Taking minutes of meetings has changed over the years. The requirements and expectations of the 21st century are very different from those 20 and 30 years ago. Here are some pointers about taking minutes effectively:
Minutes are written for people who were at the meeting. They are not designed to be a story to tell everyone who was not at the meeting about what went on. Publishing the key decisions is enough.
About 60 to 70 per cent of the minute taker’s work is done before the meeting begins. Most of this work is in the preparation of the agenda. Experienced minute takers know that the agenda is essentially the draft minutes.
If the minute taker is to do the job properly, then he or she must be involved in physically preparing the agenda. The agenda is your secret weapon.
Shorthand is not a necessary skill for a good minute taker. People who take minutes using shorthand sometimes take very poor minutes. The reason is that they are trained to take verbatim minutes, something that rarely makes good business sense in today’s world of work. Remember, meetings are not a court of law.
Research shows that between 50 and 60 per cent of experienced minute takers now take the minutes directly onto a computer, edit as they go, and then e-mail them to the participants so that the minutes are at the participants’ desks soon after the meeting is over.
Don’t take down the minutes on an A4-size pad or a shorthand notebook. Instead, take in prepared blank “forms” which you complete as the meeting progresses.
With a small number of exceptions, recording the names of who said what and the details of the discussion which takes place is no longer required in minutes. Generally, people are more interested in the outcomes. There are some legal situations where the names are required, but not for the majority of meetings.
Modern minutes are action-oriented, and record issues and decisions and action only, not discussion.
Many modern minutes are taken in a table format like a spreadsheet. Smart minute takers never tape their meetings. It creates far more work and frequently leads to unnecessary conflict when people say “I didn’t say that”, and the tape clearly captures them saying it.
Modern minute takers spend very little time “transcribing” their notes — taking the minutes as the meeting progresses means they are virtually finished by the time the meeting ends.
In every type of meeting, the minute taker has a crucial role to play and therefore needs to be an active, although perhaps relatively silent, participant. There will be times when you must speak. To do this you must sit next to the person in the chairperson.
Taking minutes is a job that few people enjoy, but it is usually because they think that taking the minutes involves them capturing every word that is said. Once you change your mindset to one that understands that the purpose of minutes is to capture the issues, the decisions and the major reasons, and then the action that is required, taking minutes becomes a lot easier. In fact, you may even enjoy it!