The iPad: The Best Thing to Happen to Meetings Since the 1960s

Last week Randy Murray posted about keeping your iPad tucked away during meetings — saying:

Clients respond when you do two things: really listen to them AND show that you value what they say. Keep any distractions, including your laptop or beloved iPad off the table and make your notes with a pen and paper.

I disagreed then and still disagree now. The iPad is the best thing to ever happen to meetings and here’s why.

Breaking Down Walls

In college my Aunt told me a story of how she runs a meeting (circa 2001), she said that she has two phrases to start a meeting: ‘set phasers to stun’ and ‘shields down’. ‘Set phasers to stun’ means that you need to turn your phones to vibrate. ‘Shields down’ means that you need to lower your laptop screens, if not close the lid completely. Being a huge Star Trek fan I couldn’t help but love this terminology, but I asked why she wouldn’t allow the use of a laptop in the meeting.

The response I got is the same response you are likely to get from any person: it is simply too hard to tell if a person using a laptop in a meeting is actually paying attention to what is going on in the meeting. The second problem with the laptop screen is what I call the “tall centerpiece conundrum”. Have you ever gone to a fancy dinner, say at a wedding, and there is a beautiful tall floral arrangement for the centerpiece at the round table? If you have ever experienced this, then you know that it is impossible to see people across the table from you and as a result impossible to carry on a conversation with those people.

This same centerpiece conundrum happens in meetings where there are a lot of laptops open. There is an artificial barrier between you and everyone else because of those damned laptop screens.

The iPad changes all of this, it can sit slightly angled on the table and not be a a barrier to anyone, or even completely flat on the table mimicking a notepad. Further, because the screen is not staring you in the face, participants get a more open sense about how you are using it — that is people can see what you are doing on it. This is crucial to making the other meeting attendees feel like you are actually paying attention.

Searchable and Accessible

Hand written meeting notes suck. They really suck. Digital meeting recordings suck more. Here’s why: neither is searchable without having to read/listen to most of the entire meeting. I can jot a few notes down in Simplenote and search the entire document for one word and in a fraction of a second find it. I can do that on my phone/iPad/computer — to do the same with written notes or recordings you would need to transcribe that information back to the computer — wasting time. I am all for not wasting time. 1

When I use an iPad to take my meeting notes, upon leaving the meeting I can forget all about having to deal with those meetings notes. They will always be there when I need them, plain and simple. Forget about it.

Tracking

For me there are four key areas that I need to track in each meeting:

  1. My to-dos (hopefully this is a short list).
  2. Other attendees to-dos (hopefully this is longer than my list).
  3. Reference material gleaned during the meeting.
  4. Date of the next meeting.

Let’s say I walked into the meeting with some paper — all of this information would be organized in some fashion on the paper — later it would all need to be put into trusted systems (OmniFocus, Calendar, Yojimbo, etc.). What a waste of time, here is how I do it:

  1. All of my to-dos get shoved into OmniFocus immediately (just in the inbox) so that I know they are in my trusted system.
  2. I shove other peoples to-dos in OmniFocus as well in the Tracker folders I have made.
  3. Reference information goes into a Simplenote file created specifically for the meeting at hand.
  4. The next meeting can be added right away to my calendar, and possible conflicts immediately seen.

Yes, there are still people who track most of that stuff on paper, but those people are in the minority at this point in the business world. Even some of the most tech adverse people I know wouldn’t dream of using a paper calendar to track meeting times.

My entire meeting setup seeks to do one thing: let me move on to the next task the second the meeting is over. I don’t like meetings, I think they waste time, so when a meeting is over I want it to really be over.

Let Me Look That Up

No matter how hard I try to prepare for a meeting I always am missing one piece of information somewhere along the line. Luckily I can usually grab just about anything I may be missing with the help of one of these apps:

If I can’t find the information from the first four apps then I can use the last two to pull up my MacBook Airs screen or our Servers screen to find what I need. I can do this very quickly no matter where I am and this has proven invaluable and impresses my clients on a consistent basis.

Before the iPad I would drag along my MacBook Pro and use it to look up this same information, but in a much more distracting manner. You can get by without the iPad in a meeting — but using the iPad sure is a hell of a lot easier.

Doodles

The last thing that I always face is the need to sketch or doodle something during the meeting. Be it a site plan, or visually showing someone the layout of anything — doodles always come in handy. I use a mix of four 2 different apps for doodling:

Each of these is a bit different and so here is how I use them:

  • Adobe Ideas is used in any situation that I normally would want to grab a big Sharpie.
  • Layers Pro is for when I really want to try and be a bit artistic.
  • Muji Note is used when I want to mix in some typed text with doodles — this comes in handy more than you would think.
  • Penultimate is use whenever I am missing not having a Moleskin on the table with me.

A Few iPad Tips for Meetings

  1. As slow as typist as you might be, don’t bring your bluetooth keyboard or your iPad keyboard dock with you to meetings — if you need to do this you might as well bring your laptop.
  2. Don’t ever rely on someone else’s Internet connection (or their ability to know the WiFi password), make sure you know how to get it by yourself. (I bring a MiFi, but a 3G iPad would work better.)
  3. Mute your iPad, especially the clicky key sounds if you use those. 3
  4. Don’t check your email while in the meeting. Only open the Mail app if you need to search for an old email during the meeting. If the meeting is that boring you shouldn’t be in the meeting to begin with.
  5. Before the meeting starts make sure you open all the apps that you think you will use and get them in the spot you want them. 4 For me I open Simplenote and create a new note for that meeting. I also like to open Dropbox and favorite any files that I think I may need to open so that they are then stored locally on the iPad. I also like to sync up my archive folder for the email account that I may need to search in.
  6. Clean your iPad screen prior to the meeting. Nobody will want to look at a drawing done on your iPad if they see greasy finger prints and spittle marks all over the screen — nobody.
  7. Always ask the person running the meeting if they mind that you use the iPad to take notes. 5 I typically don’t do this if I know the people well because I already know their comfort level, but if you are meeting with a new group asking doesn’t hurt.
  8. Bring paper, pen and business cards — you never want to send someone home with your iPad.

You know the people you are meeting with better than I — you also know yourself best. Don’t use an iPad because I say it is the best, likewise don’t not use an iPad because others think it ruins meetings. Do what is best for you.

  1. One could argue that digital pens that will record the documents back to the computer solves this issue. Though if you argued that I would have to say you are still wrong. In my experience with such devices they are usually far more hassle than they are worth.
  2. I am also currently trying Notes Plus.
  3. BTW get rid of the clicky keyboard sound.
  4. Leverage the limited multi-tasking of the iPad, by getting to the view in each app you likely will need.
  5. Typically I do this with an email or phone call prior to the meeting. I don’t like to put people on the spot and this gives me time to prepare if I don’t get to use the iPad. Though, I have never had anybody say no to the iPad.
Originally posted for members on: January 24, 2011
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