Tips on good minute taking
As we all know writing minutes is a basic skill for assistants and we have probably written more over the years than Stephen King has writing novels. I had a job a few years back that provided support for twelve Committees who had four meetings a year, which meant I was writing a set of minutes practically every week. As you can imagine I got quite good at bashing out minutes without much thought behind them but no matter how easy I found writing the minutes the process still took forever. I soon realised that thought was required to write a good and comprehensive set of minutes and just typing out what I had written down wasn’t going to make what I considered a painful task any less arduous. So for all of you that write minutes, don’t enjoy it and take forever to complete them here are 10 handy tips to get them finished, circulated and out of your to do tray as quickly as possible while still producing a quality piece of work:
1. Remember that minutes should capture the three points below – nothing more nothing less:
- What was decided
- What was accomplished
- What was agreed and actions for the attendees
2. The format for your minutes should be consistent and ideally you should be working from one template. If your company does not have a branded template you should suggest this to your manager and design something for them, a simple word template with the following information will suffice:
- The name of the Committee meeting
- The date, time and location of the meeting
- The attendees
- The apologies
- The name of the minute taker
- Each of the agenda items underlined and listed with details on what was decided, what was accomplished and the action points to take forward (with the initials of the person responsible for the action).
- Any other business
- The date of the next meeting
3. Although the temptation is to leave typing up your minutes to literally the last minute I wouldn’t recommend it. Try and get the notes typed up as soon as possible, ideally by the following day. Even if you have become an expert at drafting minutes you may still find that you forget certain parts of the meeting and / or you can’t quite decipher what you meant when you made the notes. Also if you get the minutes circulated quickly you will give those with actions an early reminder to complete their work, which saves you time chasing them when the next meeting rolls around.
4. As I said in point 1, there are only three main areas of the conversation that you have to capture in your minutes so try to avoid all of the chat and ‘he said, she said’ dialogue. Unless it is relevant to the key agenda points leave this dialogue out of the minutes.
5. As the minute taker try to remain neutral when typing up your notes. If an argument took place during the meeting or someone stormed out of the room I wouldn’t necessarily put this detail in the minutes at all but if your chair person indicates that you should include this level of detail then I would suggest you remain neutral in your tone and choice of vocabulary.
6. I do sometimes find with minutes that I will repeat the same words over and over to describe the decisions made and actions agreed, particularly when I’m not really in the mood to write them! So a few years ago I wrote out a list of 50 handy verbs that I could slot into the minutes as and when I needed them. Here is the list:
7. This comes with time but getting a real sense of what people are discussing in the meeting makes writing the minutes up afterwards a lot easier. Try to read the papers beforehand and get to grips with the details. If there are things you don’t understand spend 5 minutes with the Committee Chair before the meeting to ask questions you might have. During the meeting listen more than you write and summarise the details at the end of the discussion. The more you listen the easier you will find subsequent meetings.
8. Past tense in the 3rd person. This is the grammar to use when writing minutes, for example: Nicky Christmas agreed to distribute the minutes as soon as possible. I would also recommend using initials rather than full names to save some time but this is a style choice and may not be suitable for all companies.
9. If a report or paper has been circulated during the meeting there is no need to write any of this detail in the minutes. Simply state that the paper was noted by the Committee and any action points arising from the discussion.
10. Proofread your work once finished. I tend to get everything on the page as quickly as possible and then go back a day later to tweak the wording and sentence structure. The minutes will probably be proofread by at least two other people before they are finally circulated so be prepared that some of your work will be changed anyway.