Minute Taking

by Clare Forrest

In a nutshell

1. Why minutes and why me?

Why do meetings need minutes? Who uses them? Does every meeting need minutes? These questions are critical. The length and breadth of your set of minutes depends on you being able to answer these questions before you get to the meeting.

Generally, the more formal, senior or public the meeting, the more a full set of minutes is needed. Informal meetings – team meetings, project updates – probably only need a set of action notes or even a photo of a flipchart.

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2. Who does what?

The good news is that you don’t have accountability for the minutes, though you do have responsibility for producing a grammatically correct document. However, before, during and after the meeting there are things you need to do.

The chair is the manager of the meeting. Like many managers, s/he needs someone to help them – a secretary. This is the minute taker’s role. Together you are a team, working to ensure the meeting’s objectives are achieved for its members. Each of you has specific duties before, during and after the meeting.

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3. The agenda

An agenda is your meeting map. It tells you the title of each topic and the order in which your minutes should be written. A meeting’s agenda and its minutes are closely related. And an agenda is much more than a document; it’s actually a process that describes a process for running a meeting to ensure that nothing is missed and things are tackled in a logical order. This ensures that the meeting is a core part of the organisation’s work, not separate from it. Key points are

  • State what the meeting is, and where and when it will be held
  • Apologies for absence – can we start?
  • Minutes of the previous meeting – are we agreed where we were up to?
  • Matters arising – how have we done and what still needs to be done?
  • New topics, which should include the initials of the person whose topic it is and a time limit
  • Any other business (not always necessary)
  • Date and time of next meeting

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4. Taking notes

There is no one ideal way to take notes. Each minute taker has to evolve a method that works for them. Only practice shows what works and makes the process easier. The worst mistake is to note too much detail so that points get lost as you try to catch up.

  • Good notes mean practice, preparation and ensuring that you focus on points not people.
  • Listen for nouns (people, places, documents) and numbers (dates, money).
  • Record who makes the main contributions
  • Put people’s initials next to the follow-up points made
  • Record the chair’s summaries.

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5. Structure of a set of minutes

Minutes use a very precise structure because they often form part of a trail of evidence. This means it’s really easy to write a set of minutes because you just need to follow the template:

  • Introduction – who’s raising the item, what they are suggesting, and why it is important
  • Discussion – key points only
  • Decision and action – who will do what and by when.

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