Three tips for taking minutes without stress

Eve Marriott | February 13, 2024

Woman sitting next to and looking at a large pink clock with a worried expression.

Taking minutes can feel daunting — but don’t worry, the clock isn’t against you! Image by KoolShooters / Pexels licence

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.

Tip 1: Make friends with your agenda before you take minutes

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.

Three women laughing in a yellow sunflower field during daytime.

Take time to befriend your agenda before the meeting. Image by Antonino Visalli / Unsplash licence

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.

Ask attendees for notes ahead of time

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.

Use a template for minutes, or create one

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.

Tip 2: Think about who’ll read your minutes

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?

Golden retriever wearing glasses and resting head on a magazine about dogs.

Think about who’s going to read the minutes and why they’ll be reading them. Image by Jamie Street / Unsplash licence

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.

Make information easy to find

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.

Tip 3: Collaborate before meetings — and during them

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.

People putting their hands on top of each other in a team work circle.

Seek to collaborate and communicate with everyone who’ll attend the meeting — this’ll help you take great minutes. Image by Hannah Busing / Unsplash licence

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.

Bonus tip — write your minutes straight away

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!

Want a deeper dive into taking great minutes?

Join our Minute Writing workshop

Watch our microlearning videos on Write Online: Meetings and minutes made easy

Read another Write blog on the value of minutes

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