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A Meeting Minutes Explainer and Template

January 25, 2018

How to Take Meeting Minutes and Formal NotesIf your boss asks you to keep minutes or take formal notes on a meeting, you might be intimidated. The task sounds serious and official — it brings to mind boardrooms, courtrooms and Congressional hearings.

Being the Meeting Recorder and taking meeting minutes is an important job. But it’s not something that should keep you up at night. Your colleagues won’t morph into lawyers (unless they’re already lawyers) when the meeting starts. You don’t have to be perfect. You’ll be able to make changes and corrections before you submit them for approval. As long as you pay attention and take accurate meeting notes, you’ll be fine.

We’ve done research, talked to experts, and compiled everything you need to know to take minutes and formal notes. We’ve also created a meeting minutes templates that you can use to take your meeting notes.

What Your Meeting Minutes Need to Have

Your final document must feature these three elements on the cover sheet:

  • List of attendees: A record of everyone who has attended the meeting and their role or title.
  • Agenda items: Record every agenda item that is considered in the meeting, the major points that the group considered, and what decision they ultimately made.
  • Meeting start and end time

Optional elements that could go into your document:

  • A summary of formal reports made by attendees.
  • A summary of new business and unfinished business.
  • Any documents, exhibits, or appendices that were discussed in the meeting.
  • An index or table of contents below the cover sheet.
  • The time that each agenda item came to the floor and the duration of each item’s discussion.

Our meeting minutes template is an example of a proper meeting minutes format. Please feel free to use and modify our template.

What to Do Before You Take Minutes

The most important tool for minutes-taking is your recording method. Decide whether you’re taking notes by hand or on a computer. Arrive in the meeting room with plenty of time to get set up, and do the following so that you can take notes without interruption:

  • For written notes, bring plenty of paper and a few extra pens.
  • If you’re taking notes on a computer, make sure that:
    • It’s charged
    • Your internet connection is stable
    • You have paper and pen in case of technical difficulties
  • If you’re using an audio or video recording device, test it and set it up in advance.
  • Give every attendee a copy of the documents they’ll need.

Have attendees mark a sign-in sheet. Have attendees affirm their consent for audio recording on the sheet; some states have laws that prohibit non-consensual audio recording. Know the name and face of each person attending so that you can accurately attribute conversation to the right person. If you don’t know everyone who will attend, you can assign seats and put name and title tags in front of each person’s chair. If someone is joining remotely, ask them to say their name whenever they speak. That should also happen if you’re taking minutes for a conference call.

Speaking of conference calls — Vast Conference offers conference call and online meeting recording. Additionally, you can opt for an accurate, affordable transcription of your meeting. Both services can save you a lot of time and trouble.

In most cases, you won’t need to make a word-for-word transcription of the meeting. Check with the organizer to find out what level of detail they want in the final meeting notes product. If they do want accurate, word-for-word transcription, bring an audio recording device and transcribe the recording later. You can also hire a court reporter to make a live transcription. (If so, you’ll still need to take notes and produce a minutes document.)

What to Do While You Take Minutes

“Anyone with a good attention span can take good minutes,” says Janet Ruth Heller. Heller is an author, and she serves as secretary for a number of literary organizations of which she’s an officer.

The other quality you need to bring to meeting notes is good judgment. You’ll need to trust your instincts in two areas while you take meeting minutes.

First, you’ll need to determine when a point of discussion has ended. That’s separate from motions or decisions, which will seem obvious — the chair will make an announcement, or the group will vote. But you’ll want to pay attention to each issue that the group discusses because a summary of those issues will have to go in the notes for each motion.

Subsequently, you’ll need to use your judgment as an editor. You’ll have to make choices about what to include in the minutes. Side conversations, jokes, anecdotes, and other normal parts of a meeting should not show up in official minutes. Your job is to decide what is extraneous and what is not. However, you shouldn’t cut everything but the final choice.

“Minutes should not exclude minority opinions,” says Heller. “Over time, people may change their minds, so an idea that gets voted down one year may be discussed again and accepted five years later.”

Think of the minutes as a journal of the group’s joint thinking. Diarists don’t write down every stray thought that comes into their head, but they don’t omit the big idea that doesn’t pan out. Your minutes should work the same way.

What to Do After You Take Minutes

“Waiting too long before finalizing the draft can be detrimental, as the memory of vivid conversations will dim over time,” says Melissa St. Clair, a longtime executive assistant and the founder of Paper Chaser, a virtual assistant agency.

So, start work on your official document the same day as the meeting you’re recording. Even if you don’t have to submit the meeting minutes document immediately, you should make sure that the bones of the document are in place as soon as possible.

Set aside plenty of time to transcribe if you’re working from an audio or video recording. Experienced, fast-typing transcribers are able to, at best, record the audio they’re taking down at about one and a half speed. So if your meeting took an hour, expect to spend at least an hour and a half transcribing it.

St. Clair recommends working on your meeting minutes document soon after the meeting, even if you do have a transcription. Before you submit the minutes, prepare a formal document with a cover sheet. It should have the three essential elements mentioned at the top of this post.

Under the cover sheet, include the more detailed formal notes. That’s where you should include:

  • A summary of the discussion with minority opinions
  • The duration of each motion’s discussion
  • Transcriptions or quotations

Include any materials the group discussed at the end of the minutes document and label them as appendices.

“Minutes should be detailed enough to give people who were not present a good summary of what people discussed and decided at a meeting,” says Heller. So, after you’ve proofread the meeting minutes document, have a reviewer take a look at the document and tell you if it makes sense.

It’s that simple: As long as any reader can understand what happened at a meeting where you take notes, you’ve done your job.

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