Event Management Software Guide (2018 edition): Choose and Compare the Best Tools For Your Event
Choosing the best event management software for your conference, exhibition or event can be a daunting process. Dozens of pricing options, hundreds of providers, thousands of features.
Yet modern events cannot do without a solid event management software infrastructure.
But where do you start?
This guide will give you everything you need to nail your event management software selection.
You will be able to understand the different categories of tools, compare hundreds of solutions and read reviews of the most popular providers.
All-in-one comprehensive guide! Awesome huh?!
Let’s get started then with your menu:
- What Is Event Management Software?
- Research: How Event Planners Choose Event Management Software
- Event Management Software Purchasing Guide
- Event Management Software: What solutions are out there
- Event Management Software Comparison
Event management software refers to any type of software used to promote, plan, execute and evaluate events.
It can be internal software that you can use to manage the event or external software that faces attendees at different stages of the event (promotion, engagement or evaluation).
Traditionally event management software revolves around the event management (project management, team communication, attendee management, speakers management, etc) and registration. These have been the pillars of the evolution of Strategic Meetings Management software.
Lately, this definition has evolved including a new set of tools. From venue management software to event apps, from live engagement tools to feedback and survey tools.
In January 2018 we conducted one of the largest pieces of event planning research ever completed. With 2,400 contacts and over 1,000 respondents.
We asked specific questions that pertain the event management software selection process. We are happy to release the results (if you want to obtain a copy of the research to publish on your site send an email to email@example.com).
An industry lagging behind
53% of the event planners, marketing agencies, C-level suite and independent planners surveyed do not use any form of event management software. While this is a shocking statistic compared to other industries, it signals a problem with the complexity of some of the platforms out there. They constitute more of an issue than a solution. A spreadsheet will be the preferred solution in most instances, regardless of the complexity of the event.
The key factors influencing event management software decisions
Support and features seem to dictate the decisions made by event planners in terms of software selection. Analytics and overall value of that the platform offers follow suit.
The most popular forms of event management software
If we consider the whole spectrum of event management software and include all new types of software, it is clear how online event registration remains the most popular form of technology used in events. Email marketing tools are surprising on the rise, followed by another interesting newcomer in terms of popularity, survey tools.
All-in-one vs different solutions
While most pundits profess the rise of all-in-one solutions, independent tools seem to win in the event industry. Planners managing complex portfolios with very different needs may struggle to adapt to one size fits all solutions for all of their event contracts.
Price is still the major pain point
The reason most event planners don’t adopt technology for their event is the price. Integration is the second reason. Therefore event management software has still a long way to go to show its true ROI. If you are selecting software you may want to consider small increments, before assigning large chunks of budget to software.
Choosing a company to work with depends on the modernity of the tool
The decision is influenced by how modern the tool is. Up to date tools tend to have faster traction. Some elements of previous questions are confirmed when it comes to company selection, namely support and cost. Event professionals need to keep tools within budget and to count on strong support networks that can show up when needed. Even if that is in person, on the day of the event.
If you would like a copy of this research for publishing you can request it here: State of the Event Industry Research 2018
You’ve identified a technology that can bring value to a part of your process. You’ve decided to implement it incrementally. You have also convinced your boss. Time to rock and roll.
Or kind of.
If you take, for example, event registration or event apps, there are hundreds of suppliers offering the exact same product (at least on paper).
At EventMB, we stay away from recommending one supplier over another and the reason for this is because there is no universal law dictating why one supplier is better than another.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to events. The granularity and fragmentation of our industry is so unique that sometimes even suppliers ignore some aspects of the event planning process.
Yet there is a higher level approach to face the challenges of selecting the right vendor for your technology.
Price and Cost
For event professionals using a technology for the first time, price is a major factor influencing the decision. In fact, a good model is to start with a small investment and then build into larger software programs. We cannot emphasize enough the difference between the technology price and actual cost to your organization. The latter includes the price of the tech plus the time needed to understand it, communicate it and roll it out.
While price usually drives overall costs, it’s also good practice to look at the time needed to set up the selected tool and what support is available from the provider.
It is difficult to offer an objective overview of the actual cost to your company. That cost usually depends on the structure, size and skills of your team. Looking at price is an excellent start but we encourage you to look at the full picture before making a decision, that includes delving into the event management software features, trying the product, asking for references and similar implementations to your event and carefully evaluating the support you will receive.
Don’t rule out free event management software. Low cost or free tools are usually a good place to start. ‘Freemium’ models, where you can get started for free and then upgrade later, provide a low-risk way to get started and a pathway to keep investing if your technology program is successful.
Also look for synergies and opportunities for integration. More and more companies offer multiple technology solutions. If you are already using a tool, having an add-on may cost substantially less than purchasing an ad hoc system. Also, consider shorter learning curves dictated by integration. Let’s talk about that.
Event planners use a range of different software tools to fulfill various parts of the event management process, such as business intelligence and reporting tools, attendee/customer feedback systems, hotel room blocking and more. Ensuring that event management software is able to communicate freely with the rest of your technology stack could save a lot of time that would otherwise be spent importing, exporting and juggling data in spreadsheets. For this reason, software integration not only saves time but also eliminates the opportunity for human error.
This is an especially important requirement if you are looking at smaller software companies. While there may be benefits in their area specialty, you want to make sure that your selected software talks to other software you are currently using in your stack.
All-In-One Event Management Solutions
One of the fastest growing sectors of event technology is all-in-one dashboards. These are complete solutions that offer sophisticated tools, from venue search to registration, from apps to smart badges. They are the evolution of Strategic Meetings Management dashboards, popular in the 2000s. On paper selecting an all-in-one solution is one of the smartest decisions you will ever make.
Reality can be different.
All-in-one solutions are surely more convenient. Data is often seamlessly ported to different apps in real time. You can add modules when your needs evolve. That doesn’t mean that you will get all these extra features for free. Sometimes they will cost as much if not more than standalone services. Also, consider that putting all your eggs in one basket is going to increase risk. What if the server of the company you work for is down on the day of the event? Also, these systems are sometimes not exactly flexible. Therefore, if you just need to try out a little something, an all-in-one solution could force you to activate an add-on at a substantial cost.
There is no right or wrong here. There are pros and cons associated with all-in-one solutions and you should carefully evaluate them before making a decision.
Checking Provider Credentials
Event and meeting professionals give substantial weight to the credentials of technology providers. Usually, this is one of the most detailed sections when they prepare Request For Proposals (RFP) to suppliers.
We believe that checking providers’ credentials is extremely important. We invite you to ask for client references, case studies and search social networks and comparison sites for opinions. This is especially true if you are looking for a highly supported, very expensive piece of technology.
With such a large and competitive market, there is a lot of hype by providers to emphasize their own credibility. We believe that the technology of the tool should be carefully reviewed in conjunction with the reputation of the company.
In those cases where you are comparing companies and the technology provided is exactly the same, huge price discrepancies are not justified by reputation alone.
If the technology you are selecting refers to a vital process of your event – say registration – where data and payments are involved, you may want to look closely at the support providers offer.
There is one universal rule in event technology companies. Those that offer good support are the ones that usually succeed. I’ve seen many, many companies with poor support offerings inevitably fail in the longer term.
Onsite support is especially key. What event technology providers often don’t understand is how events work. Events, as opposed to businesses, operate for two or three days. Not for a year. Or at least most of the action will be concentrated in a peak period during the year. You can probably live with systems failing four months before the event. You cannot afford failure the week before the event or, in the case of an event app or engagement tools, on the day of the event. Therefore some handholding or presence onsite for vital technology stacks is a key element in your decision.
Event software used during your live event has one chance to perform. If you have technical knowledge in your team or can delegate to your AV supplier, you can be less concerned. Remember though that event technology is extremely commoditized. Unless we are talking VR, AR and AI, barriers to entry can be very low. Therefore the support culture becomes a massive element of differentiation in the eventtech ecosystem.
There are many different solutions in terms of event management software, focused on many different areas and event types. Some will offer all of these features, others specialize in just one area. What is an all-in-one solution for one event planner will not be advanced or comprehensive enough for another eventprof. Here are some of the main types of event management software and functionality to explore.
Venues and Destinations
Selecting the right venue and destination for your event can make the difference between selling out your tickets, or not, and technology can help you evaluate and make the best decisions to choose wisely. There is a plethora of information out there to help eventprofs research and shortlist locations they are interested in, as well as empowering them to negotiate and get the best deal. Some tools focus on a single element of the venue selection and booking process, other technologies can handle everything, from initial searches through to managing transport and room blocks.
Type of tools:
Destination and Venue Selection
- Venue finding
- Venue comparison sites
- Electronic RFPs
- Venue Sourcing
- Venue availability and online real time booking systems
- Online searches
- The sharing economy venue marketplaces
- Unusual venues
- Hire a whole village
- Exclusive use
- Online guides and accessing local experts
- Area maps and identifying points of interest and distance
- Public transport websites, data and digital service updates
- Researching and booking social program activities and fringe events
- Digital tours – such as city tours, museum electronic guides and headsets
- Automated quotes
- Online quote generators
- Strategic venue sourcing solutions
- Comparing bookings history
- Estimating taxes, tips and additional expenditure
Event Cost Sharing
- Sharing and splitting costs
- Virtual tours
- 3D plans
- Virtual planning
- VR venue inspections
- Rooming and accommodation blocks
- Managing rooming lists
- Sharing economy options for business travelers
- Live updates
- Ground transport
- Lift sharing services
- WiFi connectivity
- Testing bandwidth and speeds
- Temporary WiFi hotspots
- Mobile/satellite WiFi
- Virtual concierge
- Mobile keyless entry
- Mechanical room layouts – change room set up at flick of a switch
- Automated comfort systems
- Voice-activated instructions
- Inclusive AV and technology packages
Event Registration and Check-in
Online event registration and ticketing is a fundamental part of most events today. Even free events often need RSVPs to control numbers and access and gain an accurate idea of numbers wishing to attend to plan the event effectively. The days of completing and returning paper forms are long behind us (thankfully!). Most event planners use an online system to capture important details from those wishing to attend, which saves the event planner’s time and ensures better accuracy (no issues deciphering bad handwriting).
Type of tools:
Online Registration and Event Ticket Management Software
- Online registration
- Online ticketing
- Custom registration forms
- Conditional logic
Legalities and Security
- Acceptance of terms and conditions
- Electronic legal document signing
- Security – drones, bag scanning, security checks, people scanners, facial recognition
- Online data security – encryption, data protection
- Captchas to prevent spam
- Antivirus software and malware scanners
Secure Online Payments
- Secure card payments
- Financial transactions
- Data security and legislation
Accounting and Funding
- Financial software
- Budgeting tools
- Expense tracking
- Accounting apps
- Crowdfunding events
Onsite Registration and Check-in
- Event check-in
- Ticket scanning – QR, barcodes, RFID, NFC
- Face recognition
- Badge printing
- Self check-in
- VIP notifications
Access Control and Perks
- Access control and checks e.g. access to VIP area, break out sessions
- Perks – access to event merchandise, swag, free drinks
- Tracking movements and crowd density
- Attendee behavior data
- Reporting – e.g. location monitoring for education credits
- Cashless payments via mobile and wearable devices (wristbands, badges, passes)
- Contactless payments
- Security verification – fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scanning
Event and Project Management Software
Event planners make a living out of planning and organizing every detail so event and project management software can be their best tool to keep everything on track. There are all-in-one solutions which can take care of registrations, task management, marketing and communication within one platform. Obviously, there are many benefits of comprehensive tools that help you manage everything in one place and that gives the peace of mind that if a piece of data is updated in one place, this is reflected everywhere, without manual intervention.
Alternatively, there are many different standalone tools which handle specific elements, such as project management, vendors and suppliers, tasks and workflows. Tools that help to keep teams working efficiently are generally cloud-based and can be accessed, stored or even worked on by multiple team members simultaneously so there are no hold-ups.
Type of tools:
Event and Project Management Software
- All-in-one solutions
- Project management software
- Gantt charts
- Task management
- To do lists and apps
- Training management software
- Exhibition management software – choose position, online booking
- Data portability
- Suppliers management
- The cloud
- File sharing and storage
- Online sharing tools
- Shared working – multiple people editing the same document at the same time
- Tablets and touchscreen devices
- Conference management software
Event Layout Design and Plans
- Strategic Meetings Management
- Design – room layout, room plans,
- Floor plans – CAD plans, visualizations, 3D layouts
- Scheduling, programming, running orders, show management
- Meeting scheduling
- Date scheduling – checking for clashes with worldwide holidays, religious celebrations and events
Staff and Volunteer Management
- Volunteer and staff management
- Freelancer websites
- Event recruitment
- Online CVs and portfolios
Content and Crowdsourcing
- Community and crowdsourcing tools
- Abstract management, call for abstracts, grading
- Speaker selection and management
- Diversity calculator
- Communication tools for management
- Communication messaging platforms
- Team tools
- Video calling
- Digital note taking
- Automatic minute taking and transcribing
Onsite Event Management and Tracking
- Tracking traffic and footfall
- Tracking mats
- Professional development tracking (presence and time in a session)
- Sound level meters and decibel monitors
- Weather tracking, such as wind direction
Evaluation and Reporting Tools
- Survey and feedback tools
- Live tech – acting on real time information
- Sustainability C02 calculations
Mobile Apps, AI and Concierge Tools
Event mobile apps put important event information at your delegates fingertips. The event schedule, floor plan, attendee profiles, abstracts, presenter bios, exhibitor and sponsor information can all be contained within one small application. Event apps can help to cut down printing, staffing requirements and streamline communications and actions within your attendees’ smartphones.
Event apps continue to develop year-on-year and to introduce exciting new features. Research from the Event App Bible confirmed that 25% of apps are now incorporating some form of Artificial Intelligence. AI can be used to offer more intelligent matchmaking, problem-solving and logic. Chatbots and concierge tools can offer big benefits in terms of customer service and lessening the amount of staff time needed to answer simple questions.
Type of tools:
Event Mobile Apps
- Event schedule
- Event information
- Speaker bios
- Event maps
- Event layout
- Exhibitor information
- Attendee profiles
- Sponsor information
AI and Chatbots
- Concierge tools
- Live chat
- Customer service
- FB Messenger
- (see also Networking and Matchmaking Tools)
App Technology and Features
- Push notifications
- Deep learning
Event Marketing Tools
Without a solid event marketing plan, you could struggle to achieve the numbers and revenue you are looking for. There are lots of tools and ways to digitally market your event and the benefit of this is that you can scientifically measure the things that are working so that you can invest your time more wisely into the things that are working and stop doing things that don’t show results.
Event content is not only important to ensure that the final event line up and program appeals to people enough to book a ticket, it is a valuable way to market your event and get people to notice you, to build trust and persuade them to be there. Blogging, vlogging, podcasts, reports, infographics and different engaging types of content can carve you out as an influencer and build excitement for the event. Festivals can even create and share multiple playlists highlighting the performers as they are announced to build excitement and give an idea of what attendees can expect to hear.
Type of tools:
- Event websites
- Landing pages
- Lightboxes and pop ups
- Blogging platforms, WP, plug-ins
- Ebooks and reports
- Event playlists
Relationship Management and Communication
- Email marketing
- Inbox management
- Groups and communities
Event Promotion and Digital Tools
- Design software
- Photo editing
- GIFs, moving and living images
- Adding links and annotations to images and videos
- Pre-event marketing – retargeting and remarketing
- Virtual swag bags (pre-event marketing, live event and post-event)
- Affiliate marketing
- Online ads
Live Event Promotion, Branding and Sponsorship Opportunities
- Social walls
- Interactive displays
- Digital signage
- Free live streaming tools, crowd streaming
- Group collaboration tools
- Drones, drone streaming
- Sponsor matchmaking
- Sponsorship ideas
- Smartphone printers
- Charging points
- Projection mapping
Tracking and Reporting
- Google analytics
- Tracking web navigation
- Social media analytics
- URL shorteners and trackers
- Lead generation
- A/B testing
Engagement and Live Interaction Tools
Better engagement is constantly cited as one of the most important goals event planners want to achieve. Technology offers some great and innovative tools to increase interaction, capture real time feedback and generally enhance the event experience.
Interaction and engagement through polling, voting and live Q&A is a powerful way to get real time feedback from your audience and to explore what is on the mind of your attendees. By getting instantaneous reactions and feedback it can also be used to pivot the event if it reveals that more time and focus should be given to different issues. More introverted attendees that would never choose to raise their hand and give feedback or ask a question publicly can be empowered to have a voice using live interaction tools. It can also keep up the momentum of the session, without losing time passing microphones along, and can enable the facilitator to prioritize the most popular or pressing questions, instead of the fear of a persistent audience member hogging the microphone to talk about themselves or issues only relevant to a small minority of attendees.
Type of tools:
Interaction and Engagement
- Live polling and voting
- Voting up questions
Training and Collaboration
- Group sharing tools
- Community sharing tools
- Collaboration tools
- Shared digital notebooks
- Scavenger hunts
- Quizzes and tests
- Photo sharing tools
- Photo apps
- Digital photo effects
- Green screen
- Photo printing
- Photo facial recognition tools to automatically tag your guests in photos
- Location-triggered messages
Communication, Streaming and Translation
- SMS, WhatsApp
- Simultaneous casting to different rooms, crowds outside the venue, etc
- Professional live streaming
- Hybrid events
- Live simultaneous translation
- Audio streaming
- Choose your own channel – select audio for the presentation you want to hear
- Flexible listening – listen to a speaker as you walk the exhibition hall, or listen to the main stage at a festival from the campsite
- Wearables – smart watches, glasses
- Throwable mics
- Fundraising tools and donations
- Silent and online auction tools
- Donor management and supporter CRMs
- Event fundraising campaigns
- Fundraising pages to encourage group and individual efforts
- Manage sponsorship and pledges and messages of support
- Fundraising targets, totals and leaderboards
- Tax and gift aid
Augmented and Virtual Reality
- AR – show off products
- Virtual meetings, events, tradeshows
- 3D holographic video conference
- 360 degree video
- Mixed reality
- Hologram performers
Networking and Matchmaking Tools
One of the biggest motivators for attending events is meeting like-minded people and networking. Whether it is a B2B event and people are looking for opportunities to do business or a consumer event where people want to feel connected, the perception of the event will be directly impacted by how well they interact with other people present.
Anything the event planner can do to encourage connections can pay dividends. At a basic level, this may be sharing details of the type of people attending and encouraging attendees to fill out their profiles and upload a photo. If others can see that people similar to themselves are attending they will feel reassured to book their place and it can also encourage pre-event connections and conversations.
Matchmaking goes a step further and intelligently matches or scores the compatibility of different attendees. It often relies on the guest selecting a few tags for the things they are interested in or looking for, and it can then offer the best results for the people the participant should talk to. By identifying common ground they can also get straight to the conversations that matter and make the most of their networking opportunities.
Type of tools:
- Social media profiles and log in
- Encouraging pre-event conversations
- Sharing event attendance with their network and peers
- Suggesting matches and connections
- Scoring and identifying best matches
- RFID badges, wristbands, apps
- AI – intelligent matching, predictions, deep learning
Lead Retrieval and Information Gathering
- Information sharing
- Digital business cards
- Business card scanners
- Lead retrieval
Appointment Scheduling and Hosted Buyers
- Private messaging
- Hosted buyer
- Attendance tracking
- Appointment scheduling
- Chronological journey of user, connections made
- Successful matches
- Reporting – suggesting matches that are missing
- VR – virtual reality networking rooms
There are three landmark reports that EventMB published with event management software data:
- The Event App Bible
- The Good Event Registration Guide
- Engaging Events
All these reports offer a quick and easy way to compare the features of hundreds of technology tools. We are making this information publicly accessible. Important to note that these comparison engines offer a snapshot in time of those companies. Features and pricing may be updated. If your technology is misrepresented, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will promptly amend. The data in all cases has been submitted by the companies listed and we keep record of all submissions. While we verify submissions to the best of our ability, we invite you to further research and contact individual suppliers. EventMB does not take responsibility for inaccurate data, information, features, pricing. We don’t take referral fees or commission from suppliers for your prospective business.
EventMB has reviewed several dozens of these tools in further detail. You will see a link to the review of the tool in these cases.
Compare Online Event Registration Tools
Compare Live Engagement Tools
We hope this guide has been helpful to help you select the top event management software in 2018.
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