Minutes are a useful business tool for keeping written records of what takes place during important meetings. For people who were invited to the meeting but couldn’t attend, minutes help to fill them in on what they missed. More than that, however, minutes are useful for recording action items and next steps that are decided during the meeting. This helps ensure the company always stays on track.
Establish the Goal of Your Meeting
The first step to taking good meeting minutes is to understand what the meeting is all about. What is the main purpose of the meeting, and what does the leader of the meeting hope to achieve? For example, if the meeting is a weekly check-in for a particular project, the goal of the meeting is to ensure that all employees participating in the project are updated on its progress.
Knowing the goal of the meeting helps inform the way the meeting minutes should be written. It is impossible to record each and every word that was said during the meeting. Plus, that kind of transcription isn’t useful in a business setting, as it would take a long time to read and digest. That’s why knowing the goal of the meeting enables you to write down the key points.
If the meeting is to learn about project updates, for example, then the minutes should reflect the updates from each department working on the project. It should also specify any areas of the project that are at risk of being delayed so the team can work toward getting them back on track.
Be Prepared With an Agenda
The precursor to taking meeting minutes is creating a meeting agenda. This helps your meeting attendees know what will be covered during the meeting. Many agendas include the items to be discussed in addition to the time allotment for each item. Some agendas may also specify which meeting attendee is spearheading each discussion. An agenda can be used as an outline for your meeting minutes, as it specifies what is discussed and in what order.
Be sure to send out the meeting agenda in advance of the meeting so all guests have the opportunity to review it. If someone isn’t able to attend, then you may need to remove their agenda item. You may also get additional requests to add agenda items.
Use the Right Tools for Taking Notes
Taking minutes during a lively meeting can be stressful, especially if there is a lot going on. That’s why it’s critical to use a program with which you feel comfortable that has the features you need to make taking minutes easier.
Minute-taking program options include:
- Microsoft Word: This is commonly used in many businesses, with intuitive features for word processing.
- Google Docs: In addition to word processing, this facilitates collaborative note taking.
- Microsoft OneNote: Great for organizing notes, this program also enables users to integrate audio recordings and videos.
- AgreeDo: This program gives users the ability to track their results alongside their meeting minutes.
Regardless of what you use to take meeting minutes, take some time to become familiar with all of its features before your meeting. This way, you won’t need to fiddle around with the program and risk missing important details in the discussion.
Dedicate Someone to Take Minutes
Your minutes of meeting draft will be clear and coherent if someone is specifically assigned to take notes. Don’t assume someone will just take minutes. It’s best to formally allocate a meeting attendee to take the minutes so they can be given the attention they deserve.
It’s best practice to not have the leader of the meeting take notes. This way, he has the opportunity to focus on the discussion at hand instead of being distracted with the minutes. If he is having a conversation while writing minutes, he could make an error in the notes that doesn’t represent the discussion.
Use a Professional Minutes of Meeting Format
Establish a meeting-minute format for your organization and use that consistently throughout each meeting. This way, all employees will know what kind of information they will be able to find in the minutes.
Elements to include in your meeting-minute format are:
- Name of meeting: Write the title of the meeting. This identifies the purpose of the meeting.
- Date of meeting: Include the full date with the month and year so it is easy to establish the time frame.
- Names of attendees: List everyone who attended the meeting, including yourself.
- Names of absent guests: List everyone who was invited but was not able to attend. This is important to note especially if matters concerning them come up in the discussion.
- Business from previous meeting: Write down anything that the attendees want to discuss that is a holdover from the previous meeting.
- Action items from previous meeting: Establish whether the action items were completed or if any issues arose.
- Agenda items: Go through each agenda item and take notes regarding any updates, key points or action items. Be sure to note any deadlines or problems.
- Last-minute additions: If anything was added to the agenda, write down the key points.
- Agenda items for the next meeting: Write down anything that needs to be discussed the next time the group meets.
- Name of the person taking minutes: Write your name so the reader knows whom to contact if clarification is needed.
Edit Minutes Right After the Meeting
As soon as the meeting is over, take a few minutes to edit your notes. If you do it right away, the discussion during the meeting will still be fresh in your mind, and you’ll be able to recall what was said. If you wait too long after the meeting to edit your notes, you may forget certain elements. Edit any typos or spelling errors and ensure the sentences are coherent and succinct.
Make the Document Easy to Skim
Your meeting minutes document needs to be formatted and written in a way that makes it easy to skim. In a business environment, employees don’t always have a lot of time to read meeting minutes in detail. While that would be the ideal situation, they may often just skim the notes. As a result, it’s best to create your minutes document to make it easy to understand at a glance.
Use bullet points in favor of long or dense paragraphs. Break up large sentences into smaller ones where possible. A staff meeting minutes sample should use bulleted lists to group like items instead of typing them all on one line with commas. This draws the eye down quickly so the content is easier to digest.
Bold, underline or highlight important information that shouldn’t be missed, such as action items and deadlines. When possible, use your minute-taking software to tag people to whom the action items are assigned so you can ensure they see them.
Share Minutes With Attendees and Non-Attendees
Distribute your meeting minutes as soon after the meeting as possible. This keeps the discussion top of mind for all attendees and non-attendees alike. Use email if that is the main business tool of your company. If the meeting is related to a project, use your project management software to distribute the minutes so all project-related content is kept together.
Send the minutes to all attendees and non-attendees of the meeting. You may also need to share the minutes with business leaders whether they were part of the meeting or not. Some companies use minutes to update company leaders on business activities.
When sending out the minutes, be sure to specify whom the readers can contact if they have any questions about the notes or the meeting. This person may be whoever took the notes or the leader of the meeting.
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.