Writing minutes seems to be a task that strikes fear into many administrative staff. Do you worry that you won’t be able to concentrate for the length of the meeting, that you will miss or misunderstand important decisions, or that you won’t know what to record and what to leave out? Do you get writers’ cramp at the very thought of being asked to be the minute-taker for an important meeting? If so, you are not alone.
I personally have 9 years’ experience of taking minutes at a variety of meetings and committees, and I know the value of good minutes. They stand as the only record of the meeting, and should be understandable to both those who were there and those who weren’t, capturing the essential information about what was discussed, what was decided, and who has been assigned actions by the committee. Poorly taken minutes can lead to confusion and disagreement, actions not being followed through, and the whole committee running less efficiently. Producing good minutes is a skilled job, and this post is based on my experience of how best to approach it.
Before the meeting:
- What sort of minutes are required? Is the meeting an informal one that will just require a few notes to be circulated around attendees, or a committee that will require formal minutes that have a wide circulation? Check what is required beforehand if you are unsure, and if this is a new meeting group for you, ask if you can see copies of previous minutes to get an idea of style and presentation.
- Familiarise yourself with the agenda , attendees and any papers so that you know what is going to be discussed and by who.
- Decide how you will best be able to take minutes – pen and paper or on a laptop? Remember to bring spare pens and a few sheets of papers just in case of computer failure.
- If you are worried about not being able to concentrate for the length of the meeting, consider using a voice recorder (but ask attendees if they mind first).
- Remember that you won’t be able to leave while the meeting is ongoing, so make sure you have anything that you might need to be comfortable over the period of the meeting (e.g. a drink, tissues, cough sweets) with you before it starts.
During the meeting:
- Your aim is not to get everything verbatim or provide a blow by blow account of the discussion – concentrate on getting the key decisions and actions down, including who any actions are assigned to and if there is a deadline for them. This means that you will need to listen to everything being said, but be selective over what is written down; if you are unsure, make a note anyway as it can always be edited out when you type up your notes.
- If something is unclear in the meeting or a series of decisions are taken very quickly and you are unsure if you got them all, ask the Chair to review the key points either in or immediately after the meeting while things are still clear in their memory.
- If you are going to be taking a lot of minutes it is a good idea to develop abbreviations or notations that allow you to get recurring items down quickly and that will make sense to you later. This allows you to keep up with a fast moving discussion.
After the meeting:
- It is a good idea to block out the afternoon or day following the meeting in your diary so you can concentrate on getting your minutes done while the discussions are still fresh in your mind. I aim to get any minutes to the Chair within 48 hours of the meeting ending wherever possible – the longer you leave it, the harder it gets to do!
Ask if you can sit in on a couple of meetings alongside an experienced minute-taker. Take your own minutes and then compare them to the ones produced by your experienced colleague to see how they differ. Knowing how to listen to and summarise a meeting succinctly and accurately is a skill that best comes from practice, and this is an excellent way to get it.