March 3, 2009

Evaluating meeting tools that are free on the internet

When I’m talking to groups on moving their meetings from boring to productive, I often get asked about tools I might recommend during the question and answer period. I also sometimes get tools recommended to me by people in attendance at my training courses. After I had shared one fairly new tool with a group of HR professionals, someone suggested that since I also am a writer perhaps I should do written reviews on some of these internet tools. I thought that was a pretty good idea, so I started testing tools and asking for permission to write articles on my findings.

Below are the results of three tools I have found so far. If you would like to suggest other tools for me to review, please send me a comment with the tool name and the website address where it can be found.

Meeting Miser – Meeting Timer and Cost Estimator Tool
Following is the link to my full article explaining the purpose of this free tool from a U.S. company and some cautions you may need to be aware of when using it for your meetings.

My personal test results of the Meeting Miser tool, which tracks meeting costs, include the following. It must be noted that this tool is not an exact cost of meetings because it uses a range of rates based on monthly salary or an hourly base rather than exact pay of the meeting attendees. The tool also lacks accuracy in time for all attendees. In the thirty-plus minutes of the meeting test for six attendees, the last attendee was marked out at the beginning and then added into the meeting after 15 minutes had passed. However, the tool appeared to count this attendee as attending the full meeting time. Therefore, this tool only gives the approximate cost and the actual time of a meeting based on timely clicking of the buttons. It should not be used as an accounting tool, instead consider it an indicator for estimated measurement only.

The website where you go to use the tool does not have a help feature for the tool, nor does it have a tour, slide show, or tutorial. Maybe it is because the tool is a free resource or because it is relatively easy to use after some trial and error. For those of you who like step-by-step instructions rather than just jumping in, I put together 2 guides on Meeting Miser that you can request by emialing me.  Below is a ;ink to a detailed tool review: 

MeetingWizard – Meeting Planning and Invitation Tool
Below is the link to my full article explaining the purpose of the free tool from a Canadian company and the basic process to follow in using it for meetings.

· Planning Meetings with the Meeting Wizard On-line Tool

The website where you go to use the tool does have a help tour that explains how the product should work. However, since I have a history in instructional design and I thought you would most likely not refer back to the tour once you start a meeting - I also put together some easy-to-follow instructions for this tool. Send me an emial to let me know which of these guides you want:
· How to the MeetingWizard Tool to Plan a Meeting Date
· How to Use the MeetingWizard Tool to Cancel or Confirm a Meeting
· How to Create and Update Individuals in the Meeting Wizard Address Book
· How to Create and Update Groups in the Meeting Wizard Address Book
· How to Use the MeetingWizard Tool to Respond to a Meeting Invitation
· How to Respond to a Meeting Wizard Address Book Update Request

I also tested the address book options in this tool but have not written a how to article on that yet. Just so you know, I only tested the importing option with “Microsoft Outlook (email addresses only)” and “Yahoo!” using the MeetingWizard on-line instructions. This step saves you time if in typing addresses if you plan to use the tool a lot. However, you don’t have to import addresses unless you really want to as I noticed that when addresses were used for meeting invitees; they were automatically added to my address book in the tool.

Meet-O-Matic – Meeting Scheduler Tool
This is a somewhat free tool that helps with meeting planning like the above using nice large clickable calendars with AM/PM feature. But it does not go to confirm or cancel meeting steps as above tool, nor do I remember seeing an address book feature in it but that may be a pay feature. This is from a UK company. I chose not to write a full review on it. It has a good Quick Start guide and Tour on the site. Their advanced version offers some well-designed narrated Quick Start videos for training users. If you want to check this version out, click on “New Meeting” at the top of their web page or search for tool name and “beta”.

Doodle - Meeting Scheduler Tool
This has mostly free options, as long as you don't mind pop-up ads.  Watch the video on their site to learn more.

Tune into this blog and use the “meetings” label to see if any new tool reviews are added. Remember, if you would like to suggest other tools for me to review, please add a comment with the tool name and the website address where it can be found. Thanks.

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