Is there anything worse than leaving a productive meeting only to find nobody took notes on what was discussed?
It doesn’t matter how good your memory might be: if you’re leading a meeting and miss out on taking those crucial notes, you’ve done your team a disservice. A lack of meeting minutes means your team has just lost out on new brainstorming ideas, valuable insights, and action items. You might as well have skipped the meeting entirely.
How to take effective meeting minutes
Plan ahead with a meeting agenda
Use a uniform template for all meetings
Don’t skip the introductions
Always ask for clarification
Communicate meeting expectations
Record notes both manually and digitally
Save and back-up all meeting minutes
Find an effective way to distribute minutes
It’s time to stop settling for ineffective meetings that cost your company money. If utilized correctly, meeting minutes can help increase your productivity, streamline work processes, and create measurable results for your team.
Why are meeting minutes important?
Your meeting minutes are the official written record of what was discussed during a team meeting. They act as the source of truth after the meeting has commenced. Meeting minutes are necessary for making sense of the meeting and sharing what was discussed with people who couldn’t make it. They’re also crucial for keeping everyone accountable to next steps and getting everyone on the same page.
Without meeting minutes, you’re stuck playing the world’s lamest game of telephone. Instead of trying to relay whether x person or y person was supposed to reach out to the CEO, you can just refer to your notes and move on. Meeting minutes are designed to make your life at work easier.
Lost in translation: Did you know meeting minutes are called "minutes" because they refer to the minute (my-newt) format of the minutes, not the measurement of time? There's your fun homophone fact of the day!
How to take clear and effective meeting minutes
The key to taking perfect meeting minutes is being prepared. Simply walking into a meeting with a notebook in hand isn’t going to cut it. There’s plenty of preparation that needs to be done before, during, and after the meeting to ensure you’ve captured the full picture.
What to include in your meeting minutes
Other than recording what was said in the meeting, what else should you be writing down? It’s not enough to say who was there and record what was said. Because meeting minutes are a formal recording of everything that happened in the meeting, you'll need to include more than you might think.
There are several things your meeting minutes should note, such as:
What time the meeting started
Who attended the meeting
Any official motions or votes that happened
Anything deferred to the next meeting
Any action items mentioned and who owns them
What time the meeting ended
Don’t make the mistake of not writing something down because you deem it unimportant. Your bias on what is important shouldn’t affect the meeting minutes. Remember, meeting minutes are a representation of what was discussed, regardless of if you agree with what was said. Avoid adjectives and adverbs and simply stick to the facts of what was said and by whom.
As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to have too many notes and then edit things down after the meeting. It’s also much easier to edit meeting minutes than try to remember what happened once the meeting is over.
What to do before the meeting
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before the meeting begins. Everything from gathering a meeting agenda to preparing the meeting invite list is completed at this step. These are the things you should gather before you and your team meet. Managing expectations and allowing your teammates to prepare beforehand will help your meeting run more smoothly.
Send out a meeting agenda
Your meeting agenda is the most important piece of pre-meeting material. Your meeting agenda outlines what will be covered during the meeting, any additional information your team needs, as well as who will be attending the meeting. A study from ReadyTalk showed that 63% of meetings were conducted without a meeting agenda
That’s a pretty high number, especially since that same study showed that 47% of respondents said that they considered meetings the number one time waster in the office. The problem isn’t with the meetings, it’s with how you’re running them.
Your meeting agenda is important because it gets everyone on the same page. Nobody will walk into your meeting unprepared or not knowing what to expect. This saves time and stops the cycle of pointless, wasted meetings.
What should be included in a meeting agenda?
Names of meeting attendees
Previous meeting minutes
Topics of discussion
It’s always in your best interest to create a meeting agenda template that can be used on a recurring basis for any meetings you set. This creates a pattern your team can become familiar with. They’ll come to know what to expect from each meeting. A meeting agenda template will also save you time on creating a new document for each meeting.
Gather your tools
How you take notes is just as important as what you write down. There are a couple ways you can do this. Depending on your speed and level of tech-savvy, a digital option might be better than pen and paper. Whatever you choose, it’s best to explore your options first.
1. Note–taking software
Note–taking software combines the best of both digital and traditional methods. It allows you to use your laptop to quickly take notes while auto-saving everything as it’s written. If your computer crashes or suddenly shuts down mid-meeting, everything you’ve documented up until that point is saved through the software. This is also a perfect solution if you plan on having more than one person taking notes.
The drawback of note-taking software is that you need a reliable internet connection to get the full benefits. Many of these solutions are backed up to a cloud based saving system, which means you’re relying heavily on your internet connection.
2. Recording software
The easiest way to ensure you don’t miss anything from your meeting is to simply record it. This gives you an exact transcript of what was said verbatim. It doesn’t get more straight-forward than having an audio recording of your meetings.
There are a few drawbacks to using recording software. The most obvious is that there are several states that require two-party consent before you can record phone calls or conversations. If your business or any remote employees are located in one of the eleven states requiring two-party consent, you’ll need legal permission to record everyone involved in a meeting before doing so.
The second issue is that every recorded meeting will still need to be transcribed. Unless you’re using a transcription software that transcribes audio for you, this can be a time-consuming task. Even if you can transcribe it automatically, the chances that you’ll get an accurate word-for-word translation is slim. Technology is sophisticated, not infallible.
3. Pen and paper
There’s very little that can go wrong when using pen and paper. You don’t have to rely on technology, the internet, or the cloud to ensure notes are taken. Unless you find yourself with an inkless pen and no back-up, this is probably the most reliable option.
Many people opt to use shorthand writing when taking their meeting minutes. This method is popular with court reporters but it can be used in business meetings as well. The key to taking the best notes, whether you use shorthand or not, is having a system that you know like the back of your hand.
There are a few drawbacks when using pen and paper, however. The first being the speed at which you can take notes – it’s inevitably much slower than using a laptop to type things out. The other big drawback is if you lose the notebook you took your meeting minutes in, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Having one physical copy of meeting notes is a double-edged sword.
Choosing the right tool: Ultimately, your best bet is to always have a primary option and a back-up option. Having more than one option on hand prevents problems as they arise.
What to do during the meeting
The meeting itself is where the bulk of the work actually gets done. The flow of your meetings will depend on your organization and your team preferences. Give yourself the grace to get a few meetings under your belt and get into a rhythm. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions on how to run things more effectively.
Verify everyone is in attendance
Whether you’re going off the calendar invite RSVPs or taking roll in the meeting, you’ll need to make note of who’s there. An easy way to do this is to pass around an attendance sheet at the start of the meeting.
Familiarize yourself with everyone
You need to know everyone’s name if you’re going to take meeting minutes. This might seem simple if you’re in a small team meeting, but larger board meetings or meetings with outside guests can present a problem. Don’t feel self-conscious if you need to ask everyone to introduce themselves before the meeting begins.
Another tip? Create name cards for everyone attending. This allows you to see who is speaking without interrupting the flow of conversation.
Create a note-taking process
The process of taking meeting minutes can be trickier than it seems. Don’t make the mistake of trying to write down everything verbatim. You can’t write faster than people talk and you’ll probably miss something important if you try. Write your notes in broad, easy to understand main ideas.
Example: Jenna suggested reaching out to the client about design rebrand. Todd mentioned that he reached out last Monday with no response. Steve offered to follow up after the meeting.
These few sentences communicate exactly what happened without getting bogged down in the exact word for word conversation. Anyone looking at these notes understands what was discussed and what the action items are.
Struggling to find the right words to use in your meeting minutes? Here are a few go-to phrases you can fall back on:
Feel free to tweak this language to better reflect the internal communications style of your organization. The benefit is having a set of repeated phrases can help communicate expectations to everyone who reads your meeting minutes.
What to do after the meeting
Once the meeting is over, it’s time to tidy up your notes and distribute them to your team. The best time to do this is directly after the meeting while everything is fresh in your mind. This decreases the chance of mistakes and allows you to reach out to meeting participants if you have questions.
Summarize the meeting minutes
Tidying up the meeting minutes you took is an important step. You likely took notes in shorthand or abbreviated names to save time, which means you’ll need to clearly spell things out for other meeting attendees. You also might want to get feedback from attendees with a quick meeting survey for general feedback, just to gauge what others got from the meeting that you might have missed.
Things you should include in the final version of the meeting notes are:
Name of all meeting attendees
Date and time of the meeting
Purpose of the meeting
What was discussed
Agreed upon next steps
Note of who ran the meeting
Note of who took meeting minutes
A good rule of thumb for tidying up notes is to ask yourself: if someone who wasn’t at the meeting read these notes, would they understand what’s happening?
Store and share the meeting minutes
The best way to store your meeting minutes is with the cloud. Cloud collaboration software like DropBox or Google Drive allow you to upload files directly to the platform for ease of access. You won’t have to worry about physical copies of your meeting minutes getting lost or destroyed. Even in the case of a company-wide computer failure, your documents are safely stored in the cloud.
Once you’ve uploaded your meeting minutes, you can invite teammates to view and access the files through the cloud software solution. This means nobody will be emailing you asking for a copy of meeting minutes. Everything is conveniently located in a single location. Using cloud-based software is the safest and easiest way to store and share your meeting minutes.
Meeting minutes take on a whole new meaning when dealing with board meetings. Board meetings often include attendees from outside your organization, with these people often voting on important legal and business matters. The legal aspect of a board meeting means your meeting minutes transform from simply a record of what was discussed to an official and legal record of the meeting.
Company boards have legal liabilities, and your meeting minutes are assumed to be an accurate representation of what was discussed. For this reason, you’ll need to keep the language in your board meeting minutes simple and direct. If you’re recording the meeting minutes for a board meeting, you should check your state laws for requirements before proceeding.
Approving board meeting minutes
One added challenge of board meeting minutes is that they must be approved before they can be counted as the official record of a meeting. In most cases, the meeting minutes will need to be sent directly to the Chairman of the board and signed off on before they can be circulated to the rest of the board.
Depending on your board structure, the meeting minutes for your previous meeting may also need to be voted on for approval by the entire board at the beginning of the next meeting. Talk to the members of your board about which method they prefer.
Why is this important?
If your company is tapped for an IRS audit, there’s a good chance your board meeting minutes might be part of the documentation you’ll need to turn over. If your company is unable to provide detailed and clear meeting notes to the IRS, it could land you in some hot water.
Another reason your board meeting minutes might be required is if your company is part of litigation that involves your board of directors. Meeting minutes from your board can be subpoenaed and used during court proceedings. Again, not being able to provide these minutes could cost your company the case.
Tips for taking effective meeting notes
We’ve covered most of these tips in earlier sections, but let’s go over some quick and easy tips you can use to take the best meeting notes possible.
Use name tags or introductions to learn names
Ask for clarification when necessary
Skip full sentences, write in complete thoughts
Record the meeting and transcribe later with permission
Bring back-up note-taking tools, just in case
Communicate expectations with your team
Send meeting notes out same day of the meeting
Remember that while these are guidelines for you to follow, it’s best to work with your team on how they prefer meetings to run.
Common mistakes to avoid when taking minutes
Making a mistake while taking meeting minutes is tricky because once the meeting is over, it’s really over! Here are some of the common mistakes people make when taking minutes:
Not writing something down because you think it’s unimportant
Waiting too long after the meeting to send out the meeting summary
Unclear or ambiguous language
Forgetting to record meeting attendees, start times, and action items
Improper document storage and distribution
Not asking consent before recording meetings
There’s no going back and making the correct edits or asking someone to repeat what they said. That’s why you need to be vigilant when taking your meeting minutes.
Did you write all that down?
Keeping track of your meeting minutes shouldn’t be an afterthought. It might seem like an insignificant part of your job, but you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you do it right the first time.
That’s why we’ve created this handy meeting minute template for your use. Use this meeting template to create a uniform structure for all your future meetings!
Lauren Pope is a former content marketer at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, the G2 Learning Hub, and other sites. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and singing karaoke. (she/her/hers)