Being assigned as the designated minute taker of a meeting can be a daunting prospect, especially if you haven’t done it before. After all, given the responsibility of documenting everything that’s discussed and decided upon, a thousand things could potentially go wrong: what if you miss something important or end up making a fool of yourself? The last thing your career needs is a disgruntled COO being asked to repeat himself because you’re really sorry, but you didn’t quite catch that last bit.
Except none of this needs to be the case. In fact, with the right preparation and guidance, minute taking is actually a relatively simple process, and we’ve produced a quick and handy guide detailing the finer points to prove it.
So, the next time your boss puts you on scribe duties, take a deep breath and don’t panic; this is how to take meeting minutes efficiently and effectively.
1. Don’t Go in Blind
As with all things, minute writing is a lot easier if you’ve prepared thoroughly beforehand. Knowing in advance who will be attending the meeting, what the agenda will be and the level of detail that is required will help to make your job a lot more straightforward.
As soon as you’ve been handed the duty, you should spend five minutes with your boss to obtain all this information before documenting it. By far the quickest and most effective way to do this is by using a meeting minutes template, a handy tool that ensures you don’t waste time constructing a format from scratch. This way, when it comes to taking notes, everything will already be tidily organised and ready to work off.
If your firm is especially tech savvy, you could even upload the template document to the cloud, allowing participants to add their own name to the list and suggest their own agenda topics. However your organisation likes to play things, a template is a flexible and simple way for everyone to work.
2. Know What Needs to be Documented
In many cases – particularly in high-level corporate meetings where votes or motions might be on the agenda – the minutes you take represent an official, legally admissible document. For example, if a board of directors makes a decision, then – for the purpose of transparency – it’s important that those not present (but with a vested interest in the company) know why such a decision was made.
Conversely, if it’s a simple team meeting that is generally informal in nature, then you might not need to be so stringent with details. Either way, a typical draft will include:
- the date and time of the meeting
- a full list of participants (as well as invited participants who could not make it, usually denoted by the term ‘regrets’)
- any amendments or corrections to minutes from the previous meeting (if applicable)
- a list of the predetermined agenda topics (if given) and the actionable steps that are to be taken on these topics, including who will be responsible for them
- any voting outcomes (including tallies) or motions passed or rejected (again, if applicable)
- any new business or issues raised during the meeting that was not on the agreed agenda
- any details of the next meeting (such as date and location).
As mentioned in the previous post, several of these bullet points can be completed before the start of the meeting, so try to do as much of the legwork as you can beforehand.
3. Take Meeting Minutes
Actually taking the minutes themselves is usually what scares most people; you have to work quickly, efficiently and with minimal disruption to the meeting itself, which is an administrative skill that can require some time to master.
It’s important to remember, though, that the notes you take while the meeting is in progress are just a draft; you’ll get a chance to tidy them up and make them look professional later on. Therefore, if you must use some form of cryptic shorthand to get everything down – or if you feel more comfortable taking notes on a laptop or tablet – then so be it (just make sure you can translate it afterwards!)
Below are some other key points to remember.
- Don’t try to write out the conversation word-for-word; not only is this practically impossible, but it’s also unnecessary (while minutes are a legal document, meetings themselves are not court proceedings). Instead, simply try to summarise the decisions and action points.
- While you don’t want to be interrupting every five minutes, know that it’s perfectly okay to request clarification on certain points (even more so if it’s an informal meeting).
- If you’re really struggling, bring a voice recorder or a mobile phone to record the meeting (not so much for the purposes of creating a literal transcript, but for clarification purposes later on). If you’re going to do this, though, you must let everyone in the room know at the start that the proceedings are being recorded.
4. Write it all Up
As mentioned above, the notes you take during the meeting are just for you; you’ll then need to give them a polish so that they are ready for distribution.
It’s a good idea to do this straight after the meeting when everything is still fresh in your mind. Remember that, while the general idea is to write in a professional, corporate style, the most important thing is that your wording is clear and leaves no room for doubt as to what has been decided and what the resultant course of action is.
Check out these handy tips.
- Where possible, don’t just surmise that ‘the board decided action X is to be taken’. Try to also include a short paragraph explaining succinctly why the board decided to take this action. If a lengthy debate preceded a certain action or motion, then try to include the major arguments that were given by both sides.
- Make sure you record only the facts – not your opinion or subjective take on them. Write plainly and clearly with no reference to your own personal observations.
- Don’t refer to people by name except when discussing the result of motions or seconds.
- Make sure you stay in the same tense throughout (it’s common for minutes to be presented in the past tense, but it’s also acceptable for them to be written in the present). Don’t try to confuse yourself here; just keep things simple.
- Make sure any additional external documents that are referred to are, where possible, attached as an addendum (and referred to as thus, such as ‘the contract agreement (see Appendix B)’).
- Although it should go without saying, ensure that you proofread and spellcheck the finished product before distributing it to everybody in the department.
5. Ensure Everybody Gets a Copy
As the designated minute taker, your duties don’t end there; you must also ensure that the minutes are easily and readily accessible to those that require them, usually through your company’s internal intranet system or email chain. You don’t want anything to be changed later on, either, so ensure that you put editing restrictions in place or, even better, upload it as a PDF.
Also, as already mentioned, sometimes minutes from the previous meeting require amendments at the start of the next meeting. Once these have been made, the minutes then need to be appropriately filed for future reference (usually digitally, but some companies may wish to keep organised paper copies as well). While it may not be your responsibility to maintain and update these files (the office manager will likely handle this), make sure you’re aware of how to submit yours promptly and in the correct manner.
And that’s pretty much all there is to it. As you can see, minute taking is far less daunting a prospect than many make it out to be; it simply requires some diligence and prior planning on your behalf.
You’ll likely develop your own system for getting things down quickly, but in the meantime, it’s certainly not something that you should worry about; just follow these tips, and the rest will come easily.
Do you have any other tips for minute taking? Let us know in the comments section below!
This is a sponsored post for Dropbox. All opinions are my own. Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.