Eve Marriott | February 13, 2024
So you’ve drawn the short straw and you have to take the minutes at tomorrow’s meeting. Whether you’re new to this or have lots of experience, the list of things to consider when taking minutes can feel stressful.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with some quick tips to stop the racing thoughts and creeping panic — and set you up for minute-taking success.
As a minute-taker, the best thing you can do is make sure you feel prepared. For that, the agenda is your most important tool. Befriend your agenda by reading it ahead of time. Get to know everything on it.
The agenda is the guide to your meeting. It will:
• tell you what the meeting is about
• list all the topics the meeting will cover
• say who’s going to speak at the meeting
• set the flow of the meeting and help keep you, and everyone else, on track.
It will also help you gauge the importance of what’s being said, recognise when action items are being discussed, and decide when important decisions are being made.
Email attendees ahead of time and ask if they’re going to speak at the meeting. If they are, ask them for notes about the items they’ll each discuss on the agenda. Even if they only give you a line or two, it’ll help you understand the context of what they’re saying, and decide on the important bits to take minutes about.
Some organisations have an agenda template already made that you can reuse each time. If you have a template, get familiar with it and with the notes people send you before the meeting.
Don’t have a template already? Try creating your own before the meeting, loosely based on how your minutes usually look.
When attendees discuss each agenda item, ask yourself what items are the most relevant to the purpose of the meeting? And most importantly, what is most relevant to the people reading the minutes?
Sometimes it can be a furious rush to get a speaker’s every word onto paper — especially if you’re trying to write minutes verbatim. But that can backfire. It’s wasted effort if you’re exhausted by the end of the meeting and unsure about the result of the discussion.
Instead, take a breath and listen for the items that seem most relevant to the reader of the minutes.
Was important information clarified? Write down the clarification. Was there a specific team update? Note the bits most relevant to the wider team. Any major decisions made, or not made? Note that down too.
Usually the person reading the minutes is looking back on the important information they’ve missed. They want to find it easily. And they don’t want to miss anything important — which could happen if those decisions and actions get lost in a storm of irrelevant detail.
Imagine yourself as the reader, listen actively, and then decide what information you’d most want to know. Then you can pick out the actionable items and avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the discussion.
One key to creating great minutes is collaboration and communication. So collaborate and communicate with everyone involved: the chair, the speakers, and everyone else who will attend the meeting.
Collaborating with the chair of the meeting will help it run smoothly, creating quality minutes.
Communicating with the speakers will help you understand what they’re going to talk about, and whether they can send their notes ahead of time. You’ll work faster. The minutes will be clearer.
Communicating with attendees will help inform or remind them about the meeting and what to expect from it.
Don’t be afraid to ask people questions, whether it’s notes they can send ahead of the meeting, or clarifying what they’ve just said during the discussion. Take charge and politely interrupt with relevant questions. Double-check any important points that are unclear. The minutes will be more accurate, helping everyone in the long run.
Write your minutes straight after the meeting — they’ll be fresh in your mind and way more accurate.
Remember that you’re probably much more capable than you realise. Trust yourself, breathe, and follow the tips. You’ll be a minute-writing pro in no time!
Watch our microlearning videos on Write Online: Meetings and minutes made easy