Running a Paperless Meeting

Meetings create paper.

I find that the immediacy of a meeting means that participants need a lot of information at their fingertips and the cost of not having that information is high. Therefore, meeting participants tend to use paper to achieve both of those goals: lots of information and a certainty that it is available.

Being paperless really solves the first problem well. Being paperless means that I can have gigabytes of information at my fingertips. It is all easily searchable and ensures that I can find the information that I need quickly.

The second problem is certainty of having the information available. As long as there is internet I am certain this problem is fixed. However being in the cloud does mean you heavily rely on that fact and when you are going to meetings in places you have not been before, it does present some uncertainty as to whether I will be able to access the information when I need it.

Being the Chair of the meeting is even tougher, because the lack of access to some information could derail the entire meeting. In this scenario the stakes are even higher as no one wants to be running a meeting and having to stall to pull up information. If this happens, I can guarantee you that is when you have all those renaissance paper heroes glare at you. Not fun.

So over the past few months I have created a methodology of managing meeting information that keeps me organized, and ensures that the information I need is available when I need it.

8 Steps to Chair a Paperless Meeting

Below is my methodology for managing a meeting using the paperless tools.

Take what makes sense to you, and throw out the rest if it doesn’t. Substitute your own tools where it makes sense.

A couple of principles:

  • I want to be hyper-organized so that I am on top of the information I need to run an efficient and effective meeting.
  • I want to have critical information synchronized to my devices, so that I am not beholden to a network connection.

Step 1: Setup OneNote

OneNote is the centre of my meeting universe. It is the holder and organizer of my critical meeting information. I create a OneNote notebook for the organization, then create tab called Board Meetings, and then create a new page with the meeting name and date.

Step 2: Get my Agenda Organized

Typically each meeting agenda is distributed electronically. I find that most of them arrive as a Word or PDF document. This works well for me as I then insert a copy of the agenda onto my OneNote page as a printout. I then select the printout and click SET PICTURE AS BACKGROUND so that I can write all over it without it moving around the page.


Step 3: Prepare my Notes

Once my agenda is pasted into my meeting note, I pull out my Microsoft Surface and start making notes in preparation for the meeting. I love using the DRAW feature to make notes all over the agenda, just like I would if I had a paper agenda.


I also create a section on the same page for inserting notes for specific agenda items. I simply create a little text box and then type out some bullet points for the agenda items.


Step 4: Create a To-Do Area for Post-Meeting Tasks

Almost every meeting seems to generate a few follow up tasks. I set aside some space on my OneNote page to capture those things that others or I need to follow up on after the meeting. For those things that I need to do, I tag them as an OUTLOOK TASK that will automatically appear as a to-do item in my Outlook.


Step 5: Create A Folder for Supporting Documents

My larger meetings tend to have a great deal of supporting material. I have one Board meeting coming up this month that has over 200 pages of supporting material scattered over 18 documents. I want those on my computer, in case I cannot secure a network connection to my cloud storage.

I set up a folder for the meeting and synchronize the supporting material onto my computer.

Step 6: Markup Documents

With paper meeting materials, I tended to review the material using a pen and a highlighter. In the paperless world, I use the same sort of tools in digital form. I review all documents using my Microsoft Surface and a digital pen. I use a tool called DrawBoard that allows me to markup documents using highlighters and pen marks. Other tools, such as Acrobat, can provide the same sort of markup functionality. I love Drawboard for its simplicity and large inventory of markup options.


Step 7: Prepare the Meeting Room

I always work with my meeting hosts to prepare the room for the paperless meeting. Two things are critical: network connectivity and power.

I attended a meeting a few weeks ago which featured about 80% of the attendees using paperless tools at the meeting. The problem was, there was a very limited number of power outlets in the meeting room. This left us scrambling for power bars and extension cords to keep all of our laptops humming. Just to add to the problems, their guest wireless network only allowed a few users to connect at a time, again leaving some people scrambling to download their documents.

So, now I make sure I have access to a network and power BEFORE the meeting starts – so I don’t have to scramble for that stuff at the last minute.

Side note: In future I think most of our meeting rooms will look like this:

Step 8: Run an Awesome Meeting

Unfortunately, at the end of all of that preparation, I still have to run the actual meeting. I am organized and I have access to all of the critical information I need to run the meeting. In all honesty this makes me confident, and a confident meeting leader who is organized is a really good start to running an awesome meeting. I also feel like a whiz when running meetings this way as those paper heroes end up fumbling with their paper while I can streamline through organized documents with one click.

I wish you the best on your paperless journey, and with running your awesome paperless meeting.

Did you use any of the tips I mentioned above? Do you have your own way of running a paperless meeting? Let me know with a comment. I’d love to hear about your paperless journey.

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