August 11, 2014
All association staff have had this feeling: well, sooner or later, I will have to deal with the minutes of that meeting. Writing minutes is one of the least appreciated tasks, but it’s absolutely essential for an association to have accurate records. Here are a few tips that can help you go through the process in a (hopefully) less painful way.
Why do associations need minutes for their meetings in the first place? Well, there are a handful of reasons why:
- It is legally required in most cases. Not much room for choice here!
- It will help summarize the conversation and focus your attention and your members on the most important and relevant aspects of your discussion
- With a clear list of actions, you are more likely to get things done by the people that committed to do them during the call or the meeting
But how can you ensure that you capture all the necessary information during the meeting? Sometimes there is a lot going on, people tend to deviate from the point, and if the meeting is held via conference call, you might not even be able to hear everything that is said. Some tips:
- Create an outline – Having an outline (in my case, I always use the agenda as a template) will allow you to write down the necessary information under each item as you go through the meeting. If you prefer to rely on handwriting, consider including space below each item on your outline for your hand-written notes, and print them (like it was a high school exam!).
- Check on a list attendees as they enter the room/call – especially important if you are not familiar with the group, or if it is a particularly crowded meeting.
- Write down decisions or notes on action items as soon as they happen – It does not matter if the decision is changed further during the meeting, it will help you follow the decision making process, and double check the action is agreed as initially foreseen.
- If you did not understand what is being said…speak up and ask for clarification! – Some people might speak very fast, some others may have a heavy accent, and sometimes your mind might be just somewhere else (i.e. loading a presentation or retrieving a document). Moreover, if the group starts a discussion on the next item without a clear decision, ask for clarification of the decision, timing, and next steps.
- There is no point trying to take note of the entire conversation – make sure you get the necessary items, and focus your attention on understanding the essence of the discussion, and what the participants are trying to express.
The meeting is over. You are back to your desk, and you think, for a moment, that the job is done.
- Do your best to type up your minutes straight away – Your future self will be very happy if you write it while the meeting is fresh in your mind. It does not only make the writing process easier, but it also improves the effectiveness and the accuracy of the text.
- Four eyes are better than two – It is never a bad idea to double check your minutes with someone else. A fresh pair of eyes will spot mistakes that you did not see, and will point out inconsistences or unclear parts that you were not able to identify. Being corrected in this situation does not necessarily mean you are terrible at taking minutes! It just means you are committed to ensure the text is clear and understandable by everybody. Some associations also have their minutes reviewed by legal counsel.
- A trick that always works for me – Print the minutes before circulating them. If you can read the text on paper, and you can follow the whole thing without making any further remarks…congratulations! You made it.
For more best practices on meeting minutes (including the details that should be included), read my colleague Ralph Vasami’s blog post.