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Should Your Conference Go Paperless?

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Jodi Goldbeck believes she’s seen the future of large meetings and conferences, and she only had to travel as far as the Twin Cities to do it. And while the grass isn’t necessarily greener in the land o’er the Muddy Mississippi, the future Goldbeck has envisioned is as green as Aldo Leopold’s garden.

Goldbeck, an instructor in the Meeting and Event Management Degree Program at Madison College, recently attended World Education Congress 2014 in Minneapolis, an event put on by Meeting Professionals International. When she arrived, she was impressed not so much by what was in front of her as by what was missing. Gone was the bulky printed conference guide, replaced by a new MPI Global Event App for Android, iPhone, and iPad devices.

Madison’s ConfPlus is one of many firms developing apps for use at corporate events.         

“It was phenomenal from a pure attendee perspective,” said Goldbeck. “You could see where everything was, who the speakers were, and then a brief description of each.

And then at the end of [the conference], you could actually rate the experience and give your comments right on the app, which I had never seen before at an event. So I loved that. I am so into that.”

Perhaps even better, the app had interactive and real-time features that would have been impossible to incorporate into a printed program.

“It gave you event updates if a room change happened or anything like that,” said Goldbeck. “You could message other attendees through that app, so if you didn’t have somebody’s phone number to text them, you could do it right through their app. … So it was really cool that they were able to integrate this Global Event App into the experience and have attendees really use it. And I saw people using it all the time. We literally didn’t get one piece of paper while we were there. They did a newspaper that we got at our hotel room, but at registration we never got one piece of paper.”

Meanwhile, the event app gave Goldbeck an exciting glimpse at a greener, sleeker, more tech-savvy future.

“Personally, I love not getting a bag filled with a bunch of fliers and a bunch of paper, because it’s just going to go in the recycling bin,” said Goldbeck. “We were told beforehand that this is how they would communicate, so we knew going into it that you would not get a paper copy. You had the option of printing it out beforehand, but the people at registration literally handed you your nametag and then told you about the app.

“It makes everything a lot more smooth because you’re not handing out a bunch of stuff while people are asking questions. It can be found right there on the app. So it makes it more smooth, it makes it more green, and it makes things more convenient.”

Homegrown apps

It’s perhaps not surprising that the use of apps is becoming more pervasive among both event planners and conference-goers. The proliferation of apps like EventBrite, SurveyMonkey, Twitter, Foursquare, and many others has made both planning and attending events a breezier and more richly rewarding experience.

But creating a custom-made conference-specific app is a new wrinkle that appears to be gaining favor among event planners.

It’s also furthering the prospects of at least one local company.

ConfPlus is a Madison-based IT firm that has created custom apps for numerous conferences around the world, across the country, and locally. The company has designed apps for organizations as diverse as the Public Relations Institute of Australia, the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Madison+Ruby.

Company co-founder and CEO Cathy Liu said she got the idea for the custom app service in 2011 after going to numerous conferences and inevitably pitching the bulky conference book into the recycling bin after the event was over.

She and her co-founder, Huaming Li, launched ConfPlus the following year.


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