some different kinds of Meeting Support tools

from the book Meeting Architecture (Vanneste, 2007)

When we say tools, we mean “anything we can do” for the meeting content (learning, networking, motivation). These tools can be concepts, methods or techniques too. It can be creative, technical or technological tools.

When using the word tools, many will see gadgets. There certainly are gadget-like things but tools in meeting support are much more than gadgets or technology. Tools can be simple or very complex, some tools were made for daily use and are applied to meetings, other tools were specially designed for meetings and some even especially made, just for this one meeting. Some tools we can hold in our hands some are intangible. Some are easy to use and some require technical assistance, and yet other requires specialists like facilitators. Some are very exciting and create a big wow effect others are very plain but still can score a lasting effect. Some tools are conceptual, some impact the meeting format, some change the room layout. Some require long preparation time others have a quick and easy benefit. Some need artistic or creative input, other are technically challenging.
Let me give some examples of what different categories of tools we are talking about.

SIMPLE OR COMPLEX TOOLS
A simple tool is pen and paper, or a flip chart and post it notes. These are usually low cost and can be the perfect tool to support a certain objective. Most simple tools are know by every one, but in some cases nobody thinks of them as having a high potential at the next meeting or conference. There must be dozens of tools that can be deployed in hundreds of ways.
A simple and zero cost tool can be a game: there is “The big book of meeting games” (Caroselli, 2002) on games that can be played at meetings.

DAILY USE TOOLS OR PURPOSELY MADE TOOLS
Some tools were made for daily use and are also applied to meetings, other tools were especially designed for meetings and some even made just for one meeting.
Music was not composed for meetings, but some songs can support a certain message or create a desired atmosphere.
The post-it notes were made for every day office use. When combined with a flip chart, they can become a powerful aid in brainstorm sessions at meetings or for meta-plans.
Spot-Me and N-Tag were developed with meetings or events in mind. Both devices are used at meetings for mainly finding or connecting to other people. They also are able to vote, show the meeting program and much more.
An opening video for a meeting can only be used once, at that meeting. It is made to measure for just one meeting.

TANGIBLE AND INTANGIBLE TOOLS
Some tools we can hold in our hands some are intangible.
A digital pen, a microphone, an evaluation form and a certificate are all tangible tools. A meeting format like ‘open space’, a creative idea and an online video report are all intangible.

TOOLS WITH OR WITHOUT ASSISTANCE
Some tools are easy to use and some require technical assistance, and yet other requires specialist facilitators. An LCD projector in a small break-our meeting room is easy to use, for a wide screen presentation with 3 or 4 projectors, technical assistance is a must and for a special computer based groupware system like Crystal interactive, we best take the experienced facilitators to make it really work. Crystal Interactive is a UK based company that provides a service to facilitate collaboration, co-creation and peer-to-peer and bottom up education. They combine technology and people. The technology is based on small portable and fully wireless laptop computers. The facilitators have a lot of experience in working with groups at meetings and make them work together and share ideas and knowledge. The combination of both results in a strong group dynamic of discussion, brainstorming and inputting of information in the system. The input can be seen by all and commented or completed. A bit like a Wiki but than very intense and concentrated in this moment at the meeting plus all participants work together simultaneously.

TOOLS WITH A HIGH OR A LOW WOW FACTOR
Some tools are very exciting and create a big wow effect others are very plain but still can score a lasting effect.
A big opening show with themed video productions, a VIP speaker, a great act and pyrotechnic and the lot, generates a big wow moment but a simple but genuine testimonial from a blind teacher that teaches blind students to work with a computer can also have a lasting impact on many participants.

STRATEGIC OR OPERATIONAL TOOLS
Some tools are strategic: BIG and conceptual, impacting the whole meeting. Some impact in a more tactical way the meeting format or operational and change the room layout.
Concepts like the “wisdom of crowds” meetings come with a theme that in this example is based on the book “Wisdom of crowds” (Surowiecky, 2004) with the same name and implement one or more ways of harvesting the wisdom of the ‘crowd’. The Learning meeting (Ravn, 2007) influences first of all the meeting format by shortening the presentations and creating more time for reflection, discussion and interaction amongst participants. Other concepts like open space are held in a very unorthodox room lay out of circles of chairs. The one I have participated in was at the MPI WEC in 2006 where about 20 chairs per circle were used.

LONG OR SHORT PREPARATION TOOLS
Some tools require long preparation time others have the quick effect benefit. Good preparation takes lots of time and that is probably the first challenge for making all this work (budget on a good second). Delivering a DVD with recorded presentations and the closing video to all participants during the closing dinner takes a lot of preparation, just like screening and adapting all the presentations the day before the conference. This last activity almost never happens, but I think it is crucial for any meeting or conference, especially corporate ones. A quick effect can be added last minute by deciding to go for a closing video; a nice 3 minute report edited on some music.

ARTY OR TECHY TOOLS
Some tools need artistic or creative input, other are technically or logistically challenging.
Adding some drama to a conference by hiring an actor to do a fake speech can be very powerful but the right actor and the perfect script is needed. Doing an open air projection during a beach dinner is technically challenging. Using the equipment from the meeting to be cost effective makes it an additional logistical endeavour. Using software to match people and organising one on one meeting or dinners with table topics also can be a logistical challenge. This may require additional staff and on site printing facilities to provide participants with an ‘itinerary’

CONCLUSION
As described above, there are many kinds of tools and many ways to look at tools to support specific objectives in meetings. In 2007 there is no centralised, complete list or bible of meeting support tools yet. There must be hundreds and thousands of tools that have a small existence or still need to be discovered by the meeting industry. The meeting support institute is building a knowledge base of all the tools that exist so your input is welcome on www.meetingsupport.org

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