Tim's Weblog
Tim Strehle’s links and thoughts on Web apps, software development and Digital Asset Management, since 2002.

Product idea: Live meeting agenda for collaborative presentations

The whole point of meetings – unless it’s a public announcement by the big boss – is collaboration. Strangely, we seem to be lacking software tools to support this kind of synchronous collaboration. Our primary meeting tools are PowerPoint or Keynote presentations, whiteboard drawings, and the occasional shared Google Docs document.

I see four problems with using PowerPoint for meetings:

  • It’s hard to switch presenters. We have to unplug the projecter or change seats, and jump between different PowerPoint files. This is far too static. I don’t know about your meetings, but in our office, we’re going back and forth in meetings, with multiple people wanting to contribute and show something to back up what they’re saying.
  • PowerPoint presentation mode is read-only. For the presenter, it’s pretty awkward to jump into editing mode to add notes, correct a mistake, move or add an agenda item during the meeting. And for the audience, it’s impossible.
  • People watching the presentation become an “audience” instead of participants. They cannot even follow the presentation on their computer and click a link in it.
  • The agenda, the meeting structure, isn’t well-represented by PowerPoint slides. It’s hard to keep track of which agenda item we’re currently in, and whether we’re running out of time.

I’ve been thinking about meeting collaboration tools for a few years, and I need to publish my thoughts so I can get them out of my head (or start doing something about it).

So let’s say we’re building a new, Web based tool called “Live Meeting Agenda”. Someone uses it to create an initial agenda, then send its URL to each participant, so people can collaborate on the agenda. Before or during the meeting, anyone can add items, slides, notes, links, files.

The Web app has one Web page per agenda item, like this (click to enlarge):

Each agenda item can contain multiple “slides”. The image above shows two slides. Anyone with proper permissions can add and edit slides, even during the meeting. When you click on a slide’s “Present this slide” button, it changes to “Currently presenting” and with a little magic, people see the slide up on the projector:

The magic is in the “autopilot”: Any participant can turn it on to switch her browser into “projector mode”. In this mode, the browser will automatically be notified when a “Present this slide” button has been clicked, and it will display the slide. Hook up a computer with a full-screen browser on “autopilot” to a projector, and you’re remote-controlling the big screen. Remote meeting participants might also want to use autopilot to always see the current screen.

Depending on permissions, any participant can take over by clicking one of the “Present this slide” buttons. Maybe on a fresh slide which he just added during the meeting.

An assortment of some more possible features:

  • a timeline that shows where you are and lets you reorder items
  • download basic agenda data (title, date, duration) in iCalendar format
  • use TogetherJS to show who’s on the same page
  • link to a Slack channel
  • upload files onto slides (like a photo of a whiteboard drawing)
  • polls / votes
  • private slides while in draft, or for personal notes
  • embed tweets, videos etc. using oEmbed
  • Google Drive, Dropbox etc. integration for adding images
  • embed Google Slides presentations if that’s possible
  • login with URL + PIN, which you can tell attendants
  • support Twitter / Facebook / Google login
  • quick jump to the currently presented slide
  • notifications when presenting a new slide, and when people log in or off

Maybe what I’m dreaming of has already been built? Please let me know! And I’d also love feedback on the fictional product I’ve outlined. Would you use it, would you pay for it?

Update (2016-01-13): Minute doesn’t have any presentation features, but the meeting agenda part is somewhat similar to what I’ve sketched.

Update (2017-01-13): Christian Heilmann in 7 tricks to have very successful conference calls: “Have the agenda editable to everyone available during the meeting – this way people can edit and note down things that have been said. […] Distribute presenter materials before the call. […] If they have the slide deck locally, they can watch it without blurs and delays.”

Update (2017-03-31): OpenSlides sounds interesting: “Motions, elections or simply a list of speakers: Everything can be projected on a canvas. All you need is a browser. Our backend enables you to manage your slides on-the-fly while assembly sees the projector in fullscreen. Integrate the plenum! Give access to participants on their own devices (to submit motions or recall voting results).”