We at False Profit love us our meetings. We have community meetings, event planning meetings, investor meetings, house meetings, etc. I deal with meetings at work, too, but believe it or not there are fewer of those than in my personal life.
The most important parts of having good meetings (e.g. having a good moderator) aren’t about the software tools, but bad tools can sink you. So, I wanted to mention a few great ones. The zeitgeist these days is tiny, easy-to-use tools that do one thing extremely well. Most of the following fall into this pattern: no installation, completely web-based, no user accounts, even. Click and go, no fuss, no muss.
Getting everyone there
It used to be that everyone needed MSFT Outlook or some other massive workgroup software turd heap. Then came Google Calendar, which was web-based and better. But for true ninja scheduling, check out online tools like Doodle.com. You won’t even need a user acount; just start selecting a bunch of potential meeting times and dates, then email out the link. Anyone else can come in and select which subset of times they can make. An optimal consensus emerges. No fuss!
Discussing, Taking Notes
There’s the in-person part, of course, but we can also use Skype or web chat like Google Talk to loop in people from afar. There may be no-account tools to use here, too. A true ninja enhancement is to use a collaborative, real-time text editor. Anyone in the meeting can start typing anywhere in the document. You can use it as chat, or you can use it to organize the meeting agenda in real-time and take notes. One person can go ahead and take down the latest, others can go in behind and clean up the details. Etherpad is a great one I’ve seen, requiring no account. Check out this awesome screencast to see it in action. It works just like Doodle: you start a document, and then email out the link to others. No muss!
Recording for Posterity
Wikis are the way to go, here. They’ll require an account, but this is because because this is persistent information. We use SocialText, Google Sites, PBWorks (formerly PBwiki), and others. After a meeting, we can simply paste the contents of the collaborative editing session into the wiki.
That’s it for software tools. To close, here’s a grab-bag of some more random meeting hacks:
- If you’re mapping out a complex argument together, the right visual structure to create is the tree-like argument map
- If you find that people don’t arrive on time, set the meeting to start at a very “un-round” time, like 7:53PM. Psychologically, this feels like “we’re starting exactly at the specified time” versus “we’ll start some time around eight; I’ll just show up at eight fifteen.”
- If a meeting can be concluded in fifteen minutes or so, but people are being long-winded, try holding it standing up. People are much more likely to pontificate from the comfort of a chair. A standing meeting feels more like a quick huddle.