Christina Holzhauser, founder of Tips for Assistants gives us her top tips on how to take minutes in a meeting!
My first experience taking meeting minutes was a last-minute request. I frantically searched Google for all variations of the phrase “how to take meeting minutes” for about five minutes, gathered my pen and notepad and fumbled my way through the task to completion. Since that experience, I have researched, practiced and perfected the note-taking task. Here are my top tips to properly prepare yourself for taking minutes.
Take the time to check in with the organiser of the meeting to understand the purpose. Having a high-level overview will help you to know what needs to be captured.
Make sure you obtain a copy of the agenda from the meeting organiser in advance. If the organiser doesn’t have the bandwidth to prepare one in advance, I recommend volunteering to collect agenda items for the group. Being equipped with agenda items beforehand is my greatest tip for successfully capturing notes and it’s well worth the effort.
Having an agenda is basically a rough draft of the final write-up already typed up. Each detail is already listed out so all you have to do is fill in action items, due dates and other important details that are discussed.
In addition, an agenda can act as a guide for you to reference during the meeting. Having an organised structure will allow you to more easily follow the flow of the meeting, which in turn allows for more organised note-taking.
The best way to collect agenda items depends on the attendees and the type of meeting being held. If it’s a more formal meeting, especially when the agenda needs to be sent to the marketing department for an enhanced appearance, ask the attendees to send their items by a specific due date. Collecting items also works for smaller groups, since there are not as many items to manage. For larger groups or meetings that might have constant agenda item changes, use a shared document that everyone can access online. The shared document gives the attendees the chance to make edits to their items right up to the last minute and it takes the stress of collecting items by a specific due date off your plate.
Another top tip is to use a recording device during the meeting. It’s priceless having something to play back when your notes aren’t clear or when you need to double-check something that was said. There are so many apps these days that work great so if you have a smartphone, I recommend going that route. I also suggest downloading more than one app on your phone just in case your favorite app crashes; this has happened to me on more than one occasion and those backup apps felt priceless during those times!
Learn how to use your recording apps in advance. Do a trial run and make sure you have the basic recording functions down. In addition, there are usually other handy features, such as marking certain points in the recording, so allow time to get familiar with those as well. There’s nothing more stressful than being in a meeting trying to figure out how to use a feature when you know you are missing what is being discussed.
Besides being geared up with the ability to record the meeting, make sure you have your laptop, a pad of paper and several pens or pencils. Notetakers usually have a preference of typing or handwriting the points being captured, but you never know if something might fail (ex: pen running out of ink, your laptop running out of power, etc.) so it’s always best to cover your bases.
Lastly, bring printed copies of the agenda to the meeting. Often times attendees print their own or refer to the electronic version, but for those who do not, they will greatly appreciate having something to refer to.
When you meet with the meeting organizer in advance, be sure they are aware that you will be using a recording device. Make sure it’s clear that if any confidential conversations pop up that need to be off the record that they know to alert you to stop recording. You will also need to stop typing or writing during those times.
Also, do not share any confidential information that was discussed during the meeting. When you exit the meeting room, leave those discussions behind.
Complete your write-up as soon as possible. I typically type up notes the same day if I’m able. The more time goes by, the more sections of the recording will need to be played back which can make the wrap up of the notes take a lot longer.
There will need to be some structure to your write-up. The details required will vary depending on the meeting, but here are some typical ones to include: meeting title, time, date, attendees, agenda and summaries.
The items being summarised will fluctuate depending on the meeting, but here are typical ones to incorporate: the issue, key discussion points, decisions made, items on hold, action items and due dates.
I recommend sending your final write-up to the meeting organiser to approve before distributing it to the larger group. This allows the organiser to make edits before it becomes the group’s final record. Also, this is a great opportunity to learn from the adjustments made so you can adjust your approach for the next meeting.
Tips for Assistants is an online resource designed to give advice and resources to assistants and administrative professionals to help them to perform at the highest level. It was founded by Christina Holzhauser in 2016, who has more than a decade of experience in a wide array of assistant and administrative roles.
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