Everyone who works in an office has to deal with meetings. Depending on who's leading them and the tools they use, they can be boring, ego-driven time-wasters where little gets accomplished, or they can be productive working sessions where real decisions get made and people leave with a clear sense of purpose. This week, we're going to look at five of the best tools to make sure your meetings are the latter.
Title photo by vladek (Shutterstock).
Minutes.io (Web: Free)
Minutes.io gives you an elegant and easy-to-fill-out template for every one of your meetings that makes sure you capture the attendees, what was discussed, what action items came out of the conversation and who owns them. The template can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be, and if you sign up for an account, you can save your notes with secret URLs that you can distribute only to the meeting attendees so they can review the notes when they need to. It's loaded with keyboard shortcuts and tools to help you take notes in your meetings, and the best part is that you don't even have to sign up for the service (unless you want to save your meeting minutes on multiple computers) You can just start using it, take notes, send the minutes off to the attendees, and come back when you want to use it again. The service drops a cookie on your system to identify it so you can get back to your minutes easily.
Microsoft OneNote (Windows: Varies, $209-$849 as part of Microsoft Office)
OneNote is an excellent note-taking tool, and since Microsoft Office is the de facto standard when it comes to productivity tools in the workplace, Windows users can take advantage of it to manage their meetings, meeting notes and minutes the same way students use it to take and organise class and lecture notes. It's easy to use, makes adding and organising sets of notes for different events easy, and thanks to OneNote's many mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, you get access to those notes anywhere and can share them with others.
Meetin.gs (Web: Free, $US19/month Pro)
Previously mentioned Meetin.gs is a fast and easy way to make sure all of your meeting's attendees are on the same page when they walk in and when they walk out. The service goes beyond just managing meeting minutes, and will also handle invitations and responses, and creates a custom site for your meetings where minutes, related files and the meeting agenda are stored for quick access once the meeting begins. Attendees can comment on the agenda, add their own items they'd like to cover, and you as the meeting organiser can see at a glance who's attending and what everyone has to say. When the meeting is over, everyone who attended — including the people who skipped — get a copy of the minutes and a link to the site.
LessMeeting (Web: $US8-$US12/month per user based on the number of users)
LessMeeting promises to help you make your meetings faster, more concise and more productive by giving you — the person leading the meeting — a comprehensive tool to manage all of your meetings that also connects with and syncs with Outlook and Google Apps. Creating a meeting agenda is quick and easy, and once you've built the agenda, you can send it — along with any other related files — to the people you need to attend your meeting in the invitation. When everyone's in the meeting, LessMeeting will keep your meeting on track by displaying a timer that counts down as you take notes and discuss agenda topics, prompting you to move on to the next topic as time becomes short. The web app is also loaded with keyboard shortcuts and collaboration tools to remote attendees can keep up. There's even a "parking lot", where you can jot down topics that are worth discussing, just not in the current meeting. When the meeting is all over, you get a concise list of action items, meeting minutes and notes, and more to send out to everyone who came. Plus, the app even helps you learn and get feedback on your meetings so the next ones are even better.
After The Meeting (Web: Free, $US12/month Pro)
After the Meeting cuts down on the number of status updates and follow-up meetings you have by organising all of your action items, follow-up items and to-dos in a single organised view that all attendees can see and reference quickly. It's easy to jot down notes of what was discussed, put together a meeting agenda, track and assign the tasks and work that come out of your meetings, and let the people who are assigned to do that work commit to it, propose alternatives or let you know when the work will be done. Then everyone else can review the results of the meeting and where you are based on everyone's commitments. You, as the meeting organiser, can then track everyone's progress, and even get feedback on your meetings, scored by the attendees, so you can continue improving them.
Honorable mentions this week go out to Google Docs, which is a great way to keep track of what happens in your meetings and then share it out to other people who attended (or didn't attend) so they can all see the same document. Also worth mentioning is Ketchup, an attractive web app that helps you organise meeting agendas, minutes and any necessary files in a single, simple interface. Yet Another Meeting (yaM) is another web app with great minute and agenda management tools that integrates with Outlook, Skype and Webex, and tied for fifth place, but is really worth a look if you lead meetings at your office regularly.