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Escape Excel Hell: What Spreadsheets Can and Can't Do


This may come as a surprise, but there are things I still use Excel for. That may not sound revolutionary, but remember: I started a company that explicitly aims to free event managers from the tyranny of spreadsheets.

Like many of you, I have a love-hate relationship with Excel. It was the first computer program I became super competent with and it provided the technical foundation on which I built my career as an event manager. For well over a decade, I spent more time with Excel than I did my husband (sorry, Cory!).

Over time, I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of Excel. To be honest, mostly ugly: I can still recall (with horror) the spreadsheet from a major conference where every speaker - all 1,000 of them - had a unique tab for their evaluations. How is a 1,000 tab spreadsheet going to save you time??

It's not.

Here's the dirty truth: Excel is a powerful tool that can be a helpful for a certain set of tasks. Unfortunately, we event professionals often ask Excel to do things it's *not* well suited for, and as a result it performs poorly, wasting our time and causing frustration.

Like any tool, Excel performs best when you use it for the task it was created for. Think of a spoon; it's great for eating soup but terrible for shoveling snow. Yet we often ask Excel to do things that it's as suited for as a spoon is for snow removal.

So what is Excel good for? I use it for budgeting and any time I'm dealing strictly with numbers. It can be useful for very small projects, and it's a great fall back when you don't have an internet connection. Excel's filtering and sorting functionality is powerful and extremely helpful (which is why we built the same tools into Hubb). And it has value as a small-scale planning tool, like our Event Tech Budget Template.

What is Excel not good at? Seeing trends and data visualization. Collaboration of any sort (it’s terrible with version control). And large or complicated projects. For some people, Excel could be helpful with planning a 10-person event. But bump the number of speakers of to 50, and it would be a disaster; you're shoveling a driveway with a spoon.

How do you know when it's time to move beyond Excel? Ask yourself if Excel is a net time saver or a net time waster. If you're spending more time cleaning and updating data in Excel than you are managing your event, you want to start exploring other options. You’re a skilled professional and the vast majority of Excel work is not skilled labor!

Another sign: when you and your team have multiple versions of the same spreadsheet. If you're trying to figure out if spreadsheet.xlx/draft_new_march_myversion_live_final_finalfinal_draft_copy_3 or spreadsheet.xlx/draft_new_march_myversion_live_final_finalfinal_draft_copy_3_1 is the most recent version of your document, you need to move beyond Excel.

We event managers like to stick with what we know and what we’re comfortable with. Our tenacity can be a major asset but it can also leave us using with tools that have ceased to be useful. Evaluating your relationship with spreadsheets is a vital step in moving from being a task manager to a strategic planner.


Want to see what Excel would look like if it were designed for our needs and the work we do? Let us show you Hubb:

Wistia video thumbnail - Hubb in 4 Minutes

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