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Make meetings matter with the right tools

Christopher Null | Nov. 13, 2013
With these smartpens, apps, audio recorders, and transcription services, you'll always leave the conference room with the essential info.

Meetings suck because we let them. Every day, we huddle in conference rooms for team updates, strategy sessions, or old-school brainstorming. But if we don't take our meetings seriously—if we ignore what participants ask or say, fail to document the meeting's takeaways, or forget to follow up afterward—they might as well not have happened.

It doesn't have to be this way. Here's how the right tech—and the right strategies—can make meetings matter again.

Keep it on a 'need to note' basis
The key to getting more out of meetings is to take better notes—which doesn't mean writing down every single thing. Your goal as a note-taker for yourself or for the group as a whole is to distill the content of a meeting down to its essentials.

Focus on what needs to happen after the meeting is over. Treat meeting notes as a to-do list, and include all the information you'll need to get started on a project once you return to your desk.

If you're taking notes for a group, be sure to capture every action item that comes out of the meeting, along with the name of the person who's assigned to oversee each one. Leave superfluous details behind. You should be recording only what you need to recall later, so you can spend the rest of your time listening to what's being said and interacting with the group.

Go longhand and sync your ink
Typing on a laptop can be a major distraction, due to the noise of the keys and to the physical barrier it erects between you and the rest of the group. The laptop screen physically and subconsciously separates you from the other people in the room, positioning you more as a detached reporter than an active participant.

Leave the laptop at your desk and try writing your notes with a pen. One option worth a try is the Livescribe 3. Aside from ink, the pen's shaft contains a miniature computer, an infrared camera, a Bluetooth wireless chip, and a microphone. Using custom paper, the Livescribe captures and digitizes your handwriting and doodles, giving you a record that you can later search using the pen's accompanying software.

Pair the Livescribe 3 with the Livescribe+ app, and you can transfer your notes on the fly to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, eliminating the need for later transcribing. In this digital form, your notes are ready for use in calendars, contact lists, and other applications. You can also record the entire meeting on the fly (as we'll discuss later). The app lets you sync the audio with your written notes, so—if you need to check something later—you won't have to waste a bunch of time skipping back and forth in search of the right spot.


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