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Last updated April 11, 2017

Recording minutes is an essential meeting practice. Written well, they capture the essence of important information and discussions and form a record of what decisions were made and who is responsible for carrying out specific actions or tasks. It is not necessary for minutes to be an exact recording of who said what, they are merely a summary of discussions so that people can be reminded of the points covered and decisions made.

In recording minutes for your next meeting, keep in mind these good ideas for Effective Minute Taking.

1. Make sure you are not a Major Meeting Participant
Trying to take minutes while actively participating in the discussion is a recipe for disaster. It’s too easy to get caught up in conversation and miss recording important points. It’s also difficult to record objective notes if you are personally invested in the conversation.

If you are asked to take minutes for a meeting that you want to actively participate in, suggest recruiting an outside minute taker instead. (A journalism student would make a great volunteer!) If this is not possible, you will need to be extra careful to summarise each discussion with meeting participants before moving on to the next topic.

2. Create a Template
Whether you are taking notes on a lap top or using a pad and pen, it’s useful to have a basic template set up so that you record information in a logical order. Prepare the template ahead of time and head it up with the date and time of the meeting, its purpose, the chairperson’s name, a list of attendees that you can check off and any apologies received.

For each separate discussion / agenda item it is useful to have a space for:

  • The name of the Agenda Item
  • Summary of Discussion
  • Decisions Made
  • Assigned Action Items
  • Motions moved, seconded and passed and by whom

If your organisation makes decisions by majority rather than consensus, it is important to note not only who voted for a motion, but also who voted against and if anyone abstained. This is particularly important in trustee meetings where individuals can be held liable for decisions of the trust.

3. Stick to the Facts
Meeting minutes are simply a record of discussions, decisions and actions to be taken, so just keep to the facts and avoid using adjectives and adverbs to make things interesting.

Be objective, refrain from personal observations, and write in the same tense throughout the whole document. Remember, minutes are not a ‘he said she said’ document, so avoid using people’s names unless it is in relation to motions, seconds and assigned actions. A boring document is a sign of well written minutes.

4. Review Immediately
Review your notes and clarify anything you don’t understand as you go along. Then, at the end of the meeting, do a quick re-read and tidy up any loose ends before the meeting is called to a close.

Type up your notes immediately after the meeting has finished and then send them to your chairperson to review for accuracy. Your chairperson should review the minutes within 24 hours so that a final copy can be sent to attendees in a timely manner.

Sending meeting minutes out quickly shows attendees that the discussions, and the meeting as a whole, were important. It allows people to review the record while the discussion is still fresh in their mind and it’s a good reminder for people who have agreed to undertake specific actions or tasks. (Handy Hint: Emailing a second copy of the minutes a week before the next meeting acts as a good second reminder for people with tasks to do.)

5. Keep Your Originals
For the most part, minutes are passed as true and correct without too much discussion, but every now and again something slips through that causes heated debate. For this reason, it’s a good idea to hold onto your original notes, at least until the minutes are passed at the following meeting.

Kerri Tilby-Price
Kerri is a Facilitator / Trainer with Exult and has over 20 years experience working in and for the community sector.

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