iPads Add Sizzle and Creativity to Meetings
By Danuta McCall

Posted February 15, 2015

A recent post on a site called iPad CTO caught my eye because its title: Increase Productivity with iPad-driven Business Meetings. Yes indeed! I thought about a past engagement where we used iPads to create a sense of intimate conversation amongst 400 people. The author of this post went on to posit: “The legacy of business meetings – boring, counter-productive, and a constant interruption of real work – shows that little progress has been made over the last century ……There’s a chance iPad’s involvement and deep integration into the way meetings are organized and implemented can move the needle just enough to improve your meetings in significant ways.”

Designing a focused meeting, whether in-house or virtual, and then keeping your participants fully engaged in productive conversation is always a challenge. It becomes more challenging with a very large group. Our solution is to combine appropriate technology and group process in a way that enables interaction. Working with Leap Solutions, we tested both our design principles and the iPad as a collaboration vehicle in an engagement with Johns Hopkins University. JHU brought together some 400 stakeholders (trustees, board members and active alumni) together in a “Volunteer Summit” to help envision the university’s role as a community member, global citizen, leader in the area of personalized medicine and institution of learning in the digital age.

Each of four concurrent discussion sessions focused on a single topic that would help define the Johns Hopkins of the future. The challenge was to find a way to engage close to one hundred people in intimate conversation with each other, generate and capture all the creative ideas and synthesize the major themes into a 5 minute presentation to the final assembly. Here’s how we did it:

  • The large group was divided into small tables of 8, each with a table facilitator and a recorder
  • An hour before the session, the recorders checked out an iPad and got a 10 minute orientation. The iPad connected via the internet to an online agenda with a series of questions (the software used was FacilitatePro). The questions were designed to draw the group through a thinking process, starting with brainstorming and converging on key ideas.
  • Each recorder captured the ideas of his/her group on an electronic flipchart via the iPad. They used color to identify ideas that evoked particular energy and enthusiasm.
  • While the table groups were discussing, the 3 Deans assigned to each topic area were circulating the room with iPad in hand, reviewing all the ideas as they were posted. This allowed them to start to recognize key themes, stop by a particular table to pose a clarifying question and reflect on what they were hearing.
  • At the end of the sessions, the Deans had all the information at hand to prepare a synopsis of the discussion, using specific ideas as illustrations of important themes. These were captured on slides and presented after lunch in the closing assembly.

While a lot could have been accomplished simply by setting up small group discussions and scribing the old fashioned way, having the portability and connectivity of the iPads – and the collaborative software to collect and then merge ideas – made the experience far richer. Participants left feeling their time was well spent and their voices heard. The Deans were particularly enthused about the iPad allowing them to be active observers. Many commented that this was unlike any conference they had attended.

The iPad is a welcome addition to our portfolio of collaborative technology. How has it been used in your organization?

Posted by Danuta McCall