By any practical definition, tools are good, while gadgets are less than essential. The question is, where do you draw the line?
We'd define a useful tech tool as something that makes your work easier—and doesn't complicate your life. Here are five for meeting planners:
In this electronic age, the business card still survives as a critical networking tool. CardScan, an electronic business-card scanner, brings the contact information on the card into your PC so you can use it. CardScan can save a card as an image on your PC in less than three seconds. More importantly, it instantly imports contact information into the included CardScan database; or into popular contact programs like Outlook, ACT!, Lotus Notes, and Goldmine; or to contact managers on PDAs and smart phones.
One mild criticism of CardScan is that its optical character recognition (OCR) sometimes misses information. We tested the current version with 11 business cards. It took us just a minute to scan all 11, and another 10 minutes to proof the data. CardScan's software is quite good at recognizing names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses, but cards with lots of logos, colors, or unusual lettering sizes or fonts can confuse it.
But recognition of information was better than 90 percent, and CardScan saved us lots of tedious retyping. And while recognition has bulked up, CardScan has slimmed down, to just 5.8 by 3.3 by 1.5 inches and a weight of seven ounces. Requiring only a USB cable (no batteries or power cord) it's easy to throw in your laptop bag.
Adding a Dymo labelmaker to CardScan (both now owned by Newell Rubbermaid) makes them a powerful combination for small meetings. As delegates or on-site registrants arrive, you could simply scan their business cards, add them to your database, and print their nametags. Later, you could print address labels for follow-up mailings. CardScan Executive, www.cardscan.com; $259; Dymo LabelWriter Duo, http://global.dymo.com; $209.
Carrying a projector for small meetings or one-on-one presentations is now a no-brainer, thanks to Boxlight's BumbleBee. It measures just 4.75 by 3.9 by 1.9 inches and weighs under a pound—two pounds with battery pack. You'll need a pretty dark room to see the BumbleBee's 800 x 600 resolution image, because it has just 150 lumens of brightness. Still, its LED lamp technology offers 20,000 hours of life. Also, it outputs VGA, video, and S-Video, and has an SD card slot for projecting digital photos. www.boxlight.com; $799.
Conducting frequent conference calls on the road? Now you can make mobile mini-meetings of high quality with the Spracht Aura BT mobile speakerphone. The "BT" stands for Bluetooth, and this pocket-sized unit will work with your mobile phone, cordless home phone, and PC or Macintosh for voice-over-Internet calls. The three-watt speaker makes it loud enough to use in a car or conference room, and its noise and echo cancellation features give it sufficient sound quality. www.spracht.com; $149.95.
Something every meeting planner must think about is emergency medical care for delegates. Now you can have that information at your fingertips with a new software application, InTouch, from Garmin International and the Mayo Clinic. If your cell phone is GPS-enabled, it automatically finds the nearest accredited emergency health facility. If not, just enter the city/zip code to search for nearby facilities from a list of over 3,800 accredited providers.
The $2.99-a-month offering, available initially from Alltel Wireless and Sprint, also features first-aid tips, a symptom checker, health-video shorts, and drug alerts.