similar to lights and water. Planners are saying “do not nickel-and-dime us with add-on charges for basic internet access.” If “Motel 6” can provide free Wi-Fi, so should meeting hotels and venues.

However, the does not mean unlimited access. Internet bandwidth can be expensive and most venues cannot handle unexpected, very large demands.  If 500 event attendees pulled out their iPads to access HD video simultaneously, there are few venues in the country that could handle this without making special arrangements. If a group needs dedicated bandwidth, a dedicated IP address or other internet services, it is reasonable to charge for these. But basic, throttled access (with a minimum of 500kb/second download — fast enough to access email and limited video streaming) should be free.

Additionally, venues need to make logging onto the Wi-Fi network easier. Opening the browser and clicking “OK” is all that should be required.  As mobile devices are being used for internet access with greater frequency, make the logon screen readable in smaller formats as well. Better yet, use autosensing technology and provide a mobile web log-in page optimized for a smaller screen.

See more on the advances of hotel guest room technology at:

10 of 12 Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012: iPads and tablets will provide a new medium for accessing data at events.

November 16, 2011

This is the tenth in a series of 12 weekly blog postings covering the major technology trends affecting conferences, events and trade shows:

10. iPads and tablets will provide a new medium for accessing data at events.

The iPad is the most recent of the long-running, game-changing innovations from Apple.  The Mac brought the widespread use of the mouse and graphical user interface to portable computing (1984); the iPod changed how we listened to music (2001); the iPhone revolutionized mobile phones  (2007), the App Store is changing the software procurement model (2008), and the iPad (2010)/iPad2 (2011) is having similar long-term ramifications.

The iPad and other tablet devices represent new ways to access information. Light weight, highly mobile, highly intuitive. The larger screen allow for bigger fonts, easier readability and more real estate to display material in a page-like format. The navigation is intuitive (with your fingers instead of a keyboard and mouse).

Tablets are a natural for events as our industry is a mobile one:

  • We do business away from our offices and from our “large screen” computers on a regular basis.
  • Most of us don’t carry around notebook computers at events for a number of reasons: weight, security, the inability to access easily while standing, etc
  • We constantly need to manage a wide range of data at events. For lack of a better way until now, much of these data have been in the form of paper.

Tablets will increasingly be used at events for interactive conference programs, course notes distributions, surveys, interactive exhibit floor plans, product displays, information kiosks, lead exchange, speaker Q&A, onsite blogging/social networking and more.

See more on the impact and benefits of iPads and tablets at:

9 of 12 Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012: Social gaming tools will be used to engage face-to-face and virtual attendees at events

November 9, 2011

This is the ninth in a series of 12 weekly blog postings covering the major technology trends affecting conferences, events and trade shows:

9. Social gaming tools will be used to engage face-to-face and virtual attendees at events

People spend more than 3 billion hours a week globally playing online games! Jane McGonigal in her noted TEDTalk speaks of how gaming can make a better world by deeply engaging people and by encouraging collaboration and cooperation. She proposes to harness gamer power to solve real-world problems.

Online gaming engages people. It can immerse in a different reality. It can be very fun!  …And it will find its way increasingly into events.

On a basic level, location-aware programs such as and encourage people to check in at locations. People will win badges and prizes and receive tips from others. This, however, is much more than building loyalty at a favorite restaurant. All of these free online tools have developed options for checking in at events. I believe that these location-aware gaming options can help networking at events.  is another online social gaming tool (free for non-profit groups and associations) that engages attendees with treks and challenges. This tool has been used recently at the Consumer Electronic Show and SIGGRAPH shows to guide people through the exhibit hall and to win prizes by performing a challenge such as signing up at an exhibitor web site.

Social gaming is also being used to engage virtual and hybrid meetings attendees. Contests and challenges have been proven to engage people attending virtually. The Cisco GSX hybrid conference had 19,000 virtual attendees with one million views, 13,000 active players of the “Threshold” an interactive espionage immersive reality thriller, 8,000 participants in group chats and 9,5000 playing GSX mini games.

8 out of 12 Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012: YouTube and other social publishing tools will be used increasingly to promote and manage meetings and to engage attendees

November 3, 2011

This is the eight in a series of 12 weekly blog postings covering the major technology trends affecting conferences, events and trade shows

8. YouTube and other social publishing tools will be used increasingly to promote and manage meetings and to engage attendees

Much has been written about the power of and the other social networking sites to engage potential attendees before and event to increase attendance and networking onsite. I believe the wide range of free social publishing tools will also be used increasingly for similar purposes:

  • (technically a micro-blog and, therefore, a social publishing tool) is widely used at events with event hashtags to engage attendees before, during and after an event. Planners should advertise the event hashtag well in advance of their events for the broadest utilization.
  • Free blogging tools (such as can be used to create event blogs to increase attendance. Ask your speakers to participate to add comments about their sessions. Invite influential bloggers to your event, and give them internet connections to spread the word.
  • Encourage attendees to upload their event photos under a designated event name (using the Twitter hashtag) to so everyone can share their experience. This page can then be used to help promote future events.
  • Speakers can share their slides using
  • (the world’s second largest search site after its owner Google) is potentially one of the most promising event promotion tools around. The old saying goes that “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  A video can be worth a thousand pictures and be far more compelling than web pages or brochures full of text! Video is the most compelling language of the internet.

A few YouTube tips:

a.)   Encourage your speakers to make short video describing what they will speak on and upload this to YouTube.

b.)   Link or embed these videos at your event site.

c.)   Keep the videos short (no more than 3 minutes).

d.)   Record in HD.

e.)   Choose a compelling thumbnail image using the posting tools YouTube provides.

f.)    Enable the comments and sharing options.

g.)   Rename the videos using meaningful names ( is much better than

h.)   Use a keyword laden, meaningful description of the video.

7 out of 12 Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012: Near Field Communication (NFC) continues to move into the meetings arena

October 26, 2011

This is the seventh in a series of 12 weekly blog postings covering the major technology trends affecting conferences, events and trade shows

7.  Near Field Communication (NFC) continues to move into the meetings arena

NFC provides simplified wireless data exchange and transactions using mobile devices in close proximity to each other, usually no more a few centimeters apart. It is expected to become a widely used system for making payments by smartphone in the U.S.

The applications for events are significant allowing for very fast, secure and simplified means of:

  • Electronic ticketing
  • Electronic business card exchange
  • Credit card payment
  • Easy pick up of conference literature, exhibit brochures, course notes, and other digital documents

NFC has been used in Europe for the past few years (I have personally seen people paying for packing meters and tram rides in Estonia simply by tapping their phone to the transaction device).  ITN International ( has successfully used NFC at events for some time including contact exchange, e-ticketing, and micropayments.

There are also companies such as using NFC to provide many of these features with a small, inexpensive (US$18), NFC-enabled “pokenTAG” that is worn around the neck and glows green when information is exchanged. 

The game changer, however, will be when NFC becomes commonly available in mobile phones. Blackberry’s three new Curve models are NFC-enabled as are dozens of Android phones and many Nokia phones. The tipping point, however, may be if the soon-to-be-released iPhone5 will offer NFC.  Whether it is this year, or next, NFC will provide much better and faster data exchange, ticketing and micropayment options for events.


Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is an independent 3rd-party analyst focusing on meetings and tradeshow technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings and shows, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site: and followed on