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How to be more effective at minute taking

As any great PA knows, taking minutes is an essential skill but can certainly be a challenge. Even for the most experienced of us the process of writing minutes can be time consuming and in a fast paced business environment you are often recording complex, delicate and significant information where accuracy is paramount.

A sound and comprehensive set of minutes isn’t just about typing up what you have written down, it involves a little planning and research and it certainly helps to know a few handy tips.

So how can you be more effective at minute taking?

Do your research
One of the most difficult aspects of minute taking is understanding what is being discussed. Having a real sense of what is being discussed makes the job so much easier; therefore it’s essential to ensure that before any meeting you comprehend what is going to be discussed. Spending time before hand will save you so much time later, as it’s so easy to fall behind during the meeting if you don’t comprehend the details of what you have to summarise. Don’t be afraid of asking for a pre-meeting chat with the chair of the meeting and ask about any terminology you don’t understand.

Be prepared
Although it might seem obvious it is always important to appear organised. Double check that you have everything prepared beforehand, including making sure your laptop is charged, and you have your template and a spare pen.

Remember the basics

  • Get the names and roles of attendees correct and record them first

  • If it helps, do a table plan of where everyone is seated to aid as a prompt later

  • Minutes are about 3 things and if you work within this structure you won’t go far wrong:

During the meeting listen more than you write. At the end of the discussion is the time to summarise the details.

Record the main actions
There will be lots of discussion during the meeting and it is key that you only record the main points and actions needed. Minutes are not a transcript of all conversation but are there to record key points and actions needed.

Follow a set format
It is very easy to get carried away when minute taking, you can totally lose the thread and miss vital information. Therefore it is paramount that you have a pre-planned template that includes:

  • Name of the meeting 

  • Date, time and location of the meeting 

  • All attendees - including initials 

  • Distribution list 

  • Any apologies for not attending 

  • Name of the minute taker 

  • Each of the agenda items listed and highlighted, including details on what was decided, what was accomplished and the action needed, with name of the person responsible for the action 

  • Any other business - AOB 

  • Date of the next meeting and location, if known 

It is standard to write in the past tense and in the third person, for example, Carol Wright agreed to speak to her manager about hosting the conference. If acceptable it is better to write using initials, for example, CW agreed to speak to her manager about hosting the conference. If during the meeting there are reports or information handed out this should be recorded.

Stay neutral
Minutes should always be a neutral and factual account of events, opinions are not needed and your tone and vocabulary should be unbiased and straightforward.

Don’t delay typing up the minutes
As tempting as it might be to wait and type up the minutes, this can often make the job harder. It is easy to forget things and you can be confused by what you’ve written. The following day is ideal for typing and circulating the minutes as it allows the most time for people to action what is needed. 

Proofreading is a vital as minutes are often seen by numerous people, including senior managers. Plus, when you are writing things down quickly, it's very easy to make spelling mistakes and miss out words completely. It is also a good idea to send them to the chair first to get their approval before you circulate.