What You Need to Know to Take Useful Meeting Minutes (Without a Hand Cramp)

Are you ready for a short story?

Jenny is an Executive Assistant and resident badass Ninja at Company XYZ. Following a recent meeting, Jenny organized her notes and made some changes to a presentation that was discussed during the sit-down.

After revisions were completed, Jenny passed the edited presentation to relevant team members. Soon enough, an email arrived from Colin, one of her colleagues, requesting some significant updates.

“I don’t understand why you made those changes to the fourth slide,” he said, “I think it was better before.”

Jenny flips through her notes from that meeting to see who suggested the changes and why—though she already had a sneaking suspicion of what she’d find.

Sure enough, on the second page of her meeting minutes, she sees it was actually Colin himself who requested the tweaks she made. Jenny takes just a second to feel smug and indemnified, before moving on to explain the context to Colin—with cold, hard proof in hand.

Sound familiar? Chances are, you’ve been in a similar situation before. This, friends, is just one of the many scenarios that speak to the importance of effective and detailed minute-taking during meetings—and we’re not just talking about being able to bust Colin.

Why Minute-Taking Still Matters

As the above fictional anecdote demonstrates, minute-taking is essential to keeping track of what was said during a meeting. It gives you something to reference when details get lost in the shuffle.

As you’re likely far too familiar with, meetings often spiral out of control. People talk over each other, topics shift, and some employees get so wrapped up in conversation they forget what’s even said. The answer? Minute-taking. Everybody benefits from a structured document that explicitly details what was discussed—making colleagues, board members, and anyone else involved accountable for their decisions and contributions.

Minutes also help drive action for a company and its team.

We’ve had enough of those meetings where issues get talked to death, without any progress ever made. But with this crucial document in hand, it’s much more obvious who’s responsible for each action item—and which next steps need to be taken. In fact, many meeting minutes include a section specifically for action items.

One more major reason minutes are important—cue the horror movie soundtrack—is because they’re sometimes required to ensure an organization follows state laws.

However, the most common scenario is tracking conversations that involve your company’s board members or leadership (although they definitely help in other, less formal meetings too!). The written account exists to document actions and decisions of these key individuals. That’s important information. And believe it or not, meeting minutes are considered legal documents by entities including courts, auditors, and the IRS.

Structuring Your Notes

Alright, you get it. These notes don’t just exist to entertain you.

Now that we’ve really hammered home why minutes are important, it’s time to get organized and strategic in your approach to taking them.

Of course, the structure of meeting minutes will vary from team to team. However, there are a few must-haves you need each and every time you whip out your pen:

  • Location, date, and time of the meeting
  • Names of all attendees, titles where necessary
  • Chronological summary of issues discussed during the meeting—typically in the order of the agenda
  • Main motions, as well as who made the motion, who seconded, and whether or not the motion carried or failed—and by how many people
  • Action items

Again, minutes are often customized to suit the business, particular bylaws, or even the type of meeting (for example, you likely won’t have motions if you’re just summarizing a regular brainstorm session with your team).

When in doubt, it’s best to include these nuts-and-bolts items to ensure your minutes will hold up with any people or groups that may need them.

Minute-Taking in This Millennium

Yes, the act has been around since the days of typewriters (and even before), and many traditional best practices are still helpful today. Developing your own shorthand, for instance, can be undeniably helpful in taking detailed notes without a pesky hand cramp.

Let’s be honest though—with advances in all sorts of different technologies, you don’t necessarily need to resign yourself to an hour of furious scribbling. There are a couple handy tools you can use to bring the ancient practice into this millennium.

Less Meeting

If you’re in search of a free solution (yes, I said free!) to take some of the pain out of minute-taking, Less Meeting could be just what you’re looking for.

As a note-taking app designed just for taking minutes, it’s sure to become your new best friend. It allows you to automatically send notes to attendees right after the meeting wraps, and also has a feature you can use to assign to-do items. As if that isn’t enough to have you singing this app’s praises, you can also record the meeting audio directly in the app.

Meeting Gold

A comparable Less Meeting option worth checking out. While it’s not free ($14.99), it’s more comprehensive. The interface mirrors a standard email setup, so getting used to the relationship between notes, categories, and action items won’t be a tough feat. Meeting Gold also gets bonus points for its power user options—like shortcuts and a tagging system.

Livescribe

Are you looking to get super high-tech with your minute-taking? Meet Livescribe—it’s the stuff your techie dreams are made of. These smartpens are perfect for those of you who prefer to handwrite things without having to manually retype them into digital documents or applications later. The magic inside sends every doodle, word, and asterisk you write to whichever screen you choose.

Starting at $149.95, the pens are a little pricey. But something that could take the pain out of minute-taking for you—while improving the efficiency of meetings—is worth every penny.

Like meetings, the minutes have been around for years. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, it looks like they’re here to stay. But as Ninjas, it’s up to you to transform outdated, unproductive tasks into power boosters that improve entire processes. With these tools, you’ll be more than on the way.

Do you take meeting minutes? Do you have any strategies or tools that have helped you take some pain out of the process?

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer and blogger. Before running away from her cubicle and pursuing the freelance life, she worked as the office ninja for several organizations and loved being the one that kept everything on track! Now, she spends her days cranking out content for a variety of publications and businesses. When she's not cross-eyed behind her computer, she's probably reading, hiking with her husband, or baby-talking her rescued terrier mutt.

Comments

  1. Melissa
     

    I don’t take minutes, I take notes and then turn them into minutes . I find that works much better, as often I need background on some of the agenda items. If I had just taken minutes, I would not have the details. I use Smart Media on an iPad and type away, as verbatim as possible.

  2. Dawn
     

    The House of Doolittle Meeting Planner was recommended to me by a fellow Awesome Admin. The notebook has preprinted sections for Date, Start Time, Topic, Attendees, Notes, and Action items (to include Due date, and Status).

    1. OfficeNinjas
      author

      Ohh this sounds perfect for a Ninja! Those preprinted sections would definitely save some time before each meeting

  3. Kelly
     

    Does anyone have suggestions for Android apps that would be just as good as the apple suggestions?

  4. Abby
     

    This was super helpful! I have a bunch of meetings that I need to sit in on in the next few weeks and these were practical and valuable tips that I can’t wait to use. Thank you!!

    1. OfficeNinjas
      author

      Yay! Let us know how those meetings go, and if you discover and note-taking secrets we should know about

  5. Cara Woollacott
     

    I’ve never taken ‘minutes’. I take down notes, but it seems that I’m going to have to learn to take proper minutes. It is difficult when you don’t understand what they are talking about, what is important, etc.

    1. Jill Connaway
       

      I can totally empathize with this! When starting a new job, I’ve had to take minutes in meetings where the conversation was super technical, so I truly didn’t understand what they were talking about. I learned to create a glossary of common technical terms, initialisms, and acronyms used that I didn’t understand. I could then check in with a colleague to confirm their meanings. I also made it a point to learn the lingo and that helped me start to understand what was going on. Also, in the beginning I took more verbatim notes until I felt more confident that I could capture the most important points of the meeting. I’ve also learned not to be afraid to put a hand up and ask for clarification when I’ve missed something or something doesn’t make sense.

      1. OfficeNinjas
        author

        Jill, making a glossary of technical terms is an excellent idea!

  6. Vicki Hahn
     

    I’ve tried Livescribe in the past and was not a huge fan. I am a firm believer that a well stated and planned agenda in advance of the meeting nearly writes the minutes for you. You just need to add the particulars of who (motion / second), how (many voted), who (was there), what (was agreed to). Good luck.

    1. OfficeNinjas
      author

      That’s true… filling in the particulars around a core agenda would definitely make things easier. Do you mind sharing what you found challenging about LiveScribe?

    2. Rebekah
       

      I wasn’t a fan of Livescribe either. I thought it was too much tech, with a hefty price tag, for a basic task. Not only do you have to purchase the pen, but also the refills, plus the special notebooks. Personally, I use a USB Disk Recorder that I can record the meeting on, then plug into my computer like a thumb drive and play it back. You can purchase them on Amazon for about $15, and they last for a while. I also take a notebook and hand write any action items that I need to make sure I include in the final draft, and in case they ask for me to read back what was decided right there in the meeting.

  7. Tracy
     

    In my new job, I need to take minutes at a bi-weekly meeting. This is my least favorite thing to do and I’m going to try and use these apps before the pen option. Any help is welcome.

    1. OfficeNinjas
      author

      Definitely not the most thrilling part of Ninja life, eh? There are a few good suggestions from your fellow Ninjas in these comments—keep checking back!

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