The ultimate guide to effective minute-taking
As we all know writing minutes is an essential skill for Assistants and this ultimate guide to effective minute-taking we will break-down everything Assistants need to know to create minutes that will be read and actioned.
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 comfortable I found writing the minutes the process still took forever.
I soon realised that thought was required to write a good 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.
In this ultimate guide we are going to give Assistants loads of tips on good minute taking and all the tools they need to create effective minutes, including:
So, for all of you that write minutes for meetings, don’t enjoy it and take forever to complete the work, here are eleven tips on good minute taking that will help you to get them finished, circulated and out of your to-do tray as quickly as possible while still producing a quality piece of work.
Obviously! More than anybody else in the meeting a minute taker needs to be listening 100 per cent of the time (no falling asleep here!). Check out this post for tips on how to listen for the message.
Minute takers must have the confidence to be able to speak up in a meeting (where appropriate) and clarify points.
Finalise the notes up as quickly as possible
Although the temptation is to leave this to the last minute, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Try and get the notes into a publishable format as soon as possible, ideally by the following day.
Even if you had become an expert at drafting minutes, you might still find that you forget certain parts of the meeting and 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.
Ensure you turn up to the meeting having read the agenda, any background papers, the minutes of the previous meeting and with all the tools you need to take the minutes whether that be a pen, highlighter, paper, recording device, laptop or iPad. Always carry an extra pen.
Avoid ‘he said, she said’
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 critical agenda points, leave this dialogue out of the minutes.
As the minute taker try to remain unbiased when typing up your notes.
If an argument has taken 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 Chairperson indicates that you should include this level of detail then remain neutral in your tone and choice of vocabulary.
Make the minutes readable
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!
Read the supporting papers
This comes with time but getting a real sense of what people are discussing in the meeting makes writing the minutes after the session 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 Chairperson before the meeting to ask any 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 more comfortable you will find subsequent meetings.
Use the correct grammar
The 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.
Do not add unnecessary detail
If a report or paper has been circulated during the meeting, there is no need to write any of this detail in the minutes.
State that ‘the paper was noted by the Committee’ and then write down any action points arising from the discussion.
Proofread your work
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.
How to make minute-taking an absolute breeze
Minute-taking is a much sought after skill in organisations.
If you were wondering whether you are on track, what the latest trends are and keen to pick up some proven techniques this session from Robyn Bennett at Minute Taking Madness is a must!
These tips, techniques and tools will help you to:
- Identify the number one skill required to be an effective minute-taker
- Discover the secret to minute-taking
- Learn the three proven techniques to make minute taking easier
This session will also give you access to extra resources to help you be a more successful minute taker and plenty of tips on good minute taking
We have created a list of ten great tools, technology and software that can help make minute-taking more effecient and easier to manage the process.
This is an app for the iPad. It is designed specifically for people who handle tasks and need to follow up on actions from meetings. It is a digital notebook, but it also has an automated To-Do organiser which syncs with calendars and address books. This would be handy for assistants if they want to take action points for their managers because it can sync with their task list.
This app allows users to email the notes immediately after the meeting has taken place and also has a fully automated to-do system. There is integrated audio recording and playback and real-time collaboration and sharing facilities. Plus it is free!
This app is also available on the iPhone. This app allows the user to type notes but also record audio simultaneously. The app has a keyword search which can be helpful for assistants. A seating plan is also available, which allows the user to record who is seated where in the room – useful if you haven’t met them before!
If you do prefer writing out your minutes the Livescribe smartpen could be a good option for you. Using the Livescribe pen and paper, the user can write their minutes as usual and then transfer everything onto their computer. The programme will convert all of the writing into text. This can be done automatically using the Livescribe WiFi pen or by connecting the pen to the computer with other models.
This is a quick and easy online minute taking system. Sign in, and the user can start taking digital minutes straight away with a simple tab system for sorting the notes and assigning tasks. It is useful if you do not take minutes often or you do not need to take formal minutes.
This system allows the user to track actions from each meeting and check they have been completed. It also has a useful report system which allows the user to see how productive the meeting was!
Diligent is a full board meeting and minute-taking software package that covers every aspect of meeting management.
Recording conversations right from your phone or computer. You can import or sync recordings from other services, and it integrates with Zoom. The technology transcribes the audio. If you have a video with the sound, it adds real-time captions. Once you have ended the recording, you receive a searchable transcript which is synced with the audio. It shows different speakers and key phrases that have come up throughout the conversation.
The transcription is accurate, it still needs to be proofed, don’t get me wrong, but actually, it is excellent.
Create professional meeting minutes and acceptance protocols on your iPad or iPhone. Group multiple minutes into workbooks. A workbook displays all containing action items in a list. Share your minutes directly in a transparent and professional-looking PDF file. Attached photos will automatically add to the PDF file as well.
Reason8 provides automated note-taking for meetings so that Assistants do not have to type up notes while the meeting is taking place. Instead, Assistants can use the transcript as the basis of their minutes. This tool makes the whole process much easier and more efficeient.
When writing minutes, I used to find that I repeated the same words over and over to describe the decisions made and actions agreed.
A few years ago, I wrote out a list of 100 descriptive words that I could slot into the minutes as and when I needed them.
I printed these off and had them next to my keyboard whenever I was working through another set of meeting notes.
Do you find yourself writing the same words over and over again when writing minutes? Do you need tips on good minute taking?
Assistants have come a long way, we are all asked to do lots of different things as part of our role.
However, nearly every Assistant I know, at some point, will be asked to write a set of minutes.
Love them or hate them – minute taking is never going to go away!
Meetings are still a vital part of business and actions will need to be captured!
I want to share with you a straightforward minute taking template that you can use for every set of minutes you write.
There are a few rules when it comes to minute taking that I think are worth reiterating:
This is an excellent tip for minute-taking beginners.
Remember that minutes should capture the three points below – nothing more nothing less:
- What was decided
- What was accomplished
- What was agreed and what are the actions for the attendees
The format of your minutes should be consistent, and ideally, you should be working on one template.
If your company does not have a branded template, you should suggest this to your Executive 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 work).
- Any other business
- The date of the next meeting
So we have put together a minute taking template that you can use.
It is a PDF which you can download and use for all of your meetings in the future.
Using this format will make your minute taking much easier.
Margaret Young, from Train My Admin shares her top five questinos to ask before you start to minute a meeting.
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 concerning 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.
We hope this article helps with your minute-taking. Remember to download our 100 word cheat sheet and our minute taking template. Both of these downloads are free. We have a great article on board meeting management and creating the perfect agenda.
Originally published 3rd October 2012, updated 17th February 2020.