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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.

Technology hasn't improved to the point where software can transcribe a recording of a group meeting reliably and automatically. Dictation software doesn't work well in this environment, either. Consequently, you'll have to manually transcribe the recording yourself, or (more likely) turn to a transcription service to do the job.

The good news is that using such services no longer involves mailing a cassette tape and then waiting days for the transcript to be completed. Now, a number of apps have built-in transcription options. The Rev Voice Recorder (free; iOS) lets you record audio and then send it out for transcription electronically, directly through the app. The fee is $1 per minute of transcription (the first 10 minutes are free), with a 48-hour turnaround promised. TranscribeMe (free; iOS) offers a similar plan.

Transcriptions are never perfect, but most companies promise 98 percent accuracy, if your recording is of high enough quality.

After the meeting
As discussed above, your notes should form the basis of a to-do list, and you should immediately turn any deadlines into entries on your calendar. If you were taking notes for the group, you should transcribe and email a meeting summary afterward—the sooner, the better. The summary doesn't have to be a lengthy message. In fact, the more succinct it is, the more likely people are to read it. But action items must be clearly denoted, deadlines associated with them must be marked, and the person in charge of completing the assignment listed (and on the email distribution list) must be identified. Use boldface or a colored font to highlight particularly urgent items.

The most important element of a successful meeting isn't a piece of hardware or software—it's the people who are attending. Pay attention. Participate. Don't fall prey to the distractions of checking your email or text messages when someone else is droning on and on. Most meetings are only as successful as their least useful participant; so even if a meeting isn't especially helpful to you, at least don't be a distraction to everyone else.


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