How to Take Meeting Notes (No More Winging it!)

August 26, 2016

 

 

If many of you are like me, you never received formal training on how to take meeting notes. You might have pieced together how to do this, had a little direction from the person requesting the task or have just "winged it," so I wanted to share some tips that you can add to your toolbox. 

 

Purpose

Be sure you are clear about the purpose of the meeting and how the minutes will be used. This will help you to know what needs to be captured. 

 

Agendas

Having agenda items collected in advance helps to make note-taking a whole lot easier. The attendee(s) will have already bulleted out all high-level items for you, so all you have to do is listen for action items, due dates and other items that were not included in the outline.

 

Also, agendas help to avoid attendees from going off track or fumbling around to remember their discussion points. They trigger attendees to think through what they need to discuss in advance, which usually helps them to stay focused. All of this helps you as a notetaker since the flow will be more organized and easier to follow.

 

There are a few ways to collect agenda items, and the best way depends on the meeting. One way is to contact the attendees and make sure they send their items your way by a set due date. This is great for a formal meeting, especially if your marketing department needs to spruce up the final look of the agenda, or if it is a small group. Another way that I recently adopted is using a document everyone can access, such as a Google Doc. This is great for meetings with a lot of attendees, especially if it is not formal. They can all climb into the shared document up until the last minute and you do not have to stress about collection since it is essentially individually owned. 

 

Note-taking tools

I suggest recording meetings so you have something to replay when you need to. There are so many apps that do this, so you really don't need to buy a bulky tape recorder anymore. I do recommend having more than one recording app on your phone, though. I've been in situations on more than one occasion where my favorite recording app stopped working and had to quickly switch to a backup app. Backup apps feel like gold when that happens. Here are a few apps as well as other recording resources I recommend using:

 

In person meeting recorder apps:

 

Phone and web meeting recorder programs:

  • TapeACall 

  • Check your conference call provider; recording is usually a function 

  • If you are using a web meeting program, they usually have recording settings

 

You should have a notepad, pens and/or a laptop to take notes while the meeting is going on. If you find yourself in a moment you know you will need to rewind later, be sure to record the time on the recorder into your notepad or laptop so you know exactly where to rewind later on. Some recorders have a function to place a mark in a recording, such a Pio Recorder, so that's a helpful option to utilize as well. 

 

Off the record items

There might be confidential items discussed during the meeting that will need to stay off the record. Be sure to stop your recording device during this time and cease note-taking. 

 

Timing of write up

I recommend typing up the notes as soon as possible while everything is fresh in your mind. If too much time goes by then there's more of a chance that you will need to listen to recordings and might not even understand parts of your own notes. The key is to ensure everything is as accurate as possible and not have to do too much digging (if it even has to be done at all) to remember important details.

 

What to write up

You will need to add structure to your meeting notes documents. The items required will vary depending on the meeting, but here are some typical details to include: meeting title, time, date, attendees, and agenda.

 

You will also need to include summaries. Here are some usual items to summarize:

-the issue 
-key discussion points 
-any decisions made

-items on hold
-action items (including due dates if applicable)*

*Typically you can focus on getting action items plus corresponding due dates

 

Approval

When you run the minutes by the approval person, learn from what they correct, cut out or add in. If in doubt on whether or not to include an item discussed in the meeting, put it in for them to cut out rather than to decide if it should be added. Also, ask for feedback during this time if you are still getting comfortable with the process.

 

Going beyond the notes

If you notice any action items you could assist with, be sure to offer up that help. One example is setting up a survey to collect information. There might be a topic that someone was hoping each attendee to provide feedback on, however there just wasn't enough time to do so. I recommend Survey Monkey or Typeform for that; both are super easy to use. Another example is following up on action items that affect the person you support. Perhaps your principal needs to take action or there are items they might need to confirm get completed. Whatever the case, those are great opportunities to help with follow up. Stay on the lookout for items such as these where you can provide additional assistance beyond just the note-taking task.

 

How do you effectively take meeting notes? Please share your tips in the comments below!

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