If you’re tasked with taking a written record of a meeting, then you may well need our top seven minute taking tips and techniques! It’s an important job, as the minutes of a meeting form a long-term record of what was said and by whom. They may be used to refresh the memories of those present, to keep absentees in the loop, and in fact as the only document recording what took place.
Here are our top tips for taking meeting minutes, to ensure a clear, accurate and consistent record every single time.
7 step-by-step minute taking tips
- Be prepared
The first of our tips for writing minutes concerns preparation. Get ready by working out exactly what is required. Is there an accepted minute taking template you’re expected to follow, or should you draw up your own?
Decide whether to take notes in handwritten or digital form. If you prefer the latter, do remember that technology can and does fail sometimes! Also save what you’ve written at regular intervals so you don’t lose the only record of the meeting. Would it be possible, and acceptable, to audio or video record the meeting for accuracy?
Are there any issues that you, as the minute-taker, need to become familiar with before attending the meeting? For instance, is this a follow-up from a previous meeting, and will matters from those discussions be raised again? If you have any concerns, the chairperson is the best person to raise these with, in advance of the meeting.
- Set the agenda
Every meeting must have an agenda. This is normally set by the chairperson leading the meeting and forms the basic structure of the meeting. You should also note the meeting date, time and place, plus who’s present and any apologies from those who can’t make it.
What are the matters up for discussion? Is any preparation required so that attendees can fully engage in a debate? If any materials are needed for review before discussion, it’s best to attach these to the agenda.
Distribute this agenda and any required materials in advance of the meeting. Even if someone will be absent, it’s good practice to give them a copy too so that they’re included. This also sends the signal that any input they may have will be valued.
- Take the register
No, we’re not suggesting that you take a register like you had at school! Rather than calling out all the names, make sure you note who’s present and who’s absent. If it’s a big meeting, having a simple checklist to hand where you can tick off delegates as they arrive may be helpful.
At this point, you might also like to take a seat close to where the chairperson will be sitting. It’s no good trying to take notes if you cannot hear what’s being said properly!
- Take objective notes
Next on this list of tips for writing minutes concerns the note-taking itself. One of the top tips for taking minutes at board meetings and the like is to stay objective. Mention who said what, but as a detached, objective observer rather than someone who was subjectively involved.
Stick to the facts, and avoid adding any opinions. Phrases such as ‘it was agreed that’, ‘points raised during the discussion about X included’, ‘in response to concerns X stated that’ are the way to go. The passive voice should be used here, and the past tense.
If something is unclear, then it’s best to ask this at the time rather than raising it later. Remember that if you’re not quite grasping what’s being said, it’s pretty likely that someone else will feel exactly the same way! It’s also very difficult to write up minutes when you didn’t understand some of what was going on.
- Write up the minutes
The difference between effective minute taking and inaccurate minutes can be down to timing. Write up the meeting minutes as soon as is humanly possible – preferably straight after the meeting. This is so you have the best chance of clearly remembering what was said and decided.
The longer you leave it, the more chance there is of recording something that’s factually incorrect. This is because your memory will fade, and things that are said and done after the meeting could colour your recollections.
As well as the agenda mentioned earlier, your meeting minutes should include a record of any discussions. Perhaps most importantly of all is to record any outcomes. What action is to be taken, and by whom?
Without a clear record of this, the meeting may be seen as pointless. On a practical level, anyone involved with the matters on the agenda can also have access to a clear, written record of what took place and any resulting plans of action.
Remember – remaining subjective, rather than objective, is top among all the minute taking skills required!
- Circulate the minutes
It’s common practice to circulate the minutes of a meeting once they’ve been typed up. A copy is normally sent to all attendees. Ask the chairperson before going ahead, though, and provide a copy of your drafted minutes for them to check before circulation.
Circulating the minutes is key among tips for taking minutes effectively. It reminds everyone about what was said, and any action they need to take. Having a copy also makes all parties feel included – even those who were absent.
- Store the minutes
When it’s all over, typed up, circulated and hopefully ready to be actioned, the minutes of the meeting can be stored. They may be required for future reference, so how you do this is important.
A hard copy provides good back-up in the event of any system failure or other digital access issues. But is there somewhere safe – such as a locked filing cabinet – in which to store this?
It’s crucial to store the minutes in such a way as they can easily be found by someone else. If, for example, you left the organisation, would someone else know where to find them? Is there an agreed system in place, within the organisation, for storing meeting minutes? If so, then this will be the correct procedure to follow.