10 Simple Tips for Better Meeting Minutes
Meeting minutes help with communication at work — they ensure people have a common understanding of what the meeting was about and what they should be doing next.
In this article we’ll look at why minutes are worth doing and then dive into the 10 simple tips for taking effective meeting minutes.
Why bother with minutes?
Minutes are particularly helpful for formal meetings like Project Boards as they serve as a permanent record of the discussion and the decisions that were taken.
A written record of the meeting in the form of minutes can be especially useful for people who were not able to attend in person as they get to see the kinds of things that came up in conversation.
Not all types of project meeting will need minutes, but may would benefit from it. Most of us will need to write minutes at some time in our career.
10 Tips for writing meeting minutes
Here are 10 tips for meeting minutes that will ensure your documents are a good record of what actually happened, without taking up too much of your time.
1. Write meeting minutes while you still remember
Don’t leave writing up your minutes until the meeting is a distant memory. If you can’t remember everything, get someone else to read your minutes and clarify any points before you send out your final version.
Even better, get someone else to take notes, and then compare your version with their version to produce the final version.
Use the meeting agenda to remind yourself what topics were discussed.
2. Start with an action review
Whether or not you reviewed the actions from last time at the beginning of the meeting, put them at the start of the minutes.
Write down all the actions from the last meeting and a summary of progress against them.
If the action was completed, don’t bother to write it out again. Instead, add a line at the top of the action section that says all other actions were completed or are no longer relevant.
3. Document actions and owners
During the meeting, you will have written down the new actions from this meeting and who will do them.
In the minutes, include these actions in the flow of the text. You can also include an action summary at the end of the minutes.
Tabular format works well for this. Remember to include the names of the people who are going to work on these actions and, if possible, a date by which they are going to have the task completed.
Transcription software for meetings is another way of making sure you’ve got a good record of what was agreed.
4. Record who was there
You will have included the names of attendees on the calendar invite and also the agenda, but who actually turns up to the meeting could well be different!
Make a note at the top of your minutes to reflect who attended and who sent apologies at the last minute.
5. Include Images
If you use flip charts or mind mapping software in the meeting, include links to the documents, screenshots or embedded files.
You can take photos of what you wrote on flip charts with a phone camera — the resolution will be good enough to include in the minutes.
This is my favorite tip for meeting minutes! I have been known to snap pictures and insert them in my documents and my colleagues love it!
Photos are so much easier than trying to use words to describe what was drawn on the board.
6. Use a Standard Template
If your company does not have a standard template for minutes, make one up, or ask your PMO.
Using a standard template saves you time. Your attendees will also get used to reading the minutes in that format, especially if the meeting is held regularly.
7. Document Decisions
Use your minutes to confirm the decisions that were taken in the meeting. For example, make a note of any project change requests that were approved or rejected, or budget decisions.
If the group decided anything, write it down! This is a good way to “help” people remember when, in a few months, they ask you why something is being done. You can refer back to the discussion in the minutes.
8. Use Tables
A tabular format works well for minutes.
Use three columns: item number, discussion summary and action owner.
People can scan down the right-hand column for their initials to see what actions they picked up.
This format works well if your minutes record lots of actions. If the meeting is mainly discussion with few actions, this column then looks bare. Choose a format that works for you.
You can also type your minutes directly into a word processing package without entering the text in a table, but use sub-headings to flag which area of discussion you are writing about.
9. Send Minutes Out Quickly
Ideally, you should send out minutes within the week. Sooner is better. And they should definitely be circulated before the next meeting!
Send them to people who weren’t able to attend as well, so they can see what they missed.
You may also have people who want to be copied in on minutes but who weren’t on the attendee list, for example your line manager.
Aim to get your minutes out within 3-5 days of the meeting taking place.
10. Have Minutes!
Yes, you really do need to have minutes for your meetings!
At least, you do for the formal meetings — the ones that involve decisions, budgets or responsibilities being allocated to other people.
If you are working on a project, that’s important too: the project needs a record of what was discussed, so you should record the meeting.
It’s OK not to have minutes for informal meetings, but most meetings will benefit from having a written record, even if this is just a quick email sent to attendees after the event.
How do I improve my minute taking skills?
Be prepared: Create an empty document beforehand so you can fill in the details.
Know the agenda: So you are prepared for the topics.
Listen: Your job is to summarize, not write everything.
Focus on decisions, actions, and problems, making sure these are recorded.
Should I put names in minutes?
Put the list of attendee names at the top of the minutes but there is no need to include names in the main body of the minutes. Some very formal types of meetings (e.g. Board meetings) may include initials next to key points as a record of who said what, but for most meetings this is unnecessary.
What tense do I write minutes in?
Write meeting minutes in the past tense. You will issue the minutes after the meeting has happened, so that is the appropriate format to use.
What is apologies in meeting minutes?
Apologies are notifications from attendees to let you know they can’t come to the meeting. If someone ‘sends their apologies’ it means they are unable to attend. Note this at the top of the minutes so everyone knows who was invited but couldn’t come.
Want More Meetings Resources?
For a full set of meeting management resources including agenda and minutes templates suitable for all kinds of meetings plus preparation checklists to help you organize your meeting successful AND an ebook including strategies on how to chair a meeting, then get my Meetings Template Kit. It contains everything you need for better, more productive meetings.
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Thank you for this useful information which will be of help for my work. I’m also a huge fan of handwritten notes as shared by other viewers.
what are your thoughts on tools like MinuteHero (www.minutehero.net) or Minute-It (www.minute-it.com)?
I haven’t looked at those tools, but I take most of my notes by hand.
Kindly help me with the layout of the clan nomination meeting minutes
Clan nomination? Sorry, I don’t understand.
Great Tips! Thanks for sharing this article. Here I would like to give one more tip that the best times for a meeting are traditionally between the hours of 8.30 a.m. and 11.30 a.m.
Thanks, Paul, this is a great tip.
thanks for your reply. That seems terribly inefficient – taking notes by hand, then transferring them to an electronic document?
Yes, it is inefficient when you put it like that. But, it does provide more time for editing and reflection and stops the notes being a stream of consciousness. I can’t help it, I type quickly but I still prefer the ‘interface’ of pen and paper.
I know I’m a little late on this blog and these comments. Just thought I would give my two cents on taking notes by hand. Some people (myself definitely included) *remember* and *absorb information* better when actually writing versus typing. I remember in college I tried bringing my laptop to class so that I could take notes faster. But I found that when I got out of class I hadn’t learned anything. My fingers kind of relaxed into a rhythm of typing, and my brain just shut off and decided it could be lazy about remembering and absorbing info. I used to study by copying notes and writing things down from memory over and over. There’s just something about hand writing information that helps me to retain it.
So really which is more efficient for me in the professional world? Taking notes by hand and transcribing later (so that they can be digitally recorded and distributed) or typing from the get go? Months down the line I will remember more about what happened at that meeting and action items or decisions made if I had written it by hand. If I had typed the minutes I likely would not remember what had gone on and would have to then spend time going through my notes to make sense of them anyway.
Sometimes the fastest way isn’t the most productive way.
First of all i thank you for the best points. Few years back i was using one software to conduct meetings online. But using that software i didn’t get any result instead i wasted my valuable time. I got frustrated, hence i decided to buy such product, which should engage my employees. Finally i got meeting wall into our office and now running my meeting sessions interactively. This product helped me to improve productivity. You can have look at this link – http://themeetingwall.com/
Can someone tell me which app can help me record the minutes. I’m having struggles because i don’t really like how those minutes are in the first place. i want to do something less boring but I don’t know what.
I tend to use Microsoft Word. You can layout the document nicely and use pictures etc to make it look better. If you want something really less boring than a document, how about a mindmap? iMindQ Online is a free mindmapping tool that you could use to document everything visually. Or read my review of Less Meeting here: https://rebelsguidetopm.com/2013/11/software-review-less-meeting/ as that might be an app worth looking at.
Really when someone doesn’t know after that its
up to other people that they will assist, so here it happens.
Elizabeth, et al, I’m curious how many people are aware that there are new web apps out there that automatically do almost all of these steps for you?
Dave mentions “management” tools but there are also tools that are specifically meant to help you run better meetings, make it easier to capture minutes, and track the to-dos from the mtg.
I wasn’t aware of any until I looked into your company, Jeffrey, but dragging me away from pen and paper to an app is a challenge no one (or piece of software) has succeeded in achieving yet!
1) Actions that result in significant work should be transferred to your WBS and schedule. Otherwise you end up running a project in two places…risky.
2) Chase up actions on the agreed dates, not just the next meeting. Otherwise you can run into the ‘everlasting action’ syndrome – “Sorry..I missed that one, but I’ll have it done tomorrow”…a week goes by…..’Sorry, I forgot that, I’ll have it complete this afternoon”….a week goes by…etc.
Ross, excellent point about the dates. I have to confess to having several actions being carried forward each time because people forget about them until they are reminded of their commitment at the next meeting. Chasing up before the meeting means at least they have a chance to scrabble round and complete it before being asked in the meeting.
Great summary, thanks a lot.
Recently came across the proposal, to agree among the project team (e.g. during kick off), when minutes should have been sent (e.g. within two days after the meeting). Agreeing on your 10 items would be useful, too !
Good idea! Thanks for tweeting this post, too.
Great post, Elizabeth. I know that I am guilty of #1 (Write minutes while you still remember) because it seems I am always off to the next meeting or task before I get a chance to finalize the meeting minutes. In the past I have used a voice recorder with some clients and then transcribed the notes / minutes later — but that can often freak people out when they know whatever they say is being recorded. It is often best to have a dedicated note taker who you can trust in the meeting.
Ben, sounds like you and me both need to take Barry’s advice below! I like the idea of taking a voice recorder into meetings and having the audio transcribed but you’d need to edit it too as people do waffle on and not speak in full sentences which makes transcripts hard to read. That is, if you can get the meeting participants to allow you to record them in the first place…
Here’s how we handle this http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/07/plan-of-the-day.html
Thanks Glen. I’ve commented on your blog about how we share upcoming milestones. I confess that the type of minutes I’ve described here is more suited to project board meetings or get-all-the-issues-out-and-make-a-decision meetings than structured status reporting as you describe.
Use a “management tool” rather than writing things in a minutes document. Particularly for 2 & 3 an Action item log or an issues log will be easier to see the bigger picture, review for lessons learned and, be accessed by any team member, and designed to roll up a dashboard for status reporting.
Dave, good point. I have written before about using action and issue logs, but when you need to record the narrative discussion of a meeting, these tools can’t replace minutes which often give you a lot more detail about the context of what was said. Still, I wouldn’t be without my action and issue logs, and when my project faced an audit recently I was able to use them to demonstrate how everything was recorded in one place.
Really like the idea Dave. We’ve recently implemented a ‘traffic light’ system in our ongoing task reviews for monthly meetings. If a task is yet to be started, we code it red. For those that need more work but are in motion, amber, and for those that are complete they’re green.
A senior manager gave me a tip which I have always used; dawn until dusk. This means on the day the meeting takes place write up the minutes and send out before it gets dark. Although this can be diffcult to achieve in winter for meetings that take place late in the day!
Barry, this is a great tip. I just wish I had the discipline to follow it more! At the rate I’m going at the moment it sometimes takes up to a week to get the notes out after a meeting – and I’m not proud of that.
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