Every project manager or analyst I’ve come in contact with has their style when it comes to meetings that cover technical knowledge. Even phase gate meetings or executive briefings where decisions are discussed. In some cases, I’ve noticed when they don’t bother with notes at all because the ability to filter out non-productive information keeps project focus. One of the things that I find useful is being able to use meeting notes for a timeline built weeks later because it could be valuable in developing a case to make a course change. As an example, the project team had met and discussed various options we had to implement a web service over a heavily restricted network. I listened to the technical experts discuss multiple points that would later be challenged. I could hear the valuable arguments made for each path and then note when other technical team members would toss in the “Oh, but” arguments. Weeks or even months later when our customer asked why we had implemented the solution this way I had the information at hand and didn’t have to dig through any requirement database or a thread in a collaboration suite. If you are a project analyst looking to shine, this is one of the best ways you can readily bring value immediately to your team: necessary knowledge management.
Many corporate office tools or suites have Microsoft Onenote (also Notebook), or you can use something similar like Evernote. I have exported several prior Notebook files into Onenote, so if you have a license for Microsoft products, it’s a great tool to have. Take some professional development time to use your corporate learning solutions to master these tools or try YouTube, Udemy, or Lynda.com. The key to using those tools are tags. Tag information with metadata that will enable you to find it later quickly. They are invaluable tools; there is the issue of running from meeting to meeting and efficiently manage notebooks or applications. In some sessions, notes aren’t required because it was cut short or the information was just a rehash and maybe even a waste of time. In meetings where I was not the host and was attending for information only, I would open a Microsoft Notepad [Just type notepad.exe] and leave it open for the entire meeting just in case I needed to jot something down. I also kept pen and paper, but sometimes that’s not very effective if you needed to revisit the information. Having notepad.exe at the ready meant I could make a quick note and then if I needed to save it later, I would paste into Onenote or Evernote.
Hopefully, note taking will become less expensive and more digital soon, like reMarkable’s e-ink tablet. Having the ability to tag and categorize your notes makes you much more efficient! Until this type of e-ink can become less expensive and easily integrated into our office applications, I don’t suggest the high price tag.
Should you use your phone for notes? Sure, as long as your peers understand that’s what you are doing. Note taking on the phone can be cumbersome but if you are in a rush, it’s better than a napkin.
Staring at the back of a laptop during a meeting can become disconcerting. I do not advise doing this when you want to convey the importance of the information that you are sharing or your project team is sharing. Talking to a peer while they are busily typing and looking up from a laptop screen is impersonal and rude. If you are going to do that, you should tell your attendees that that is precisely what you are going to do. Keep your laptop to the side somewhat so that you can pause the discussion and make a note when needed. It’s expected that you will retain the vital information but don’t let it undermine your communication skills. What if the project managers or analysts have no one to take notes? The project manager won’t want to be stuck behind the keyboard or might need to present something. If your attendees are okay with it, use something like Tape-a-talk, it comes in handy later when you can sit at your desk and carefully write out meeting notes. It doesn’t use a lot of your resources, and you can delete the file once you’ve made notes and it allows you time to rehash some technical information that might have been discussed. Tape-a-talk lasts for an entire hour-long meeting if not more and the files are shareable.
Speaking of Listening
Another nifty tool you can use in meetings when technology fails you is a Jabra Speak 510 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker that you keep in your briefcase. I saw this in action one day when the corporate phone system was suddenly unresponsive, and we couldn’t seem to get everyone dialed in. You can quickly connect your cell phone and use it just like a conference phone. Later, in a phone conference, we had already started and needed to dial in an external vendor. Instead of interrupting the conversation we used this device to dial them in quickly. In the meeting, we placed it close to the phone system speaker and I was surprised how well it worked. It also comes in handy in full office buildings when you have to have meetings in small spaces or the cafeteria corner and need that speakerphone.
Another great tool I’ve seen utilized and also have the benefit of in large group meetings was the Logitech Wireless Presenter R800. It allows you to move around the room and be able to look at how much time has elapsed quickly. Get one of these and put it in your bag along with the Jabra Speaker.
Finally, the best must have for many meetings you will lead has nothing to do with technology at all. You should stand up. Large room or small, standing up get’s your blood flowing, commands attention and allows you to move around the room while connecting with your audience. You might be in a tiny place where standing up doesn’t make sense, but when you are feeling the presentation jitters, and you want to exude confidence about the subject matter, get up and connect with your audience. In a room full of techies being the project manager or analyst driving a project you will undoubtedly get more efficiency out of the team when it is blatantly obvious you take the subject matter seriously.
What are some of your secrets in managing meetings and efficiently retaining information?