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.
In this article:
- Why bother with minutes?
- 10 Tips for writing meeting minutes
- 1. Write meeting minutes while you still remember
- 2. Start with an action review
- 3. Document actions and owners
- 4. Record who was there
- 5. Include Images
- 6. Use a Standard Template
- 7. Document Decisions
- 8. Use Tables
- 9. Send Minutes Out Quickly
- 10. Have Minutes!
- Quick Answers
- Want More Meetings Resources?
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.
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.
Read this: Bad Meetings Happen to Good People by Leigh Espy
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.
Was it a project planning meeting? This book has plenty of tips for making that kind of session go smoothly: How to Facilitate Project Planning Meetings (Rich Maltzman et al).
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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