In December I gave you tips on how to prepare to take minutes at a meeting. This month we will focus on how to take the notes at a meeting, whether it is a formal meeting with an agenda or an informal team meeting. So, after you have prepared, here are the top ten tips to help you take notes at meetings:
- Get to the meeting early. Claim your seat next to the chairperson so you can see, as well as hear, who is talking. As people arrive, put a name to each face and draw a small table plan showing where everybody is sitting. This is useful to refer to when your head is down and you are writing notes. Also, after the meeting if you find you haven't made a note of who said something, the chances are you will remember where they were sitting when they said it, so you can refer to the table plan to help you.
- Listen and concentrate carefully throughout. Always ask if you don't understand or if you are unsure about what has been decided. Remember that if you don't, you are unlikely to record accurate notes or actions.
- Use a three-column format for taking minutes. Rule a 2.5 cm margin on the left and right sides of your page. Use the first column for the initials of the person speaking; make notes of discussions in the large middle column; and use the third column for actions and any notes to yourself.
- Note only main points. Capture key phrases by listening for dates, figures and the following action words: agreed, decided, approval/approved, proposal/propose, increase, decrease, urgent, deadline, immediate, in conclusion, noted.
- Write in bullet points or note format, not whole sentences. For example, you don’t need to write 'John Brown, Sales Director, introduced the new format for recording sales'; instead put his initials in the left column, with no title (because you know who he is), and a bullet that says, 'new format for rec sales'.
- Always keep up with the meeting. If you miss a point made, leave a blank line and keep going. Chances are that it will be repeated later. If not, ask at a convenient point or after the meeting. By keeping up, you will have missed only one point. If you try to think of the point you missed, you will miss the next two or three as well.
- Develop short forms for regularly used words. Use abbreviations and acronyms, for example, ‘'CCC' instead of 'Cambridge Chamber of Commerce', or 'Pp' instead of 'Partnership'. Additionally, use symbols instead of whole words; for example, you could use '=' instead of 'equating to', or '?' instead of 'unsure' or 'need to check'.
- Write only the beginning of long words. For example, 'beg' for 'beginning', and 'con' for 'confirm' or 'conclusion'. Although 'con' has been used for two words, as long as you read your notes within 24–48 hours, it will make sense in context!
- Leave out the vowels in words so you have less to write. For example, 'wrksht' for worksheet and ‘mtgs’for meetings.
- Immediately after the meeting, read through your notes, reflect on what was said and then tidy up your notes so that they make sense for typing up. If you can't make sense of them immediately after the meeting, you will have even less chance of doing so if you leave it until the following day or later. If you need to, you can check any unclear points with the chairperson or another relevant person. And finally, type up your notes within 24–48 hours
Judith Di-Castri is a Specialist Communications Consultant at Zee Associates (www.zee-associates.co.uk). She can be contacted on 01825 733621 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.