Help! I’ve been asked to write minutes at a meeting

First things first…. don’t panic!

Meeting are a fun place to be – so long as your not the one being grilled 🙂 and remember the chair is always nice to the minute taker because you have their back.

My name is Katrina Summerfield and I was the minute taker for The Commissioner of The Met Police for 10 years and trained the current team of minute takers.

I have 5 top tips that will help you whilst you’re at the meeting and more importantly 5 top tips that will help you write them up.

1. Preparation

I know there is not always time to prepare because for some reason securing a minute taker is the last thing of people’s minds unless you do it for your permanent role. With advance notice you will get a chance to look at the agenda to know what subjects are being discussed. Read any paper work if you have been sent it… it will help you understand what is being discussed. Take copies with you to refer to in the meeting…. particularly if there are a number of decision points. I prefer to take as a PDF on a tablet where you can make notes on the screen but a paper copy is just as accessible.

2. Get to the meeting room early.

This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the layout if you haven’t been there before. It will also enable you to check people off against an attendee list as they arrive rather than all in one go. If you don’t know someone’s name go up and ask them.

3. Make a table plan.

I learnt this trick from the Commissioner, once everyone was seated for a board meeting he would write down their initials or names or a key bit of information for where they were sitting around the table. When I don’t know all the meeting attendees I complete this as a cheat sheet so if I want to attribute a comment to a particular person and I’m not sure of their name I can have a quick look at my table plan.  It instantly makes you feel like you’re in control and don’t flounder when your thinking of the persons name.

4. Take notes.

I know that seems obvious but you only have one opportunity to get all the information you need to write up the minutes. You don’t need to write verbatim what every person says but you do need to note who proposed the decision, who opposed or supported the motion and note the key reasons, and importantly the actual decision made by the chair or any actions that need to be completed and in what time scales.  Experienced minute takers can write down only the key points but sometimes you don’t know if that is going to be a key point until the end.  In a new meeting I prefer to write everything and I will underline key parts to help me when I am writing up my notes.

5. Ask questions before you leave the room.

Whilst it’s fresh in their minds go ask them your question now. It will save a whole lot of explaining later and they will have to go back through their notes. Clarify if that was an action because they would rather tell you now than it appear in the minutes and be held to account for it.

You might think all the tips were really obvious but need help on what to do next ….. i.e. Write them up…. Argh!!!

Top tips for writing minutes.

1. Keep the minutes in the same order as the agenda. Use the headings and if papers are uniquely numbered then include those. This will help if you have to refer back to a decision that was made.

2. Write a brief summary of who presented the proposal and what decision they wanted. All minutes should be in past tense as the meeting has already taken place.

3. Include highlights from the meeting rather than the full discussion. If everyone agreed apart from so-and-so you should name them and mention the basis of their disagreement.

4. Keep to facts rather than what you think they meant. It’s not a story meant to be exciting so there is no need to write that Mr X was angry about this proposal…. unless Mr X said this makes me angry and I want that noted in the minutes! You can just write Mr X disagreed because of XYZ.

5. Any actions should be clearly marked. Senior managers are so busy that they may give the minutes to their assistant who will just scan the page to see what their boss has been asked to do. I like to give actions individual ID numbers. This helps tremendously when the updates come through and you can just attribute to that number rather than have to work out what action the response answers.

I have developed this skill over a number of years and I’m please to say they systems and processes I’ve put in place are still being used today.  If you would like more information on exactly how to write minutes then check out my minute taking course on my download page.

Please find attached my free Agenda template.

If you like that I have a minutes template and a action tracker on my Resources page.

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