Best Practices for Managing Meetings with Google Calendar

Google Calendar has many, many features that make it a premier calendaring software, especially how it handles invites and attendee management. Without it, I’d be hard pressed to run successful meetings, or even plan for them. Getting everyone to the same place, on time, and prepared for the task at hand is paramount to a great creative session, and it all starts with the invitation. Here are three strategies for managing your meetings.

1. Take charge of the guest list

Inviting the right people to a meeting starts with deciding who needs to attend in the first place. Inviting guests* using Google Calendar is as easy as entering their email address, and no matter what calendar program they use, they’ll get the invite and will be able to add it to their calendar. Something to keep in mind when inviting people is that depending on their system, you may or may not get feedback (such as comments) back from the invitee.

For example, if you work in Google and others work in Microsoft Outlook, keep in mind that some functionality is different and be clear about the expectations for RSVP information, re-scheduling, etc.

Once you’ve added people to your event, you can make some attendees optional. To do this, click on the symbol (shaped like a person silhouette) next to their name in the guest list to toggle optional attendance. That way, you can quickly signal who is mandatory, and who is not. This is great for big meetings with lots of players, or in a meeting where you’d like the boss to stop in if they have time, but it’s not crucial they attend.

Fig 1. – Here’s the guest list for a small meeting, and it’d be great if Paula joins us, but her attendance isn’t mandatory. Why waste someone’s time if they have other things on their plate?

Another feature to maximize is what invitees can do once they’ve been added to the guest list. Google offers some simple solutions, and you can allow guests to invite others, see the guest list, and modify the event. Or not. I typically allow people to see the guest list, but leave the event modification and inviting of key players to myself. In some cases, if I co-run a meeting with someone, we might add the flexibility of allowing the group to invite others that are available who they feel might contribute.

*For basics like inviting people to an event, check out Synergyse’s super helpful in-browser help topics. Each module offers step by step instructions, with an overlaid video tutorial, to give you maximum immersion and unlock powerful features.

2. Update your guests responsibly

Every time you make a modification to an event where you have associated guests, Google Calendar will ask you if you want to send an update to your list. Be careful here, as too many notifications of an event may turn some people off. It’s often best to think twice before setting up a meeting in the first place to be sure that the time and place will work for most people, instead of bombarding your future attendees with 17 emails telling them the meeting has changed. Unless you’re the boss, in which case you can do whatever you want!

Fig 2. – Event notifications are helpful, but think twice about letting Google just take over and go notification crazy! If you can relay the message in person, do so whenever possible, especially for the small stuff like location changes from one conference room to the next. “Hey, Bob, we’re meeting at Starbucks instead of Dunkin Donuts. No problem, right?”

The notification offer pops up regardless of how you make modifications to the meeting, so if you’re dragging the event from one day to the next in Week view (how I move stuff around frequently) you’ll have the option communicate. However, “to send or not to send, that is the question.” When I have meeting attendees that come from outside the organization, I always send meeting changes. If I’ll see them in the hallway in the next day or two, I don’t.

Fig 3. – Another fantastic way to quickly communicate with your guests is to directly email invitees from the event itself. There’s no need to build an email list – just click ‘Email Guest’ option by the Guest List and you’ll have the opportunity to modify the message that goes out. This is great for a quick heads up, or a clarification of meeting particulars.

3. Manage feedback and reschedules

If your organization has standardized on one calendar software (obviously Google Calendar, right?) everyone wins. If not, managing feedback about meetings, and managing reschedules, becomes a bit of a hassle.

Meeting invitees are allowed to communicate back with a note, along with their RSVP response (usually ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’). This data becomes yours to deal with, and you can easily see in the guest list who has responded, and what their status is.

Fig 4. – Jae’s busy, but I can easily solve the problem, and Jae doesn’t have to send a separate email wasting time and resources. Furthermore, everyone invited (if they’re allowed to see the guest list) will know what’s going on at all times.

I particularly like the count at the top, where I get a total count for who’s coming and not. That makes planning for resources like drinks, snacks, and handouts easy. If you’re working with an assistant, they can make use of this data too, as long as you’ve invited them to the meeting. Again, in the interest of time, both of you can get your work done without unnecessary emails trying to get the details right.

Can’t find a time to meet? Let Google Calendar help you! As long as all, or most, of the meeting participants are using Google Calendar, finding a time to get together is easy. Just select the ‘Find a time’ tab next to the ‘Event Details’ tab, and the calendars of everyone who’s been invited will show up, visually displaying good times to meet. Simply pick a new time, and off you go! Did you know there’s even an option to add a Google Hangout directly to a meeting? (that’s for a future post, so hang on…)

Andreas Johansson is the Director of Technology Integration & Curriculum for Kenston Local Schools in Ohio, a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer, and manages all his meetings using Google Calendar invites! You can find him here.