An effective meeting produces a change: participants learn something (a change of information) or decide something (a change of plan). Learning and decision-making happens in all sorts of settings, including staff meetings, sales meetings, and board meetings.

Formal meetings often rely on three categories of documents. An agenda identifies issues to be discussed or decided. The meeting minutes documents the information shared and/or decisions made. Everything else might broadly be called support materials.

In a formal meeting, all three of these are distinct items. Participants agree to an agenda before the meeting begins. People receive some support materials in advance and some during the meeting. Someone takes minutes and distributes them later.

If you rely on paper to run your meetings, you spend time — and money — printing and distributing the documents. However, Google Apps offers a better alternative: go digital. Eliminate your printing and distribution costs for meeting materials.

For some meetings, you might not need separate documents for an agenda, minutes, and support materials. A single Google Doc may be all you need. The document might identify the agenda, expand to include support information (or links) during the meeting, and document key learnings or decisions.

Here are six tips to make this work.

1. Create a Google Doc for each meeting

Include a consistent title and date in your meeting document names. This makes it much easier to search for documents. For example: “Staff Meeting,” “Project Status Meeting,” “Product Team Meeting,” combined with the international date standard of year, month, day. This results in document names such as “Staff Meeting – 20140423,” “Project Status Meeting – 20140430,” or “Product Team Meeting – 20140724.” This naming simplifies search.

2. Move the document to the right folder(s)

Again, to simplify future reference, move your document to a Google Docs folder — or folders. Remember, a single Google Doc may be “moved” to multiple places. All of those links connect to the same document.

For example, a weekly staff meeting might focus on emergency response plans. The document might be titled “Staff Meeting – 20140423,” and you might move the document to both a “Weekly Staff Meeting” folder and an “Emergency Plans” folder.

To move a document, view the document in your list at Select the check box to the left of the document, then choose “More” at the top of the file listing. Next, select “Move to…” When the list of folders displays, hold the [Ctrl] key (Figure A) and select your destination folder(s).

Figure A

Move a meeting document to multiple folders by using the [Ctrl] key.

3. Share the document with participants

Change the sharing permissions on your Google Doc to ensure that all meeting participants may access the document. For the greatest security, require each participant to login with a Google Account. For the easiest access, set the document sharing so that “anyone with the link” may access.

Additionally, choose whether meeting participants may “View,” “Comment,” or “Edit” the meeting document. For a small, highly collaborative team, “Edit” is likely the best setting. (Remember, you can always “View, track, and undo edits in Google Apps“.) For a larger group, dealing with contentious issues, “Comment” might be a wise choice.

4. Create Calendar event: Invite guests and attach document(s)

Create a Google Calendar event for each meeting, and add each participant’s email address to the calendar invite list. They’ll receive an invitation — and, if they respond, you’ll have at least a general idea of attendance.

Attach the Google Doc with your meeting agenda to the invitation (Figure B). You can attach other meeting support materials to the invitation, as well. The document — and any other materials — will display for the recipient when they choose to see “More details” in their invitation.

By attaching meeting documents to a calendar event, you make it easier to refer to notes in the future. Just go to the date of a meeting, and the documents you need are linked to the calendar event.

Figure B

Invite guests with a calendar event, and attach meeting documents.

5. Edit during the meeting

Edit your document during the meeting. You can edit from a laptop (Chrome browser), tablet, or smartphone (Google Drive app). Capture key information and decisions in the document. Be sure to clearly document both.

Remember, if you allow others to comment or edit, they can add their thoughts to the document — even if they don’t speak during the meeting.

6. Share the document link after the meeting

After the meeting, take a few minutes to complete any final edits and make sure the document clearly identifies “next actions” (i.e., identifies who is to do what, when). Each participant should be able to glance at the document then transfer “action items” to their own task lists. (See “Three tools for better task management in Google Apps,” especially if your team doesn’t yet use a task management tool integrated with Google Apps.)

Share the link to the document with meeting participants. In your browser, select File | Share, then copy the link. Or, if all participants are document collaborators, select File | Email collaborators, type your message, and click Send.

The goal: Move forward together, quickly

A shared document may help facilitate discussion, decision-making, and collaboration during a meeting.

Ultimately, though, people create a productive meeting by arriving prepared, remaining engaged, and departing with collective clarity of purpose and action. Google Calendar, Docs, and Drive support the process, but people make it work.

How do you use Google Apps to support meeting agendas, materials, and minutes? Please let us know in the discussion thread below.