How to Take Minutes for a Meeting (and why they're important)

Meeting minutes give structure to your meeting. Taking minutes records all the proceedings in a meeting, including key discussion points and decisions, and it helps all stakeholders understand the purpose and outcomes of a conference.

What are meeting minutes?

Meeting minutes are notes taken during a meeting that act as the meeting’s official account of the proceedings. The meeting minutes intend to formulate a comprehensive framework and confirm the meeting’s objective. They serve as a meeting layout for setting its plan before the group meets and documentary evidence of the session afterward.

Minutes of a meeting refer to a written record of all that happened during a particular session. They inform people who didn’t attend the meeting what transpired during a meeting. They also help in making future decisions.

What’s the point of taking meeting minutes?

Minutes, according to Fellow, provide a detailed historical record of a company’s short-term and long-term planning. Participants use the minutes for future reference and to understand the company’s progression. 

Minutes even provide legal protection for a company. Due diligence is frequently recorded in company meeting minutes, officiated, and cataloged to affirm the institution’s ethical and responsible practices. 

Meeting minutes also prove the intent and the mechanisms of a company making certain decisions. This will be useful in answering any queries that may arise due to previous decisions.

Alongside other reasons, meeting minutes are vital because they:

  • Provide a record of an institution’s or a group’s decisions and deliberations
  • They identify the people given different responsibilities
  • They act as evidence of assignment deadlines and deliverables
  • They benefit absentees who weren’t present for decision making during the meeting
  • Identify and track action items

Meetings act as a reference point when:

  • A meeting’s conclusions affect other collaborative tasks or projects within the institution.
  • Minutes can assist in appraising (or reminding) teammates of assignments and deadlines allocated to them.

Minutes have to be clear and concise, and these records should include opportunities discussed, key points, action items, and needs. When you use meeting minutes to share information and explain how top management made specific decisions, they are agents of transparency and accountability. 

Minutes can save a program’s continuity by bringing fresh staff fully up to date on the program’s history, for example. They can even serve as progress monitors when you use minutes to unveil and oversee a mini-project with specified timelines, task lists, and targets.

Man typing during a virtual meeting

How to take effective meeting minutes

Taking minutes during a meeting can be difficult, but taking accurate notes is very important. Here are some things that you should keep in mind while taking minutes.

Pre-planning and preparing for the meeting

It increases the effectiveness of the meeting. When all parties, including the chair and the secretary, work together to set the agenda of the meeting, taking minutes becomes easier. You should also select the tool you will use to take the minutes. 

Additionally, choose the meeting minute format you will use. It is essential to review the meeting agenda. The review ascertains expected attendees and the discussion topics during the meeting. Also, re-evaluate previous meetings to identify any follow-ups to action items that need addressing at this meeting.

During the meeting

It is essential to take notes. Before taking notes in the meeting, it is necessary to know the information required in the minutes. Some organizations have different formats and expectations. 

However, some of the general information that the minute taker should include in minutes include:

  • The time and date of the meeting
  • Names of the meeting attendees and those absent, and those absent with apologies
  • Acceptance, corrections, or amendments to previous meeting minutes
  • Attendees make deliberations and decisions about every agenda item. These decisions could include: 
    • Actions 
    • Next steps
    • Motion outcomes if there were voting items on the agenda
    • Responsibilities assigned, their deadlines, and outcomes
    • Items held over
    • Any other business aside from what was on the agenda
    • Date and time for the next meeting

According to Note Joy, during the meeting, you will need to:

  • Record the meeting attendees. If the meeting is large, pass around a registration form so that everyone can sign in. Also, include absentees from the guests.
  • Make sure you know who’s who. If there’s a debate or a concept, you’ll manage to document specific individual contributions accurately.
  • Make a list of any pertinent discussions or insights and the member who contributed them. Record the content of all identified decisions and action items and the person responsible for them. 
  • Whenever necessary, seek clarification. As the person taking minutes, encourage the team to add more details to their contributions when necessary. For example, upon identifying an action item, you can seek clarification on the person responsible.
  • Write down only the most relevant items; not everything. It’s OK only to include the main points rather than detailed explanations. Alternatively, if the conversation is moving fast, jot down a note that will serve as a reminder and allow you to fill in the blanks afterward.
  • Your minutes should be unbiased and accurate. Report the facts without projecting personal opinions or provocative commentary. Don’t leave anything out, but make sure it’s a verifiable, impartial account.

After the meeting

As soon as possible, re-evaluate and clean up all the details for the minutes. While the conference is still memorable, proofread the minutes and add any essential information. 

Proofreading and rechecking allow you to add information on notes taken during a meeting that might have been moving very quickly. It is astonishing how helpful even a seemingly inconsequential context in your head a few hours after a session can be. 

To know the significance of rewriting as early as possible, try and wait for a week before polishing your minutes. If you take too long, you might question even simple sentences, unsure what you were communicating about. 

You can also include details such as the meeting subject, the location and time of the discussion, and the form of the meeting to make future reference much easier. Additionally, share and distribute the meeting minutes to the relevant members of your team. 

Make sure you understand whom to include because the extent of distribution almost always extends further than just the attendees.

person taking meeting minutes on a laptop

Some handy tips for taking minutes

1. Be aware of what’s worth noting, versus what’s not.

Don’t find yourself constantly taking down notes in a meeting. Make sure you do enough research on the session before attending. During the meeting, focuses on the crucial points the attendees are putting across and not the entirety of their contributions.

2. Identify the times you need to focus more on listening.

Building your confidence and understanding of what you need to make notes on allows you to know when the best time to listen in. It is vital to concentrate on different contributions, but you won’t need to record some parts of the deliberations.

3. Adequately prepare for the meeting beforehand.

This will also assist you in determining what information you have to take notes on. You will almost certainly be in charge of planning the schedule, which outlines the discussion topics at the meeting. If you’re inadequately prepared, you’ll most likely misconstrue the deliberations, and your meeting notes and minutes will reflect this.

4. Use templates.

You will most likely be responsible for minutes taking more than once, creating a new document every time you write minutes wastes much time. The use of templates can help reduce this time wastage. You’ll know specific information you should include and, as a result, what you should always listen for and note down if you use templates. 

The use of templates also maintains the consistency and professionalism of your business records. You base the template on previous meeting minutes. If there are no precedents, use the meeting agenda to start building yours. 

Several things you should include if you’re creating a meeting minutes template from scratch:

  1. Name of the note taker
  2. Your organization and/or team’s name
  3. Meeting date and time
  4. Meeting participants indicating those who hold critical positions in your organization
  5. The purpose of your meeting
  6. Summaries of any necessary reports and/or announcements
  7. Decisions your team arrived at
  8. Alternative actions and discussions
  9. Agreed upon roles/responsibilities and items for follow-up 

Feel free to copy and paste the ones you’d like to include into a Google Doc or Microsoft Word file for future use.

5. Meet the chairperson of the meeting and have an advance discussion.

This allows you to clarify questions since the chairperson is in charge of meeting organizing and management.

6. Talk to attendees before the meeting to allow you to understand the issue of discussion better.

This also helps you identify the critical details you should note as the session progresses. 

7. Type your meeting notes and minutes as soon as possible.

Timely typing allows your memory to better grasp any vital detail. 

8. Be objective.

The minutes should be completely objective, with no preference for any expressed or attendees expressed. The report you create should give an unbiased account of the issues and decisions.

Tips on taking minutes for virtual meetings

First and foremost, make sure you’re in a place without disruptions and distractions. That means no background noises and that your workspace is comfortable.

If you miss out on the contribution of a particular member, make sure you ask them to repeat themselves. Seeking clarification during the entirety of the meeting is important to remain factual. Taking notes is a good start, but ensuring that you’re painting a complete picture in your notes is another integral step entirely.

According to Snack Nation, you can record the meetings after seeking permission from the relevant persons. Use the recording progress bar to keep track of when meaningful conversations happen. If any of your notes are ambiguous, you’ll know precisely where to go in the recording to retrieve the information you require.

If interconnection, internet speed, or other problems make it challenging to hear meeting attendees, speak up. To effectively do your job, you should listen to everything and understand it clearly. So, raise such issues you come across while recording the meeting.

Common challenges in taking minutes

Taking minutes is a straightforward process. I mean, we’re just taking notes, right? But that doesn’t mean it comes without potential challenges. 

1. An overabundance of information from meeting attendees.

Most dialogues follow a sequential and straightforward pattern:

Person A speaks, Person B pays attention, Person B talks, and B listens.

However, when you add multiple people to the dialogue, it becomes much more complicated. The challenge is because you now have many people of diverse backgrounds and mindsets attempting to one-up the other attendees. Talking over each other can sometimes sidetrack the conversation and divert attention off the original topic.

Considering that the concerns brought up are legitimate, this becomes difficult for the minute taker to decide what to take note of.

2. Sometimes, the minute writer might have information about the subject matter necessitating their active involvement in the meeting.

Active involvement is challenging because it becomes difficult to decide what they should focus on, whether minute taking or active participation.

You can solve this by having someone in the meeting take over the minute writing responsibilities as you make your presentation and contribute to the topic.

3. Taking minutes of a poorly led meeting can not only be difficult but also counterproductive.

Without good moderation, it is challenging to take minutes when people constantly talk over one another, constant disruptions and distractions, and have side conversations. Cooperation between the chair and the minute taker is thus essential to ensure that the meeting proceeds orderly.

Dos and Don’ts of taking useful meeting minutes

DO:

  • Use the meeting agenda as a guide
  • Include the meeting date and time. Also, consider including the list of attendees with their titles.
  • Document all meeting proceedings where voting happens, including the outcome of the vote.
  • Remain objective: the language should be clear, unbiased, and easy to understand. Minimize the use of adverbs and adjectives to prevent bias.

DON’T:

  • Write a transcript: note down important decisions, action points, problems, and proposed solutions.
  • Include personal opinions/comments: Your minutes should be professional, unbiased, and equitable.
  • Stay too long without typing the minutes.
  • Handwrite the minutes.

Closing thoughts

Trying to capture everything that’s discussed in a meeting can be overwhelming – especially when a single person is in charge. But when you remember how valuable the time of each person in the meeting is, it’s clear just how important it is that you make the most of your time together. So at the risk of being overly dramatic, ensuring that everything is well documented truly can make the difference between a productive meeting and an unproductive one. 

But hopefully, now, you’ve got some useful things to keep in mind for your next meeting. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to start taking minutes during meetings that haven’t previously had a notetaking element.

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