Minute Taking; Taking Accurate Useful Minutes For Beginners

by Ben Richardson
3rd January 2020    3 Minutes
Photo Of A Minute Taking Pad And Pencil

You might hear people say that taking minutes at a meeting is a big responsibility. But isn’t it just taking notes?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is that there is little point in going to the time and expense of getting a group of people together if you don’t then go the extra yard and document the agreed actions and outcomes.

The issue with taking minutes is that from the outside it looks like a very simple task and so there isn’t a lot of in-house training on how to do it well and correctly but doing it well is difficult.

Because it is perceived as a straight forward task lots of people feel embarrassed to ask for training and help on something so simple.

As with all things though taking meeting minutes well takes training and practice, luckly we have you covered with our minute taking course.

This article will introduce you to the how and why of minute taking to get you started.

What is the Purpose of Minute Taking?

Minute taking is about listening carefully, accurately recording information and then communicating it clearly to the relevant parties.

The key task of minutes is to gather agreed actions and decisions from the meeting and document precisely, WHAT has been decided, WHO is responsible for the actions and WHEN the actions will be completed.

Minutes provide a structure for reviewing and following up on the agreed-upon actions and so drive those actions forward. In doing so they provide a great way to provide accountability for the agreed-upon tasks and decisions.

Minute also provide an institutional memory. They allow all future employees so see what was discussed when and why the decision that was taken was taken.

In some cases, this protects employees and the company as it shows that certain items (like H&S issues) have been appropriately discussed and debated. In other cases, this simply ensures that the reasons for decisions are appropriately documented.

How to Take Great Minutes

There are essentially three key sections to taking great minutes: 1) Before the meeting, 2) During the meeting and 3) After the meeting.

It is worth saying at this point that as a minute taker you are not exclusively a passive participant in a meeting. There will be times when you need clarification because something is unclear and it is important that you make yourself clearly heard at that point both for the minutes and also to ensure that the issues are fully discussed.

Before the Meeting –

  • Get a copy of the agenda for the meeting. Familiarise yourself with the contents and the matters noted for discussion, it will help prepare you for the type of notes you will need to take. For example, in quick regular meetings, short bullet points will probably be most appropriate whereas for longer, infrequent meetings longer notes will probably be most relevant.
  • Get a copy of the minutes for three or four previous meetings so that you can refer back to unsettled points and raise them with the chairperson.
  • Ensure that you are properly equipped. If you are using a laptop, make sure you will have access to a charging point and wifi (if required). If you are handwriting the notes, have a few backup pens and try to use a notebook instead of loose paper so that your minutes can’t become jumbled. If you have to use individual sheets of paper be sure to number your pages.

Some people like to use specific apps to take minutes. To be honest some people find that these work well for them and some don’t. All we can suggest is that you give them a try and see how you get on. Examples include: Getminute and Meetingking

During the Meeting –

  • Note who attended the meeting, its time and date, the chairperson, organisation, where it was held and any other brief information about the meeting.In larger meetings, it is a good idea to pass around an attendance sheet so you can confirm who is there. This will also help you to know who’s talking during the meeting if you structure the sheet so that it shows who is sitting where.
  • Make sure your notes are legible. Meetings can cover a lot of ground and so you may not remember everything after the meeting. It may also be a few days before you have time to write up your notes which gives more time for you to forget the details.
  • Try to leave space between each section being discussed so you can add things that may come up in a post-meeting Q&A. This will keep everything together and in a logical order.
  • Sum up issues and points. You don’t have to list every time someone had their say on the issue just the key points made and the outcome.For many less important issues, it is sufficient to note that the issue was brought up and discussed by the group and what the agreed solution that was.
  • Don’t use opinions or feelings in your notes such as “I thought” or “She feels”. The point of minute taking is to note the facts and actions. If someone states an opinion your minutes should note that the fact that someone voiced an opinion.

After the Meeting –

  • Collect copies of reports or sheets that were relevant to the meeting and any motions and keep these copies with your notes.
  • Type up your notes as soon as possible after the meeting. There is lots of evidence about how unreliable people’s memories are (which is why we need minutes!), so doing this while it is still fresh in your mind you will help to make your minutes as reliable as possible.
  • Proof-read your notes for any errors and save the file somewhere it is safely backed up. If your company has a specific format or template, stick to this for continuity.
  • Use simple and clear language that anyone can understand. Avoid jargon unless it is very widely used and understood in your industry.
  • Forward your notes to the chairperson to distribute to attendees of the meeting, or if your minutes have already been approved, send them to the relevant people.
  • Ask attendees to let you have any suggested edits promptly so that they are also reviewing the minutes while their memory of the meeting is still fresh.

Problems Encountered When Minute Taking

Minute taking isn’t always as straight forward as we would like, especially in a heated meeting or one with a large number of people.

If it’s your first-time taking minutes, it’s a good idea to grasp the potential issues that could come up beforehand and prepare for them in advance.

  • Everyone is talking over each other

This can make things very difficult. As minute taker it is perfectly fine to ask people to speak one at a time. They will understand that you need to take notes and are an important part of the process.

  • You don’t know what was exactly agreed

Sometimes resolutions don’t come as easy as everyone hopes or meetings get sidetracked and so issues don’t get comprehensively discussed and are left without a conclusion.

It is fine to ask for clarification.

  • You feel nervous about getting it right

Like all new skills, minute taking takes time and practice to get right.

If you are nervous speak to the chairperson before the meeting to explain that you are not experienced and would appreciate their help. This means that they will keep an eye on you to be sure that you look happy.

You can also meet with the chairperson immediately after the meeting to make sure that you have recorded everything important in your minutes.