Get more out of your event by using the right tools
That moment when...
...you need a tool to help you choose the right event tech tool.
Words by Sabina Fratila
So you're going crazy over how time and energy-consuming an event is to organize. You want people to do as little as possible to join your movement, and get as much as possible out of it. After all, that's why we keep advancing technology and digital tools, to make everyone's life easier. Still, choosing what event tech tools to use is still far from easy. But don't despair.
I’m here to give you a practical, no-bullshit inventory of free or reasonably-priced event technology to consider no matter what you're organizing, sorted by the function they serve or type of headache you're dealing with.
Event tech for project management
Before you even start working on an event, you need to make sure you're organizing yourself - and your team, if you're lucky to have one - properly. If you're thinking "I'm good, I have post-its and a whiteboard", then I have news: no one can write by hand in a readable way anymore, and pictures of whiteboard charts shared via email are just silly. Here's what you should use:
Any startup friend will probably swear by Trello. It's the most user-friendly and visual project management tool I know, completely free, cloud-based and great for collaborative work.
If you're the lone organizer type, maybe Wunderlist will prove more useful. It does categorizing, labeling, and scheduling really well.
For internal communication, I recommend Slack - finally a tool that managed to save teams everywhere from the email thread nightmare.
Most event organizing teams don't share an office, so if you deal with a lot of video calls, check out appear.in - a super user-friendly tool offering great call quality, even on that terrible cafeteria wi-fi.
If your event is a bit more complex than a knitting club meetup, you might find yourself drawing up charts and workflows in every meeting noteI suggest you use draw.io, a free alternative to Lucidchart.
Do I even need to mention Google's G Suite?
Tech Tip: There are many free tools that can do specific jobs well for you, just make sure you look for cloud-based ones, because data portability is crucial in any work context nowadays. It's also good if they have an app version, since - let's face it - we all work from our phones half of the time, especially with event planning requiring a lot of on-the-go tasks.
Event tech for budgeting
No tool can make budgeting less of a headache, but these might dull the pain:
If your project doesn't involve elaborate invoicing, contracts, and transactions, you could get away with a "simple" event budget calculator like this one created by Event Manager Blog, and an expense management app like Outlay.
A more complex event will benefit from using tools such as Planning Pod's Event Budget Manager, but know that it's far from free.
Tech Tip: Cross your fingers and hope for the best 🤷.
Event tech for registration and ticketing
The market is oversaturated with event registration tools, but that doesn't mean it's easy to choose one. These are my recommendations:
There's Eventbrite, of course. Everyone knows this one, and it will probably work just fine for you as well. Be prepared, however, for ticketing fees, exclusivity contracts, lack of flexibility. There's a reason why they have competitors, right?
I like Attendize, a free, open-source and self-hosted ticket selling platform that comes with other useful features: customizable event pages, attendee management, sales and registration stats. The only catch is that you need to be a bit tech-savvy to use it.
I obviously like Conferize even more. It has a unique 2.5% ticket fee (capped at 10 EUR per ticket) and comes along with website creation, attendee management, and community building, plus it's really easy to use. You don’t have to ask for a demo, talk to salespeople, sign up for a plan, install software. What you see is what you get.
Tech tip: When choosing a registration tool, cheaper is better, but make sure it has the right check-in capabilities for you. With a 200-people guest list it would look unprofessional - and take ages! - to check people in by crossing them off a printed list. On the other hand, you can do just fine without a QR code scanner if you're organizing a small meetup.
Event tech for marketing and promotion
There are many aspects to consider when marketing an event. First off, you can't sell an event that sucks, so make sure you start with a killer concept and create a proper event brand - read more about event branding here. With that covered, here are a few steps and tools that should help you get the right awareness for your event:
Create an event website, because you need more than a Facebook event page to showcase an unmissable experience. The good news is that both Attendize and Conferize, mentioned above, have website building capabilities, all for free. Conferize also lets your attendees interact with each other before and after your event on the website, thus encouraging engagement and an active community. An honorable shout-out goes to EventCreate for the diversity of website templates you can choose from.
Optimize content for SEO. Not only good for organic search traffic, but also as a "sanity check" for you, this process makes you walk in your attendee's shoes and hone in on what they would search for and want from an event like yours. Some basic tech tools to get this right are Google Keyword Planner or KWFinder for keyword research and Google Search Console to monitor your website.
Use social media strategically. I don't need to argue why you should promote your event through social media. What I want to point out is that being active on different social media channels can get overwhelming, so if you have an actual communication plan you'll find a social media monitoring tool quite useful. There's no good free one (please let me know if I’m wrong), but platforms like Hootsuite will likely make you happy. It offers a good balance of features for publishing, social listening, monitoring, and analytics for most important social media channels, at a decent price.
Don't forget email marketing. Whether you like it or not, email is still the most effective promotion channel for events. Use Mailchimp (free basic plan!) to engage with potential attendees, send invitations, launch ticket promotions, start a referral program, ask for feedback, build a community.
Event tech for venue hunting
This is a tough one. No matter how many venue marketplaces pop up, it still seems difficult to get a good selection of venues that fit your criteria and aren't awfully boring. But I gave it a try and found a couple of interesting options:
I love Peerspace because it offers cool, unique spaces like art galleries, rooftops, street food markets, and even trains. However, locations are limited to the US and only 3 European capitals. Let's cross our fingers that they'll expand soon!
Spacebase also lists original event venues with great deals, and is available in many large cities across the world, although it's far from being a global resource.
A more traditional marketplace for venues is Meetingsbooker, which covers many destinations worldwide and offers the typical conference room/hotel lobby style.
Tech Tip: Even if these websites don't have offers in your city, use them as inspiration to figure out what type of venue you could envision for your event, and then reach out to similar places you find locally; Whether they're listed for rent or not, you're likely to run into a better deal than if you fall back on that same dull conference center every event in the city is hosted at.
Event tech for attendee engagement
You don't need to be an event professional to understand that the single most important aspect of organizing an event is engaging your audience. No one goes to events anymore to sit in a chair, attend a 3-hour presentation, check the buffet and call it a day. People crave real connection, interaction, and events that are tailored to their needs. Here is some cool event tech that will help you connect with your attendees, and them - to connect with each other:
Typeform - show me polls and surveys with a better look and usability than Typeform's, I dare you! They offer a decent free version, but I think the paid plans are worth every buck.
For live interaction, I think Pigeonhole does a great job with live Q&As, polls and voting features.
The Catchbox throwable microphone is a bit silly to be honest, but it does the trick in solving that annoying problem with passing a microphone around a room; plus, it can get a laugh on occasion.
Another good piece of event tech based on hardware is the hashtag printer - Luster is probably the most popular provider. They're not free, in fact, they can get quite expensive, and maybe don't fit your event. But used with the right occasion, the hashtag printer is a great source of user-generated content and brand awareness.
No matter what I recommend in this article, it's still easy to get confused and skeptical about choosing an event tech stack that suits your context, goals, and team. To paraphrase Dieter Rams, good event tech is often as little event tech as possible. Or, to take Julius Solaris's advice, choosing the right tools is a matter of asking yourself "am I adding value?". This is, in fact, the thesis of the Event Tech Bible, a very popular guide written by him for Event Manager Blog.
All in all, you need to remember that even with state-of-the-art technology events are ultimately about human connection, and that's what you need to focus on.
P.S. Oh yeah, I made a disclaimer about not including VR technology in the list. While I love a good simulated experience,I think the events industry is still far from using VR and AR in any practical and gainful way. Plus, it's freaking expensive.