Minutes are simply notes taken during the meeting to remind everyone what was discussed, decisions that were made and actions that were agreed upon.
It doesn’t sound like rocket science does it? Well you would be surprised how many people stuggle with this relatively simple task and ask me for advice.
I’ve never met a busy person who wasn’t fighting a battle to minimise the amount of time they spend in meetings, who understands the importance of them but resents the time they take out of their precious 24 hours.
The secret with minutes is to find the balance between containing enough detail to be an accurate record but not to take any more of their time than necessary in the reading of them!
Don’t be too sparse with the context and detail though … if someone goes back to them in 6/ 12/ 18 months time to track the route to a decision they need to be able to understand it with potentially no memory of the events.
So here are a few of my thoughts and tips on how to streamline and improve your process.
My Number ONE rule?
Go out and buy a digital Dictaphone, immediately!
I regularly minute 7-8 Hour Board meetings (definitely more of a marathon than a sprint) and would not consider doing them without my Dictaphone to hand. The reasons:
- It means I can RELAX! If you miss the 4th bullet point reeled off in quick succession, don’t understand one of the technical terms or get distracted by an email notification that popped up on your laptop screen you know you can go back to it on the recording.
- It means I can LISTEN! It is important to understand the broader context and interactions of the attendees of a meeting to get the minutes right, to do that you have to really listen.
- It means I can be REMOTE! I have the software downloaded on my laptop so if for some reason I can’t be in a meeting, a colleague needs me to transcribe their minutes or a remote client wants me to transcribe an interview/ meeting it can all be done by simply sending sound files.
I did try to learn how to do it once, and actually quite enjoyed it. The symbolic nature of it brought back memories of learning Greek at Uni.
BUT I quickly realised that it is a long studied and hard won skill, and if you don’t then use it regularly you will lose the speed and accuracy, which is after all the whole point.
It is definitely more difficult than riding a bike – it looks great though …
So I use my laptop – and it is fabulous typing speed practise!
You can try and write them if you want to – depending on how long the meeting is your hand will start to ache at some point, your writing will inevitably become illegible and you will only have to type it all up after the meeting. Why not just take a laptop in the first place and just have finishing touches and formatting to do after the meeting is over?
I have a copy of the last meetings minutes open so all the formatting and attendees etc are largely right, why needlessly waste time formatting after the meeting if you don’t need to.
A couple of things to always keep in mind
They don’t need to be long or complicated. As with many things in life it is quality rather than quantity and all of the attendees will thank you for a succinct, readable and to the point record.
They do need to record clearly and simply what decisions were made at the meeting and who is going to carry them out.
There will be things that should be left out – private side discussions, inappropriate comments, complete irrelevancies. A great minute taker will instinctively know where this line is without having to be told.
Things to have with you
Make sure you remember your laptop charger if the meeting is going to go on a while, I am terrible for forgetting this important detail.
Always have a hard copy of the agenda next to you and have a good sense of attendees and timings before the meeting starts. I am often called on to let everyone know when we are overrunning, who is coming in next, email colleagues during the meeting to update them on timings/ overruns. Another GREAT reason to have a Dictaphone, it is difficult to concentrate when interruptions happen.
I’m not going to go into this hugely because I have always found that everyone likes their minutes done differently.
As with any other document you should put some thought and care into the formatting, keep it consistent throughout, use headings/ bullets to make it easier to read, use a sensible font like Arial 11 and don’t be sloppy.
The minutes are no less important a document of record than the papers that are sent out before a meeting and it is no less important that they should be an enjoyable read – certainly not an excuse to forget about good grammar and readable sentence construction.
Whenever I start to do minutes for someone new I always seek feedback – enough information, too much information, fonts etc. Tailor them to the audience!
What should you write down?
One of the most difficult things about taking minutes is knowing what to write down and what to leave out.
Keep these two central points in mind:
- Don’t try to write everything down – it takes forever and is really not useful. Minutes are not a word for word description of what was said, try to capture the essence.
- Concentrate on what has been decided and who is going to do it. The purpose of minutes is to record decisions and actions agreed by the meeting.
Perhaps the most important aspect of taking minutes!
Always note the person and their action, I like to colour them red so they are easily picked out when scanning through.
It depends on the length of your meeting (my last minutes were 7 hours/11 pages long) but I always put a collated list of actions for each of the directors at the end for very quick reference.
As tempting as it is to get ne with the things that have been stacking up whilst you were trapped in a meeting room, don’t wait too long to finish them off. The fresher your memory the quicker the job will be.
The final steps
A quick sense/ typo check is never a bad idea – and if you can get someone else to cast fresh eyes over them before sending them out all the better.
If you have put a collated list at the end of the minutes then paste it into the body of the email that you send them out in for quick reference, it is after all the little thoughts and touches to make everyone’s life quicker and easier that make for a great PA/ VA.
And if all of this sounds like a complete drag, Click Here