HOW TO WRITE MEETING MINUTES

Expert tips, meeting minutes templates and sample meeting minutes

With everything that’s at stake in today’s challenging times, it’s no wonder that employers prize accurate minute-taking skills more than ever before. Minutes serve as a permanent record of what was decided, what actions must be taken, who must take them and when.

Every day, key meetings are probably taking place in your office. And the decisions made as a result of those meetings can involve millions of dollars, and even change people’s careers. That’s why the role of the minute-taker is so important.

In this special report, How to Write Meeting Minutes, you’ll learn tips and tools to take
accurate, professional minutes and save time using meeting minutes templates. Whether
you’ve never taken minutes before or you want to take your skills to the next level, How
to Write Meeting Minutes will help you master the task.

So, the next time you’re asked to take minutes at a meeting, you won’t be wondering,
“What do I write down? How do I know what’s important?” Instead of panicking about
the responsibility, you will actually enjoy assuming this vital role. It’s a way to boost
your value within your organization and become a key player on your team.

WRITING MEETING MINUTES TIP #1

1. Pre-meeting preparation: 8 key steps

When just the thought of creating official meeting minutes makes your writing hand freeze, take note: Preparation starts well before the meeting.

In fact, 60% to 70% of a minute-taker’s most effective time will likely be spent in the pre-meeting stage, as one meeting expert pointed out. The work you do during this phase lays a foundation that helps ensure your success upon entering the meeting room.

Follow these eight pre-meeting steps:

1. Choose your technology

What tool will you use to capture information? While some minute-takers still use
shorthand, more often nowadays people are using a laptop, which can be a real timesaver. You need to determine which method is going to work best for you.

Either way, you can use audio or video recordings as a back-up. Just be sure you get
permission first to do that. Find out what the rules are, based on where you work and the
meeting itself.

2. Review previous minutes

Before you start, it’s a good idea to review the minutes from prior meetings. Notice the
organization of the minutes—the amount of detail, phraseology and other characteristics.

3. Obtain the meeting agenda, other pertinent materials

The agenda for an informal meeting lists only the items the attendees will discuss during
the meeting. But the agenda for a more formal meeting could list the times, the events,
speakers, rooms and activities. Make sure you get a copy of the agenda beforehand,
especially if you’re not the one who helped prepare it.

Why are agendas important? They show the time frames for each segment of the meeting.
They also make you aware of what you can expect from the discussion.

Other materials you might want to request: minutes of past meetings, handouts and
glossaries of relevant subjects.

Ask the meeting chair or facilitator to copy you on all materials sent prior to the meeting
and to send you an advance copy of any handouts that will be distributed.

4. Speak with the chairperson in advance

Go through the agenda together to establish the main topics and the group’s goals. Then
determine with the chairperson whether the meeting is going to be formal or informal.
Oftentimes, that will dictate the type of notes you will have to take, as well as the format
to use when writing up the minutes.

Also, decide on a signal to use during the meeting in case you will need clarification from
the chairperson.

5. Arrive early to check equipment, materials

Of course, you’ll want to check your audio or video equipment in advance, and make
sure you have enough batteries and extension cords. If you will be using a laptop, make
sure to bring every accessory you’ll need.

Check your recording device prior to the meeting. Set your volume level by walking
around the room and experimenting with audio. (During the meeting you may have to
adjust the volume if one of the speakers is soft-spoken.)

Some additional materials to bring: sticky notes, highlighters, a red pen, a note-taking
pad, extra pens, note pads for visitors, any necessary file folders and meeting handouts.

Make sure you have a copy of the agenda—and bring extra copies, in the event the
meeting chair forgets to bring them.

6. Create a seating chart

This is a good idea, especially if you don’t know the attendees or have a large group—
eight to 10 people—in the meeting. Before everyone arrives, draw a diagram of the table
in your notes. Then, as each person takes a seat, write his or her name in the right
position.

7. Determine your position at the table

Ideally, you should sit next to the meeting leader or chairperson. That way, you can more
easily signal the chair if you need clarification. The chairperson is likely to appreciate the
strategic positioning as well. It’s easier for him or her to say quietly something like, “Oh,
did you capture that? What Bill just said was really important.”

8. Introduce yourself

If you don’t know some of the attendees, plan to introduce yourself and your role at the
meeting. Remember to smile and be confident. It’s good for people to get to know you.

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WRITING MEETING MINUTES TIP #2

2. During the meeting: 10 Minute-taking tips

Even after years of practice, taking minutes wasn’t getting any easier for Terri Michaels. “I had become wordy, and the minutes were sometimes eight pages,” she says. “Each new director or company wanted them done differently.”

Finally, she enrolled in a workshop, where she learned that to take better minutes, “I had to adjust my listening skills and thinking patterns, and home in on what was really being discussed.”

Now Michaels uses these minute-taking best practices:

1. Ask yourself, as you’re taking notes, “Will it matter in two days, two weeks, two months, two years?” If yes, include it. “I still find myself putting things in my draft that do not matter and later removing them,” Michaels says.

2. Summarize. Don’t record conversations word for word.  

3. Do record motions word for word, and indent them for easy scanning.

Example:

Mr. Hurst made a motion to approve the 2008 ranking list. Seconded by Mr. Goodhart.

MOTION CARRIED

4. Use keywords vs. sentences. Tip: Record minutes in a steno pad. On the left side, write keywords; on the right side, make short notations on the keywords. Want the notes to stick in your memory? Write on a color pad.

5. Keep emotions out of the minutes—yours and those of attendees. Example: “Mr. Smith, exasperated by the discussion, left the room.”

6. Be an active listener. “If someone makes a motion and you didn’t hear it clearly,
interrupt the meeting and ask,” Michaels says. “If you don’t understand something being
discussed, but you can’t interrupt the meeting, make a note on your pad to ask the
chairperson about it later.”

7. Reflect accurately the order of the discussion, even if doesn’t follow the agenda.
“These are legal, historical documents, and you are the one who took those notes,” she
says. “You never know when you will be asked about a meeting.”

8. Switch to using your laptop for minute-taking. “Listening to the meeting while
recording it and then listening to it again to complete the minutes was double duty,” she
says. “Now I save time by typing keywords, short sentences and notations into the
agenda.”

9. Create bulleted lists when recording a list of comments, suggestions or concerns.

10. Streamline your sign-in sheet. Michaels uses a three-column template: The first
column lists all staff and attendees. Attendees initial the second column and mark their
arrival times in the third column.

“Two days before the meeting, I ask staff if any guests are coming, and I add them to the
sheet. The morning of the meeting, I put it by the door with a pen and a ‘Please sign in’
sign. At the start of the meeting, I ask the chairperson to announce for all attendees,
including board members, to sign the sheet.”

Tip: View Michaels’ sample meeting minutes from a board meeting.

WRITING MEETING MINUTES TIP #3

3. When confused at a meeting, speak up!

You’re sitting in a meeting taking the minutes when you suddenly realize you don’t understand what’s being discussed. Speaking up to ask for clarification can be intimidating. Despite that feeling of discomfort, though, it’s best to summon the courage, especially since you’re the one charged with taking formal minutes.

Having a few useful phrases on hand can give you the confidence you need, says Jodi Glickman Brown, founder of communication consulting firm Great on the Job. She offers a few examples in a Harvard Business Review blog post:

  •  “Forgive me if I’m behind the 8-ball here, but I’m a little confused about …”
  •  “Max, I believe this is what you said … Is that correct?”
  •  “I’m not entirely sure I’m following you. Could you please recap what you just mentioned regarding …”
  •  “I’m sure I’m supposed to know this already, but …”
  •  “I apologize if this is totally obvious to everyone here, but what does XYZ stand for?”

Joan Burge, founder and CEO of Office Dynamics, says if you’re taking formal minutes
or notes on behalf of the group, “Feel confident about the role you play because it will
impact what is happening after the meeting. It just takes courage to speak up in that
meeting. It’s your tone of voice and your volume that convey confidence.”

Make it clear that you need clarification for the notes. “If you can’t get a word in
edgewise,” Burge says, “then write down what you thought you heard, and then afterward
go to that person and ask about it.”

WRITING MEETING MINUTES TIP #4

4. The conversation veers off track—now what?

You’re taking minutes in a meeting when the conversation suddenly goes off topic. Or, two attendees begin to argue. To what extent should you capture the conversation?

“The problem with side conversations: Sometimes people just chitchat and say nothing of value, but other times they say something important,” says Joan Burge, founder and CEO of Office Dynamics.

She offers these tips for turning meeting conversations into a valuable road map—even
when the conversation is difficult to track.

Situation: The conversation goes off topic.

What to do: Listen for an action, a clarification or a requirement.

“For example, this comes up when I’m working with a new client,” says Burge. “I’m on
the phone with them, and they are rattling off tons of information to me. So I’m always
listening for keywords and phrases that have to do with an action or viewpoint.”

Situation: Two attendees begin to argue.

What to do: What you’ll need to capture isn’t “Bob was really upset about the new
project,” explains Burge. “Rather, you should be capturing Bob’s comment about the
project: that he feels it’s going to be too big of an investment, or that the company won’t
get a return on its money.”

Situation: A subgroup is having a side conversation.

What to do: Say something like, “Excuse me, but is this really good information that I
should be capturing?” or “Do you have something you would like to share with me that I
need to write down?”

Otherwise, you won’t know whether they’re saying something important.

Situation: Attendees are using an acronym you don’t understand.

What to do: Ask the person who is using the term if he could please repeat it or spell it
for you. If it’s an acronym, ask, “What does that acronym stand for? I need to put that in
the meeting minutes.”

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WRITING MEETING MINUTES TIP #5

5. Use a meeting minutes template to save time

At her company meetings, senior administrative assistant Amy Finelli uses a meeting minutes template. That way, she can quickly send out notes after the meeting “because I don’t have to figure out how to organize the topics. And it looks the same each time I send it out,” she says.

Another “power tool” Finelli uses: She keeps an MS Word template for creating nameplates, which she provides to all meeting attendees. If it’s a large meeting or if anyone is new, she says, “it’s helpful to have nameplates for all employees so everyone knows whom they’re talking to.”

Finelli isn’t the only one using time-saving tactics like minute-taking templates. Some
people spend eight hours a day in meetings, so any tip that helps speed up front-end or
back-end work can be a lifesaver.

Tip: Want to stop reinventing the wheel every time you take minutes? In this report, you’ll find two minute-taking templates provided by Patricia Robb, an executive assistant and renowned expert on minute-taking, who presented the popular webinar, Taking Effective Meeting Minutes, to the readers of our Administrative Professional Today newsletter.

WRITING MEETING MINUTES TIP #6

6. Turn meeting minutes into action plans

After a meeting is over, everyone will scurry back to their desks to check email messages and resume work. They may quickly forget about the action items they just took on.

Your mission? To produce minutes that remind everyone what needs to happen next, and assure them that their meeting time was well spent.

At Marilyn Halsall’s workplace, “action minutes” are the solution.

Streamlined and informal, action minutes record little, if any, discussion. They record only decisions and who will do what by when. That makes it easier for people to note what they actually accomplished in the meeting.

“People don’t take time to read the full minutes,” says Halsall, an HR administrator at a Canadian college. “They want to quickly see ‘What do I have to do before the next meeting?’ or ‘What decisions did we make?’ That’s why so many people find action minutes useful.”

Since Halsall introduced the new format, it has received rave reviews from meeting attendees.

These five suggestions will help you prepare to write minutes that yield results:

  1. Use a consistent format. People refer to minutes to remember what the group decided and who’s in charge of doing what next. Help that information pop out with a consistent format that people will see each time.
  2. Include discussion recaps, and key them to the agenda topic they match. No need to give a word-for-word account (see exception in No. 3), nor should you editorialize.
    Example: “Bob feels we need to look into industry averages, as well as our company’s numbers for the past few years, before finalizing our sales goals.”
  3. Be specific when it really counts. If the group makes a major decision, include synopses of the discussion’s debates and conclusions. A vague account will make your minutes less valuable.
  4. List complete names and titles under an “Attendees” headline at the start of your minutes. Should someone refer to your minutes two years later, he might not know who “Bob” was.
  5. Present action steps and deadlines clearly by using bullets, underlining or bolding keywords. Make sure attendees can see at a glance what’s expected of them.

WRITING MEETING MINUTES TIP #7

7. Post-meeting: Closing the minute-taking loops

When it’s time to produce your meeting minutes, follow these steps:

  1. Gather your materials. Pull together the agenda, your notes, any reports or documents that were distributed at the meeting, and verbatim copies of motions and resolutions.
  2. Create a draft within 24 hours, while the information is fresh in your mind. If you used your laptop to take notes, it won’t take a lot of time to type your draft.
  3. Double-space your minutes. That way, handwritten corrections can be easily and clearly inserted.
  4. Make sure to include any attachments.
  5. Send a draft to the meeting leader. Ask the leader to review the minutes before you send them out to attendees. This gives him or her the chance to clarify anything, or to add an important point.
  6. Prepare to make corrections. 

After you’ve spruced up your notes and formatted the document, you’ll need to make sure all corrections are made to the final version before filing it as a formal record.

At the group’s next meeting, you may hear corrections to the minutes, says Joan Burge.
“Follow the legal requirements of your organization in correcting the minutes,” she says.

If no special requirements are indicated, Burge recommends following this procedure:

  • Draw a red- or black-ink line through the incorrect wording.

Write the correction in ink above the line, and specify in the margin at which meeting the
correction was made. Include the initials of the person making the correction, as well as
the meeting date, in the margin.

  • Use a separate page for large corrections.

If attaching a separate sheet, write that information in ink in the margin of the minutes.
The corrections will need to be signed by the secretary, chair or meeting leader.

  • Store them in a master book.

Keep minutes in chronological order, and store them in a place that others can access. Or,
if they need to be locked, make sure stakeholders know where the key is.

  • Keep an index.

Maintain an index of everything in one place. When you are filing the minutes, make sure
to include all handouts and the agenda.

For visual presentation, keep it simple. A straightforward style is more attractive than
pages marked with repetitive asterisks and underscores. It’s the information that people
are interested in.

 

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