Minutes should provide an accurate picture of a meeting and a record of decisions made and action steps agreed. They remind attendees exactly what has been said and agreed and also provide a useful reference document for anyone who was unable to attend the meeting. Taking minutes shouldn’t be too onerous a task if you ensure you are well prepared and put in place some simple guidelines.
Part 1 – Taking Minutes
- Be prepared: make sure you have reviewed the agenda and attendee list and are familiar with the subject matter due to be discussed. If you don’t catch something or aren’t sure of a spelling it is always better to ask for clarification but being prepared will help avoid this.
- Create shortcuts: shorthand may be a thing of the past for most of us but use your own symbols and abbreviations to speed up your note taking.
- Be objective: don’t be tempted to minute what you think people were feeling, to interpret their motivation or speculate about broader issues. Your job is to summarise what has actually been said and agreed.
- Be sensitive: if a controversial or sensitive issue is being discussed always ask for clarification whether it should be included in the minutes
- Establish ground rules: if the meeting follows clear ground rules it will be much easier for you to take minutes. These should ideally be agreed with the meeting chair and shared with the participants and can include no interrupting, following the agenda, allowing (or not allowing) any other business and so on.
Part 2 – Writing Minutes
- Make sure you write up your minutes within 24 hours of the meeting while it is still fresh in your mind. The longer you leave it the harder it will be to interpret your notes.
- Keep your minutes as concise as possible; nobody wants to plough through pages of ‘he said, she said’ type dialogue. Summarise new information shared, decisions made, major objections and actions to be completed.
- If you take minutes for a regular meeting create a template with key information required such as time, date and attendees at the top and then a grid which details each topic of discussion and its resulting actions.
- Actions are perhaps the most important element of meeting minutes: who is going to do what and by when. Make sure all action points are clearly highlighted and standout.
- Send your minutes to the meeting leader or chair before circulating them among all the attendees or a wider audience. You can then take on board any feedback or amendments before the minutes go live
Whether you are the minute taker at a regular meeting or are occasionally asked to take meeting notes as part of a rotation, it is essential that you produce a timely and accurate record of the meeting and these guidelines should enable you to make this an efficient and pain free process.
Cathy Wellings is Head of Communication Skills at Communicaid a communication skills consultancy which offers report writing training amongst its services.