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Minutes are a factual, impartial and balanced record of the decisions and summary of a meeting. As such they should be an accurate, brief and clear snapshot of what was discussed, what was agreed, and what action is to be taken, by whom and by when. Unfortunately, many meeting minutes end up inaccurate, long and confusing, so people rarely want to read them, much less pick up any actions they are responsible for! So here are the top 10 tips for minute takers:
- If you are not leading the meeting yourself, sit next to or as close as possible to that person, and sit where you can see as well as hear. If you aren’t sure who everyone is, ask whoever is running the meeting, and make a note of their names or initials on a “seating plan.”
- Listen and understand – even when the topic is unfamiliar or the speaker is boring or disliked! The only way you will be able to select the right things to note is to listen and concentrate so you can follow the conversation or discussion.
- Pick out key phrases. Listen for the following: agreed, decided, approval/approved, propose/proposal, increase, decrease, trends, dates/figures, urgent, deadline, immediate, important, in conclusion/summary, noted, etc.
- Shorthand, laptops and recording devices are the enemies of minute takers. When you use these, all that happens is that you have volumes of notes to transcribe. Instead, use abbreviations and symbols to take down information quickly, but you must remember what they mean!
- Make your minutes minute (pronounced “my newt”!). Minutes should be just a little bit longer than an agenda; you take down less so that you have less to transcribe, saving time, effort and confusion. If you refer frequently to the agenda, you will be more focused on the notes you need to take.
- Make notes which reflect the kind of minutes needed: Narrative minutes tell a “story” leading up to the decisions which are made. The advantage is that a record is made of particular members’ views and underlying reasons. These minutes must be an absolutely accurate record and unbiased. Resolution minutes record only the decisions reached – for example, no discussions at board meetings. Action minutes are written in narrative form but include a right-hand column headed “Action By” with the names of who will do which actions and their deadlines. Alternatively, the action is stated in a sentence after the point.
- Speak up and ask for clarification. If you don’t understand something or cannot hear properly or just lose your concentration, don’t be afraid to ask. They will all understand the need for the minutes for be accurate!
- It’s best to establish your right to interrupt, at a pre-meeting with the person who will be leading the meeting. Explain that the more familiar you are with the people and the topics being discussed, the less often will you need to interrupt.
- Don’t write War and Peace! Unless it is vital that you have a verbatim account, produce a simple action list using the agenda as a prompt, and base your fuller minutes on this.
- At the end of the meeting, do any or all of the following: ask for any necessary clarification; ask meeting contributors for agenda appendices or notes from their presentation; give yourself time to read through your own notes in the quiet of the meeting room before you go back to your desk.
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