Love it or hate it minute taking is part and parcel of the day to day role of the PA/EA for the most part. Personally, I have always found them slightly painful, but through experience and training I have made my peace with them and gotten my technique down to a fine art! Having worked in a few different roles where I liaised with a large variety of stakeholders I have learned to be adaptable and how to apply the same principles to different situations. Suppose you are part of a wider admin pool or just provide cross cover to other C level executives and you are asked to minute a meeting you have never been involved in. Or you are asking to minute the meetings for a newly set up committee. Saying “no thanks” is not an option, what do you do? You need to ask at least the following 5 questions:
Is there an agenda?
If you have ever tried to minute a meeting that didn’t have an agenda you will know that it is like herding cats. I did this a couple of times and the “minutes” turned into “aide memoir”.
Not a fun experience. If there is no agenda, pin down the chair or the person who requested the meeting for one. You might go as far as drafting a basic one yourself and ask them to amend. By listing the topics as far as you know them, plus “AOB” and “date of next meeting” you will at least get the ball rolling and provide a starting point. With permission, you could then circulate and ask meeting attendees to request items for the agenda.
Who is who?
Have you ever had to minute or attend a meeting and you didn’t know who everyone was? It’s a little distracting to have to write “brown hair” or “wears glasses” etc. in your notes if you don’t have names as I have had to do. A good chairperson will make sure the minute taker and everyone else knows who is who. It’s common practice for the chair to ask everyone in the room to introduce themselves. If you can, before a meeting with new stakeholders, Google them and save their pic in your MS Outlook contact. Don’t forget if you’re using LinkedIn that it informs the person that you looked at their profile; I’ve heard many a funny story about that!
Are there data confidentiality issues I need to be aware of?
Find out what the legal obligations are in your company or department and the data confidentially issues in relation to your industry. When I worked in public health care in Ireland, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was the one to be aware of. This act gives the public the right to access official records held by Government Departments or other public bodies as defined by the act. You also need to find out if there are legal obligations to keep the handwritten notes and draft versions after the minutes are approved.
What is my relationship with the Chairperson?
As mentioned above, a good chair will make sure there is an agenda to be followed and that the attendees know who everyone else is. They will also summarise each point and action before moving on to the next one as well as making sure people don’t veer too much off track. Sit as close to the chair as possible so if needed you can seek clarifications or give them a nudge!
What way will I approach version control?
Clarify with the chair if they are the ones to give sole approval of the minutes or if the group will be invited to make amendments and corrections. If they are, keep careful control of the version by using V01 etc. at the end of the file names. Don’t forget to remove the “draft” watermark from the final version and send it as a pdf to avoid future headaches and confusion.
As a PA/EA trainer, I provide training in Minute Taking to clients based in Dublin and around Ireland. I am currently organising minute taking workshops which will be held in central Dublin hotels and I am also available for on-site, in company training, either 1 to 1 or group. If you are new to minute taking, feel this post has helped, but you want to know more, or have never actually been formally trained and feel a bit lost, you might like to contact me for a chat and a training needs assessment. You can reach me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org or 00353 85 7351464 or via LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.