Apps that make events easier

Putting together a networking night? A conference? A drinkup? Here are the apps you should have on hand.

Photo by Tricia Marcolini.

TEDxBuffalo 2013 happened on Tuesday, and I am just now lifting my head above the trench to see if the coast is clear. Most events swallow people up in anxiety, decision fatigue, and lost time, because events are made of people, and most people can not be spun up and deployed like AWS instances. I thought I might offer some suggestions on using binary technology to manage clusters of extremely variable people.

Basecamp instead of email

Most of TEDxBuffalo was organized with Basecamp. Basecamp is a simple, web-based-but-email-friendly tool for managing discussions, files, to-dos, and calendars. Along with making it easier to contact the right people and search out things people told you long ago, Basecamp saves everything in one place. If the entire TEDxBuffalo team was sucked up into that inter-dimensional vortex that appeared at the end of The Avengers while helping Iron Man get that nuke out of America's richest city, the people who take our place would have most of our stuff, some idea of what we talked about, and important dates and contacts.

Basecamp has a nifty mobile web view and an iOS app (which a friend had a lead role in developing). There are many, many, many group productivity tools you might use to organize the people running an event, but, please, do not use email and its attachments to do so.

Square and Square Cash for reimbursement

Event planning and the day-of scramble involve a lot of pizza, last-minute grocery and Office Depot runs, vendors demanding checks, and other things for which people must quickly pay out of their own pockets. When it comes time to pay people back, you experience outbreaks of ATM Syndrome: wallets with $20 bills and not much else.

I wish we had used Square Cash (Android, iOS) to pay each other back, rather than relying on memory, receipts, and rounded-off amounts. Square Cash is the person-to-person cash transfer app from Square, the company that makes the simple little credit card tool for small business. It doesn't require authenticating a bank account, just a debit card.

I used Square Cash yesterday to settle up a $5 lunch tab with a TEDxBuffalo volunteer. In less than 2 minutes, I downloaded the app, entered the amount, typed in my debit card details, and sent an email to my fellow diner. He opened the email, clicked the link, typed in his debit card, and I got another email noting that he'd accepted the money into his account. Volunteers don't mind paying for the occasional soda or beer, but it's nice when they don't have to take a $50 hit for the napkins and bottled water someone forgot to buy ahead of time.

HelloSign for on-site signatures

Speakers at TEDxBuffalo need to sign releases, and vendors need authorized signatures, and people just crop up everywhere needing signatures on things, often when you're nowhere near them or a scanner and laptop.

Everything I love about HelloSign I have put into words in a previous post. It's worth noting again, though, that their mobile app is a perfectly viable and usually free means of snapping, signing, and sending off documents to people. HelloSign creates signature audit trails for those uptight corporate types, and impresses almost everybody else with its ease of use and delivery. Keep it handy.

Livestream

As with project/task management tools, there are many, many services that offer live streaming video options. TEDxBuffalo has gone with Livestream this year and last, and we've enjoyed how straightforward the pricing and service has been.

If you're working with a video team for your event, they might have Livestream Studio (an $800 package, but video teams are used to these kinds of price tags), and can do all kinds of nifty things with slides and video and titles. If you're just winging it yourself, you can bring in simple DV camera feeds or iPhone video. And members of your team can use their Androids or iPhones to "grab" the feed and wander about, broadcasting what they're shooting live (you can see some of that happening at our live stream archive. Plus, Livestream's free accounts are none too restrictive, and upgrading to a few more niceties is only $49 per month (and easy to cancel when you're done).

You can't plan for every potential problem, but you can have some tools on hand for when things eventually break down.

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