Meetings can challenge our focus—to put it gently. That’s why meeting minutes are crucial. Good minutes help everyone remember what was said, track any decisions, and clarify action items. Without them, confusion can set in as everyone’s attention starts to wane.
If taking meeting minutes is your responsibility, you’ve no doubt faced the eternal dilemma: Write too little and you risk missing a vital detail. Write too much and you saddle your colleagues with the unhappy task of separating what’s important from what’s totally irrelevant. Assuming you don’t want to willfully torture your co-workers, here are five strategies to help you capture the essentials and make your meeting minutes more effective.
1. Set an agenda
Ever been in a meeting that strayed so far off topic you silently asked the universe, when will this end? We have too. Here’s where a good agenda comes in handy. According to Dr. Tabitha Hart at San Jose State University, agendas give structure to your meetings. This helps everyone focus on what matters so you don’t have to wade through as many irrelevant ideas while you’re taking minutes.
To create your agenda, write down every step of your meeting and make sure each item is:
- Specific and realistic within the scope of the meeting
- Results-oriented and helps guide the discussion
- Assigned a reasonable amount of discussion time
2. Use a reliable note-taking app
It isn’t always clear in the middle of a meeting how everyone’s ideas should be structured on the page. Writing down meeting minutes by hand makes it hard to re-organize them later. Using a reliable note-taking app like Evernote will make taking minutes much more efficient and ensure the meeting details are legible and easy to update. You’ll be able to record minutes quickly and share the information with co-workers, as well as search previous notes.
3. Include a few key components in all your meeting minutes
Minutes should be clear at a glance, so anyone who reads them days or weeks later can quickly find what they need. To achieve this, include:
- The names of all participants in the meeting
- The agenda items
- A calendar of due dates and action items
- The main points of the discussion
- Any decisions made during the course of the meeting
4. Think about the future
This is a simple but powerful strategy to help you easily avoid the trap of taking down every little detail. While you’re taking minutes, ask yourself if what you’re writing will matter in the future—if not, leave it out. Summarize conversations if they’re truly important and keep emotions out of your notes.
5. Don’t be afraid to speak up
You’re taking minutes in a meeting and someone uses a code word or abbreviation you haven’t heard before, or maybe they’re not as articulate as they could be. Do you chime in and ask for clarification? Yes! As the meeting minutes recorder, it can be intimidating to pause the conversation. However, you should speak up if you’re unsure of what someone said or what the group just discussed. If you’re behind, you’re probably not the only one.
Here are some phrases that can help get everyone on the same page:
- “I believe you just said [statement]. Is that correct?”
- “Sorry if I’m behind the curve here, but could you clarify [concept]?”
- “I’m not sure I’m following this part of the conversation. Could you recap what you said about [concept]?”
- “I apologize if this is obvious to everyone, but what does [concept/word] mean?”
These tips should help you avoid feeling like you have to fiercely click away at your keyboard to take down everything that’s said. Apply these strategies to your minutes to convey more important ideas with fewer words, and your teammates will thank you.