(MoneyWatch) Meetings are the necessary evil that stands between you and successfully collaborating on your project. In principle, meetings are a good thing -- they bring together all the people you need to work with to get the job done and add value to your company.
But in practice, you need to send invites, manage schedules, build an agenda, track meeting notes and follow up on action items and status. It's like an entire job unto itself.
How do you manage that insanity? Do you fly by the seat of your pants, or do you use a tool to manage your meetings? Here are three meeting management tools you should consider to increase your productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.
Microsoft OneNote. It isn't a dedicated meeting management program, but OneNote is at the top of the list because it's a general purpose note-taking tool that lets you integrate your meeting notes with all the other things you should be using OneNote for -- managing status reports, to-dos, taking notes in training sessions, tracking research for open projects. OneNote works best on a desktop or laptop PC, but versions for iPhone, iPad and Android mean you can reference your meeting notes anywhere, anytime.
Of course, OneNote isn't a web service. If you're looking for something that is very OneNote-like that lives entirely on the web, try Evernote.
Meetin.gs. This online meeting management tool is designed to assist you over the entire lifecycle of a meeting -- use it to schedule the event using an online calendar tool and invites are sent to attendees that show up in Outlook or whatever scheduling tool they use. You then get a landing page for your meeting that houses attachments you want to share with participants, and where you can take notes and organize agenda items.
You can add new notes and documents at any time, including during the meeting itself, and they're automatically shared. You can use Meetin.gs as an online meeting tool to connect your remote attendees. Because the meeting gets its own email address, it's simple for any attendee to send documents to the meeting. And when it's all over, everything is in one place for further sharing and collaboration.
Meetin.gs is free for meetings with up to six participants and documents up to 6MB in size. For more flexibility -- including unlimited meeting participants and 25MB files -- you can try the Pro version for $19 a month. Meetin.gs looks like a great tool and one that's sure to help many a meeting, but I'm not crazy about the free-or-$19-a-month choice; an intermediate pricing plan might be a better option.
LessMeetings. Another web-based meeting manager, LessMeetings does all the stuff you'd expect to find in such a service. It helps you build and share the agenda, sends invites that interface with your recipient's Outlook calendars, and it tracks and shares attachments, notes and action items. When you use the tool during the meeting, it tracks the agenda and time so you stay on track and end the meeting as scheduled.
All that works great, and will surely help you run better meetings -- especially if you don't currently use a similar tool and just kind of wing all of your meetings. But the feature I really like is the way you can get the entire team or organization on the same page, so to speak -- if everyone buys into using LessMeetings, you can browse all the meetings and track progress without actually sitting in on all the meetings. Everything is searchable and browseable, and that means your whole team becomes more transparent and easier to work with.
You can try LessMeetings free for 30 days, but after that you'll need to buy a subscription. There are multiple plans to choose from; you can pay $12 a month for up to nine users, or as little as $8 a month for 100 or more.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Unique Hotels.