Tell a room full of meeting planners that they can replace their heavy three-ring binder of BEOs with an iPad, and you’ll have their attention and instant devotion. That’s because the back-breaking binder, which is any event’s bible, is widely regarded as a necessary (and not so eco-friendly) evil.
If you’re ready to jump, touchscreen-first, into the 21st century, here’s a list of mobile apps that will transform your iPad into a virtual meeting binder.
- Evernote. This app is available for desktops, iPads and iPhones, so any folders you create in one place will be visible from the others. Think of this as your virtual file cabinet. Instead of color-coding your files, tag them with keywords that are searchable. You can file away web pages, photographs, PDFs, word documents, voice notes and videos, and share folders with members of your team. The best part is that the program makes the words in photographs searchable. So if you take pictures or scan in business cards and past BEOs or spreadsheets, you’ll be able to search them just like any of your other Evernote documents. Cost: Free.
- Dropbox. Need a secure place to save your documents so that other people on your team can access them? Dropbox, like Evernote, works across multiple platforms and is available on any computer or mobile device. Once you log in, you can add, share, edit and delete files. And with 2GB of storage to start (the allowance increases with every friend you add to the system), you can even share event photos, video and audio clips with your social media team (or a friend who can make them look pretty). Cost: Free.
- Pages. Need a word processing app for your iPad? Pages is the best choice. It works like Microsoft Word but is integrated into the Apple operating system, so it’s easy to import images, add hyperlinks and place other media into the documents. When it’s time to email a file, you have the choice of exporting it as a .pages, .doc or .pdf document. And the program can open any text file, regardless of software origin. Cost: $9.99.
- Numbers. This is the Apple version of Excel and, like Pages, can be exported in traditional spreadsheet formats (.pdf and .xls). Its intuitive interface and graphic templates just make it a lot more fun to create reports and event information. Cost: $9.99.
- GoogleDocs. If email chains drive you crazy, eliminate the back and forth by posting documents for review, or ones that need collaborative input, on GoogleDocs. On this platform, you can share spreadsheets, presentations, word documents, meeting notes and more. Like Dropbox and Evernote, the documents are available on any browser, whether you’re using a handheld or desktop computing system. You can control access and restrict whether users can edit or only view. And you can track changes and comments, so if a person made an edit you don’t agree with, you can revert to the original or most recent version. When you’re finished, download, print or email the documents in your choice of formats. Cost: Free.
- iAnnotate PDF or Notability. These apps allow you to import PDFs, “write” on them and send them back with your handwritten or typed-in notes. Notability also allows you to create and share handwritten, typed or recorded meeting notes, much like Evernote does. Cost: $9.99 (iAnnotate PDF) or $.99 (Notability)
- Super Planner. This is the only app I haven’t personally used, but I’ve included it because an event planner in Austin told a me and a room full of her peers that it saved her life at least three times. It has several calculators. The capacity function can tell you accommodation numbers for the dance floor and multiple seating arrangements. A staffing calculator helps you determine how much banqueting, bar and registration help you need. A food and beverage calculator can convert inclusive to “plus plus” pricing, add in gratuities and help determine the beverage quantities you need. There’s also an audio/visual component that calculates the optimum stage height; where the first and last rows should be; and points out other seating and sightline issues, based on projector strength. Plus, it doles out basic advice for planning newbies on things like managing speakers. Cost: $9.99.
Don’t have an iPad? Don’t sweat it. Many of these apps have Android versions. And if you’re leery of Google, Microsoft OneNote offers a cloud-based system that reproduces the functionalities offered by GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Evernote, but on a more secure, corporate-friendly platform.
And now a word about connectivity. Getting a cellular package on your iPad guarantees access wherever you are, but it’s pricy. Sticking with the free, built-in WiFi capacity leaves you in the lurch if free WiFi’s not available. But those aren’t your only two options. The best, and most affordable, option is to add a hotspot package to your cellular plan. That way, you’re only paying a little more each month to be able to use your phone as a mobile hotspot to which you can tether your laptop and your iPad. And it’s worth it to be able to thumb your nose at pay-to-play airport and hotel Internet access.
Do you have other mobile apps you love? Leave a comment on this story before Feb. 28, and you’ll be entered to win a $20 iTunes gift card. The winner will be announced March 1.