Tools for Better Meetings
Experts love to say that meetings kill productivity. They certainly can, but they don’t have to. When you schedule only necessary meetings and make choosing a time and date painless, meetings are more productive. When you prepare an agenda in advance and assign someone to take notes, the content of the meetings will be more on target. If you make it easy for people to join and participate, the meeting can be more efficient. Then, the meeting can run according to the timeline in the agenda, and maybe you’ll even wrap up early. People appreciate when that happens because it sends a message that their time is valuable.
While running an efficient meeting relies in large part on human beings, it also requires the right apps and equipment to facilitate it. The 13 apps and tools listed here are all designed to make meetings smoother and more productive.
Apps for Scheduling Meetings
Before you can hold a meeting, you have to schedule it. Requesting a meeting with an email and a list of times is inefficient, even if you’re only meeting with one person. Meeting scheduling apps give you better tools, such as surveys, online scheduling forms, and Slack bots so that everyone invited to a meeting can collectively pick the best time for it.
Appoint.ly is an uncomplicated meeting booking service for scheduling one-on-ones. You create a booking page that you share with clients or anyone else who might need to request a meeting with you. Your booking page provides the meeting requester with options for the type of meeting they want, such as a 10-minute introductory call or an hour-long training session. Then, based on your availability, they request a date and time that you can approve, request to modify, or reject. Appoint.ly is a simple and straightforward scheduling app for one-on-one meetings specifically.
Calendly is a tool that helps individuals, as well as teams, schedule meetings. It includes options that accommodate different meeting types and needs. For example, you create types of meetings, such as 10-Min Phone Briefing and 30-Min Media Interview. Then when someone wants to meet with you they can pick the type of meeting they want and choose an available time slot. Another example: Let’s say you have a business in which anyone from a certain department can accept a meeting that a client requests. Calendly can assign the meeting request automatically to whoever is available from the group. The app also supports individual scheduling web pages, where people can request a meeting with you based on your availability. It’s a robust app for scheduling, designed to meet a variety of needs.
Doodle.com is a free website and mobile app with a Premium option that helps you schedule meetings in one of three ways. First, you can create an online poll with meeting dates and times; send it to all the meeting participants, and Doodle highlights the best option as people respond. Second, Doodle also offers personal meeting scheduling, meaning you use it to create a website where people can see when you’re available and request a meeting with you in one of the open slots. Finally, there’s a Doodle bot for Slack that lets you poll your colleagues on a meeting time without leaving your team messaging app.
Outlook, sold as part of Microsoft Office, may come to mind as the de facto office software for scheduling meetings in a business setting. When all the meeting participants are part of the same organization, and they’re all using Microsoft Office, then Outlook is the right tool for scheduling. You can find a time and date to meet that works for everyone based on the availability they’ve set in their calendars. Then you can reserve a conference room and put the meeting on the calendar, all in Outlook. It’s not necessarily the best meeting scheduler when you need to organize a meeting among people who aren’t all Outlook users, however.
Rallly is collaborative scheduling software, meaning it’s designed to be used by groups. Another way to describe it is to say its a polling app where the poll is about when everyone can meet. While Doodle.com offers the same service, Rallly has a slightly different look and is faster to use if you only need it once in a while because you don’t have to create an account. You do need to enter an email address, however.
FreeBusy is a meeting scheduler app for businesses. Similar to Calendly and Doodle.com, it does a little bit of everything, giving you ways to automate one-on-one meeting scheduling as well as find the best time for a group of people to meet. It also integrates with video conferencing software to automatically fill in details such as the meeting link and ID when applicable.
Woven is scheduling software built that’s part of a larger calendar app. Similar to some of the other apps mentioned, it includes polls for finding the best time for a group of colleagues to meet. Woven also has personal scheduling pages that you can share with clients and colleagues that let them request a time to meet with you.
Apps for Video Conferencing
So many meetings now take place virtually that having a go-to video conferencing app is absolutely essential. The best video conferencing services are reliable, meaning your calls remain intact even if someone’s connection is buggy, and have ample tools for collaborating while you meet. These tools include screen sharing and whiteboards, chat boxes, as well as options for moderators, like being able to pass control to another person or mute attendees while one person speaks.
ClickMeeting is an excellent video conferencing option for small businesses, especially those that host a lot of small webinars. You can only have four active video feeds per meeting, however. This app can integrate with Microsoft Outlook’s calendar, and there’s a Chrome plug-in for connecting to Google calendar.
Cisco Webex Meetings
Cisco Webex Meetings is a video conferencing service that’s easy to use and includes some features you won’t find in competitors. For example, you can set up a call that rings you rather than forcing you to dial in. Paid plans begin at $13.50 per month, which is an attractive price for small businesses. If you use the free version of the app, Webex Meetings Free, you can have video meetings of three people at a time. The free plan also includes desktop and document sharing, a whiteboard feature, standard-quality video, and 250MB of cloud storage.
Zoom Meeting, sometimes just called Zoom, is one of the most reliable video conferencing services you’ll find. When the company developed the product, it focused first on making sure your calls stayed clear and connected. It supports HD video and audio. You can get typed transcripts of calls that you record as videos. Plus, anyone can use the core product for free, and small businesses can buy reasonably priced plans that beef up the features starting from $14.99 per month per host. With a free account, you can host up to 100 people on a call, and you can see as many as 49 people in a gallery-style view. Group calls for free users are limited to 40 minutes, but one-on-one calls can be as long as you need. While tough to quantify and compare the performance of video conferencing systems, stability is the foundation of Zoom’s reputation, and it shows.
Many meetings benefit from having someone take notes. When you have meeting notes, you 1) have a record of what occurred in the meeting, 2) can share them with people who were unable to attend, and 3) end up forcing yourself to be clear about any follow-up tasks that must be done. For certain kinds of meetings, such as interviews with journalists, a great note-taking app will let you record the audio, too, so you can transcribe it later and have a perfect source for checking what was said. Here are a few apps that can help you take effective meeting notes.
Evernote is a powerhouse app for taking notes. It has a built-in audio recording functionality so you can record an entire meeting while jotting down typed ideas at the same time, right in the same file. Its camera feature lets you snap a picture of a whiteboard from your meeting and upload it to the app, where Evernote then makes the text searchable using OCR. If your team uses Evernote for Business, then you can easily make meeting notes accessible to all participants so they can add to them and have a copy afterward, too.
Hugo.meeting is a relatively new app designed to help teams take meeting notes, as well as share and follow up on them appropriately. Hugo nudges you to create an agenda, jot down important ideas and information from meetings, and turn action items into tasks. The app connects with other task-management systems, such as Asana, Trello, and Jira, letting you push those to-dos into the apps your team already uses. It’s free for up to 30 people, with a Pro version (a flat $399 per month) adding support for more team members and features, such as detailed reports and calendar analysis.
Microsoft OneNote shares a lot of features with Evernote—an audio recorder, camera, and so forth—but it’s better suited for people who use other Office products because it integrates tightly with them. If you have a Microsoft business account, for example, you can use a special feature in OneNote that shows you upcoming meetings listed in Outlook so you can write agendas for them or make other notes about them. Another feature called Digital Ink lets you draw diagrams and images using a stylus on supported devices. It’s also easy to share notes that you capture before, during, or after a meeting with other people in your organization.
Minutes.io (free) is explicitly for taking meeting minutes. It gives you a template for writing all the details of what happens during a meeting, like who said what, which promises were made, and what deadlines were decided. Minutes.io uses hotkeys galore so that once you learn them, you won’t have to lift your fingers while typing. It runs in a browser and operates both online and offline. At the close of a meeting, you can easily add people’s email addresses to the file to share it with all the attendees. When you’re asked to take official notes for a meeting unexpectedly, minutes.io launches quickly and works well, giving you a template for the task at hand.