Event management distinguishes an ad hoc meeting from a more formal, structured web event. It allows you to schedule an event in advance, collect registrations from prospective attendees, send login instructions and reminder emails, track registration and attendance, and so on.
Many web conferencing companies offer separate solutions for events as opposed to impromptu meetings. WebEx has Event Center as a higher priced alternative to Meeting Center. Citrix offers GoToWebinar at a higher price than GoToMeeting. Mike was eager to emphasize the fact that ReadyTalk has a single web conferencing solution without added cost modules or options. All users of the service automatically get access to the Event Manager without requiring an upgrade or additional payment.
The basic functions required of web conference event management tend to be well understood, and the differentiation lies in implementation details. I'll try to skip over the obvious and concentrate on specifics of interest in ReadyTalk's version of the functionality. Suffice it to say that all the basics are well covered... You can schedule an event for a date and time in the future, send emails to registrants, generate reports, and customize landing pages.
You can create a new event from scratch or you can clone an existing event, making changes to details as needed. ReadyTalk lets you pick the time zone that your event date and time is expressed in on all generated pages and invitations. There is no facility to automatically convert it to other time zones or to list multiple time zones. Event duration can be specified down to 15 minute increments, but the event must start on a half hour mark... You can't override the time selection popup.
The Event Manager lets you schedule an event with web login information only, telephone audio conferencing information only, or combined web and phone. The scheduling screen reformats with your choice to cut down on unnecessary information. You can also choose to use ReadyTalk's automated PIN-access telephone conferencing or a full operator-assisted conference line. While you can add in an external toll number and toll-free number if you use a third-party audio conferencing provider, it's momentarily confusing to find the entry boxes under "ReadyTalk Operator Assisted."
ReadyTalk has access to a worldwide network to use for the audio side of things. I love the feature that lets you automatically include local toll-free access numbers for your choice of countries in your confirmation emails. Or you can check a box to include a link to a list of all access numbers in the world. Simple and integrated international access is a big plus for many enterprise conferencing users.
You get 2000 characters to play with for creating your event description text. ReadyTalk lets you enter this in a formatting entry field (you can change fonts, add bold and italics, create bulleted lists, etc.). But I noticed that there was no hyperlink button to easily enter a web address. It doesn't automatically convert addresses to a hyperlink or let you enter HTML tags, so if you want a hyperlinked phrase you have to copy it in from something like a Word document where it is already linked. The paste operation preserves embedded hyperlinks.
You can establish a security passcode for your event of 4-9 alphanumeric characters. The code is the same for all attendees... There is no functionality for assigning individual passwords to each participant (typically used for paid attendance functions to make sure registrants don't forward the login information to friends and colleagues).
You can add a logo image to your registration page and you can even hyperlink it to the web page of your choice. You can also specify multiple presenter names, bios, and photos.
You can customize registration questions to a certain degree. ReadyTalk forces required fields for Name and Email as the first two choices. I expressed surprise that Name was held in a single field, as this makes it difficult to export registration information to an external database or salesforce automation tool that expects separate first and last name fields. A bit of discussion on the issue resulted in a statement that they would change the registration field to two separate fields in the next update, probably in 30-60 days. After name and email, there are another 16 standard demographic fields that you can optionally display and/or make required. After that, you can add any number of custom fields in your choice of formats (text, drop-down menus, radio buttons, checkboxes, and multi-select lists).
What bothered me a bit was the fact that I could not reorder questions. If I use the preconfigured demographic fields, they show up in the order that ReadyTalk lists them. If I use my own custom fields, I can't change the order after the fact. I would have to delete everything above my desired entry and re-enter all the questions after it. By the way, this is a common limitation of integrated registration builders.
You get the opportunity to preview the complete layout of your reg page and make additional changes as desired.
Advanced event settings let you control several functional aspects. The first is to customize confirmation emails that are sent to participants. ReadyTalk formats the confirmation email and includes all the relevant information from the event scheduling details. You have no control over the display of this information. The only customization possible is to add paragraphs of text at the top of the invitation. The confirmation email is highly formatted for HTML display and I haven't had a chance to check what happens if a registrant accepts text emails only. There is a link to add the event to your calendar and a system compatibility test link is included as well. You can also specify up to five files that will be added as attachments to the confirmation email. That's a nice feature and not very common.
You can also choose whether you want an email notification every time someone registers and whether they should get an automatic confirmation message or whether you want to approve registration requests.
Most event management systems have a way to send reminder emails, and ReadyTalk does as well. You specify an absolute date and time for reminders to go out (rather than a number of days or hours before your event). If you want to send out multiple reminders, you need to wait until after the first one has gone out, then re-edit your event to change the reminder date. That's a bit more manual effort than I would optimally like. It would be nice to set up your event once and not have to worry about coming back to the management and setup pages.
I did admire the fact that you can create a post-event survey page with text, customized questions, and a set of files available for download by your attendees.
A final settings feature deserves special mention. While each event typically has a dedicated URL for its registration page, you can auto-generate an arbitrary number of registration URLs and associate each one with a named marketing campaign or source. So you might send emails to different lists and use a specialized URL to track the performance of each list. Another URL might be used for clickthroughs from a Web banner ad. And another URL would be used in a newsletter sponsorship. As far as the audience is concerned, they all see the same registration page you customized for the event. But you get tracking information that is invaluable for adjusting future marketing and promotion efforts. Too few conferencing systems have this feature, and I think it's a must-have for use in marketing contexts.
ReadyTalk will do an invitation email blast for you, which is a very nice (and uncommon) feature. You can upload a file of up to 1000 email addresses at a time and associate it with one of your defined campaigns (to auto-insert the proper registration link). You can do as many of those uploads as you want. You don't get the same detailed tracking information as you would get from a third-party emailing house, but you don't have to pay extra either!
ReadyTalk only tracks clickthroughs to the registration page. You won't get stats on the number of bad email bounces or email opens. By the way, ReadyTalk automatically adds an opt-out link at the bottom of all invitation emails and specifies that the email came from ReadyTalk at their street address. This complies with CAN-SPAM regulations, but means that you can't fine tune the customization to have the email perceived as coming directly from your company.
There is also a button that lets you send a message to all current registrants, in case you have to send out an update.
The system includes standard reporting on the number of invitees, registrants, and attendees, along with reports summarizing chat messages used during the event. You can view data on the screen and export it to a CSV file for loading into another application.
The last type of email that companies often configure is a post-event message. ReadyTalk lets you set up separate emails for attendees and no-shows. Again, I was mildly disappointed that you can only create these emails after your event has completed. This means another visit to the event management system. I prefer to do all my setup and configuration for an event at one time. But this is a convenience issue rather than a lack of functionality.
All in all, ReadyTalk has created a nice, usable interface that makes the product much more suitable for large structured events. My favorite features are the ability to set up international telephone access, create multiple URLs for tracking promotional channels, and the option to use ReadyTalk as a bulk emailer for your invitations.