While a meeting’s content is central to its success, the logistical and technical challenges of co-located and virtual meetings can overshadow all the great conversation. Scheduling and connecting virtually are a challenge for many business professionals - including us. We’ve experimented with a number of online tools to schedule meetings and to connect with our virtual team members around the world. Here we share the best of what of we’ve found.
Meeting Scheduling Tools
Many of us have been part of an attempt to schedule meetings between two, three, four or more very busy people. These attempts might involve multiple emails back and forth over days, weeks, or months, peppered with “reply all” emails, last minute changes and cancellations, and subject to human scheduling error. Surveys show that businesses waste 4.8 hours scheduling meetings every week. Here are some tools we use to address the scheduling problem.
Calendly is an easy-to-use tool for sharing availability and scheduling meetings. We use it to schedule product demos as well as client and other external meetings. Connect your account with a Google or Office 365 calendar and share customized links with others so they can see your availability and book a time with you. They don’t even need a Calendly account!
Want to see Calendly in action? Click here to visit one of our Calendly pages and to sign up for our Note-taking Best Practices Webinar on July 7 at 1pm EST!
Before Calendly we used a similar tool called Pick.co for scheduling product demos, but we switched to Calendly for its more robust functionalities.
Pricing: Calendly is free. You can also upgrade to the premium version ($10/month).
MixMax is our new favorite Chrome extension. It supports email tracking, email templates, and scheduled sending, along with calendar polling, all within your email. Share specific availability within an email message so your meeting guests can choose the time they want. Because Mixmax stays in sync with your calendar, it will never allow you to double book.
You can also create a poll for different scheduling options in your email. After participants make a selection, the votes will update automatically in your email and the emails of other participants.
For a while we used assistant.to to provide specfic meeting availability in email. We switched to MixMax for its more powerful features. Note: MixMax only works for Gmail in Chrome.
Pricing: MixMax is free to use. You can also upgrade to a paid plan (from $9/month).
Doodle is an email group scheduling tool. You can set up a poll with different time slots and meeting participants check their preferences or propose new times. The more people in the group, the more you will enjoy the convenience of using this tool.
Pricing: Doodle is free to use. You can also upgrade to a premium plan ($39/year).
Meeting Tools for a Virtual World
Remote work is the new normal. With team members across five countries and a flexible work-from-home policy, Meeteor understands your challenge of finding reliable screen-sharing and video-conferencing tools. Here are the tools that work for us.
We use Join.me for easy screen-sharing for product demos. This tool is especially helpful for screen-sharing with people outside of our organization. The meeting participants simply click on a link to join the meeting and accept the screen share, without having to set up an account or download any software. We have a Pro Plan which provides a custom branded link, the flexibility to upload your own background image, and more, making it feel very professional to potential customers.
Pricing: Join.me is free to use. You can also upgrade to Pro Plan ($20/month). Non-profit pricing is also available.
We generally use Skype for internal video-conferences. Sometimes it works right away, and other times we have to connect and disconnect to make the video and audio work well. (But this seems to be the case with every video-conferencing tool we’ve tried.) One reason we prefer Skype is that you can see participants’ faces on the screen even while screen-sharing a file. It’s very helpful for facilitators to pick up nonverbal cues even when the team members are continents apart. We’ve also used the Skype mobile app and have been pleased with the video and audio quality.
Pricing: Skype is free to use. You can upgrade to Skype for Business (from $5/month per user).
Whenever we have trouble with Skype, we switch to Google Hangouts. It provides a link for people to join which makes it quick to get on a call. Some of our team members in Europe have had mixed experiences with the connection and sound quality. If you’re on the go, the Google Hangout mobile app works better than the desktop version.
Pricing: Google Hangout is free to use.
We’ve also tried GoToMeeting, Appear.in and UberConference. GoToMeeting has a more complicated interface and costs more ($24 for 5 people/month and $39/month for up to 25 people). Appear.in and Uberconference have great designs and are easy to use, but the sound quality is not consistent.
Don’t Forget About the Meeting Hardware!
The quality of video cameras, headphones, and microphones makes a big difference. If you’re a virtual meeting participant calling in, direct your voice towards the computer microphone, or better yet, use headphones with a built-in mic to improve audio. Keep yourself on mute when not speaking so you eliminate any distracting background noise. If you usually have several people calling from one meeting room, invest in a tabletop microphone and place it in the center of the table or near the person speaking - this avoids people having to repeat themselves and prevents other people from checking out because they can’t hear the conversation.
If a few team members call in together on video, invest in a wide-angle video camera so the virtual participants can see the whole group at once. This one small change made a big difference in our meetings. It reduced collective frustration at not being able to see who was speaking.
There are many tools at reasonable prices for you to choose from. We recommend you test out new tools with a small group before using them in a larger, scheduled meeting to make sure they work well. Your colleagues will thank you for this small, thoughtful act!
What logistical and technical meeting tools do you use?