My boss used to make me stay in the office until I had finished writing up the notes to meetings we had run that day.
In my corporate and public sector career I took part in numerous types of meetings – committees, operations, staff, business risk, project management. And if I was lucky enough to be volunteered to take notes and write up the minutes, I was facing a long hours in the office.
It’s for that reason that I came up with some techniques for note taking and drafting minutes and notes that are clear, concise and of value to the readers.
Meetings are conversations that easily become disjointed and convoluted but are hopefully brought to order by a strong chairperson. Your job as note taker is to create order out of all of this chaos.
- Start with the agenda
Note taking gets easier when you can predict outcomes. Use the agenda as a guide for taking notes. For the more operational (business as usual) meetings you can predict most of the proceedings by asking yourself these questions.
- What are the issues and topic areas (these are different)?
- What are the probable decision points?
- What do the readers need to do with these notes?
- Are these for immediate action, a longer work plan or for information?
- What background information can be left out (nobody wants to read a novel)?
- Clarify expectations with the chairperson
When you take on a new role as minute-taker be sure to ask the Chair of the committee what their expectations are of your role during the meeting, as well as the type of detail they expects in the minutes. During the meeting get into the habit of summarising and agreeing with the group by telling them in shorthand what you are going to write.
- Identify what needs to be recorded
Meetings take many forms but when teams get together they often cover one or more possible items. We train people to write clear, condensed notes that are organised in these five categories.
- Decision points – what major strategic and business critical decisions are made by a committee (this is not the same as action points).
- Action points – what specific (SMART) actions need to take place by the next meeting and by whom.
- Updates / status reports that are often dealt with during the tour de table.
- Outlook – future work plans and strategies – a more strategic level view of the future.
- Background to challenges or issues – the history of what is behind an issue that is being discussed.
Now the hard part: drafting well structured notes, with headings, condensed detail, short and precise sentences, the correct verb tenses.
Clear writing – you can learn
At Communicating Europe+ we find that almost everybody has to take notes, write up summaries, minutes or back to office notes. So, we run training on how to write up minutes and notes as well as chairing and moderating meetings. Our trainers have experience of attending committee meetings so they know what it’s like, first hand.
We are trusted by advocacy organisations, trade associations, think tanks and NGOs. Find out how we can help you and your staff.
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