Some simple tips for taking minutes.
Do prepare – look at the minutes from previous meetings and become familiar with the meeting’s terminology, acronyms and issues under discussion.
Do create a template for the presentation of the minutes, it is easier to write when the page isn’t blank.
Do try and write the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting.
Do develop your own style of note taking by using whatever abbreviations suit you.
Do establish what style of minutes the meeting’s Chair is expecting:
Detailed: recording what was discussed around each agenda point
Concise: a summary of the discussion points
Attributed: a full recording of what was discussed with acknowledgement of what each participant contributed.
Do record the meeting details including who attended the meeting, where the meeting took place and when. List the invitees who don’t attend as “apologies” even if they just haven’t turned up without any explanation.
Don’t sit wondering who the participants are – ask the Chairman for introductions, draw a room map and put initials against where participants are sitting. It will help you remember who’s who.
Don’t try to make your minuting amusing, ironic or sarcastic, the minutes are a factual representation of the meeting’s content.
Do try to simplify the content and discussions – an agenda is there to give a meeting shape and identify what is to be discussed but those discussions are unlikely to be structured. Your minutes will be most effective when the discussion is summarised and the conclusion clearly recorded.
Do clearly identify any “Actions” and who has been tasked to execute them.
Do not be frightened of asking questions that will clarify any “Actions” or “Resolutions”. It is your job to accurately record what was agreed.
Don’t try to record everything that is said by every participant – if the organiser wants a verbatim record then suggest that a digital recording is made.
Do use your judgement about what you record. Minutes should be neutral and factual. Participants will often comment “and this is not for minuting” on unpopular or controversial topics but your own instinct should tell you if a comment is appropriate for publication. Consider the impact of what you are writing if it appeared outside the meeting.
Do compile a list of words as alternatives to “said”. To start you off: “added”, “contributed”, “thought”, “wondered”, “questioned”, “summarised”. There are more suggestions in my post “He Said, She Reiterated, They Concurred”.
Don’t describe a participant’s emotions, it isn’t for you to decide if they are angry, sad, happy etc. You may quote a participant who describes their emotions during the meeting (such as “I am angry about this decision”) but make it clear that this is a direct quotation and not your interpretation.
Do take the time to read what you have written and make amendments.
Do issue a draft document for review by the meeting’s Chair and ensure that you have used the “DRAFT” watermark feature to avoid ambiguity around the final version.
And finally …
Don’t be afraid. Ultimately the meeting Chair is responsible for the published content and should advise or guide you around contentious issues.