The art of minute-taking
Over the last few months we’ve had a noticeable increase in minute-taking work – for Board meetings, grievance or disciplinary hearings. In addition to our expertise, the benefit of having one of our Bay Tree VAs take minutes is that we can provide an external, impartial record of the meeting.
Reflecting on years of minute-taking experience, I thought I’d share some tips and good practice:
- Ask for any background reading ahead of the meeting, so you can start to become familiar with names, abbreviations and sector specific terms;
- If using a laptop, always take a back-up notebook – you may not be near to a plug socket if your battery fades or there may not be enough desk space available;
- Save the content twice – whether on a shared secure file and onto a memory stick or onto your desktop. The back-up file should be deleted once the minutes have been transposed, but it is to ward against technical problems during or immediately after the meeting;
- It is useful to compile a list of descriptive words to help ring the changes (particularly helpful for lengthier sets of minutes) such as:
- Make sure you have everything you need before the meeting e.g. coffee, water, biscuits etc;
- A skill of minute-taking is listening and concentrating, without getting distracted so that your mind wanders;
- One of the hardest areas of minute-taking to master is not necessarily writing what is said, but summarising sentiments and important points. Sentences are often not completed and anecdotes or analogies are used that aren’t appropriate to transfer to the final document. This filtering is an acquired skill, as you still need to remain true to what was being communicated;
- If there are presentations, it is not necessary to reiterate their content but just refer to the topic covered, so that the detail can be accessed separately. The key point about presentations is to record any questions and answers that arise;
- If you are finding it hard to remain alert during lengthy meetings:
- take sips of water
- make small changes in your position
- ask to open a window or adjust the temperature – if you are finding it hard to concentrate, others may well be struggling too!
- Type up the minutes as soon as possible. Some find it helpful to do so directly after the meeting. I tended to do it a couple of days afterwards when the memory had settled;
- Typing minutes can take as long again as the duration of the meeting. As above, it is not just the recording but finessing of the text, proofreading and formatting of the document too;
- Recordings of meetings via Zoom or Skype can also be transposed and these have their own quirks as to how to do this efficiently.
When you consider the time out of everyone’s day that is involved in bringing a group of people together for a meeting, it is important to record what the outcome of that interaction was. Everyone may make individual notes of their assigned actions, but they may be skewed to what they want to do rather than are tasked to do! If there is no written record of a meeting – no matter how brief or informal – it is as if no conclusions were reached and that makes a nonsense out of everyone’s time.
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