Communication: Part One
The Secret to Writing Awesome Meeting Notes
This is the first article in a new series dedicated to how you can improve your communication with colleagues regardless of your role, seniority, or trade.
In this article, I’m going to be sharing some secrets to writing awesome meeting notes.
If you’re anything like I was when tasked with writing, recording, and distributing my first set of meeting notes/minutes, the job can be rather daunting and you may not know how or where to start. However, having been a manager for just over 5 years now, I can now safely say I write enough meeting notes to publish about a novel a week — maybe more — and the same is true of most executives at my level.
If you’re stumped on how to make your minutes better, here are a few simple tips to get yourself started!
1. TEMPLATES, TEMPLATES, TEMPLATES
Since the agenda and the nature of one meeting can some times differ from the next (e.g. a board meeting vs. a discussion), you should have a generic template flexible enough to encompass any meeting and any occasion.
For more tips and tricks on how to prepare for a meeting or a presentation, check out our Senior Designer Tom Smith on the subject! He has covered it thoroughly in two parts, over here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).
If you have enough information about the meeting in advance, you should already be able to pre-fill parts of the template ahead of the meeting. Some information to consider pre-filling ahead of time:
- The agenda for the meeting (different parts of which can be used as headers for each section and the general outline for your meeting notes)
- The list of attendees (Check them off as they arrive!)
- Action points from the previous meeting (Only if this one’s a follow-up/part of a regularly scheduled sync!)
I’ve created a sample template which you can use and repurpose over here. (You can download or make a copy of it and start using it straight away!)
HANDY AND IMPORTANT TIP:
Communication is a two-way street. While the template of what you are going to send out should make sense to you, it’s even more critical to put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving the same piece of information.
Simply put: How you organise your notes truly matters.
Just imagine there’s a meeting you were unable to attend. You open up the meeting notes in the hope of quickly finding out what you have to work on and you see 100 totally uncategorised action points. I don’t know about you but I would be a little frustrated.
To make sure no one involved loses the thread, sort out action points and group them into sections so people reading the meeting notes can snap their eyes to the one that matters most to them. Not only that:
- They’ll have a much, much, much smaller chance of missing out action points meant for them.
- It saves them time reading through 80 other tasks that may not be at all relevant to them.
2. THE MEAT: THE ART OF NOTE-TAKING
Here comes the make-or-break aspect of your meeting notes — transcribing what’s said in the meeting and feeding it into the template from point 1.
While note-taking can be demanding, here are some handy tips I’ve picked up about how you can write better notes while the session plays out.
Listening and comprehension is key. Learn to weed out the facts, changes, and decisions from the dialogue.
In a meeting, it’s relatively easy to get caught up in recording every single detail so that you don’t miss out on any crucial information. However, more often than not, much of the conversation can simply turn out to be fluff and passing comments.
With this in mind, I make sure I ask myself one question when deciding what to record: “If I were to read this piece of information having missed the meeting, would it be useful to me?”
Further, every action point to come out of a meeting should have a reason or justification explaining its inclusion. This is so people who have not attended the meeting will come to understand why that decision was made.
As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you’ll get at this. I promise.
Do not hesitate to ask for clarity during the meeting if you’re uncertain about anything.
When writing my first meeting notes, I had a paralysing fear of speaking up when I failed to fully register certain bits of information. I would take my notes in silence and, at the most, ask a close colleague in the room after the meeting was over if they managed to catch it so I could fill in what was missing. Do not follow in my footsteps.
INSTEAD, SPEAK UP.
I would like to stress that it’s important to clarify whatever is needed during the meeting, while it’s fresh in everyone’s head. If you ask a colleague after the meeting is over, the chances of them not remembering the details are a lot higher, especially if the meeting was a long one.
Recap your action points aloud to everyone in the room at the end of the meeting.
This action points of a meeting are, without a doubt, the most important element of the meeting notes: They succinctly set out who is going to do what, and by when.
This is why it’s important that, as a minute-taker, you RECAP at the end of the meeting to ensure you have captured all stated action points before everyone returns to work.
- Everyone in the room should be made aware of their own action points and follow-up tasks they have to work on after the meeting is over. If it’s a recurring meeting, this list of action points should be first on the agenda to be discussed next time.
- If any of the action points lack a clear owner or deadline, now is also the perfect time to clarify who should be taking charge. That person has to be accountable for the follow-up and also decide on a deadline to complete it by.
Some additional yet straightforward tips to improve things further:
- Record the meeting if necessary (voice or video) so that you can refer back to the conversation and transcribe as accurately as possible.
- If you are uncertain about any technical aspects of what was discussed, get a colleague with the relevant expertise to read through the notes for you and help you fill in those gaps.
- On a similar note, if the meeting is highly technical and you can’t understand the jargon being used or effectively convey the key points, you might want someone else with more technical knowledge to take the meeting notes instead.
3. CREATE / UPDATE THE ACTION BOARD (OPTIONAL)
I use a lot of kanban tools in my day-to-day work. It’s super easy and helpfully visual to create a kanban board using task-management tools like Trello to keep on top of your regular work.
Why not apply that same logic to a meeting’s action points and create an ACTION BOARD?
If your meeting is a recurring one in which action points are consistently being raised and reviewed, it might be a good idea to record and track them in a single place like Google Sheets or even on proper task-management sites like Trello, JIRA, or Notion.
It would also be awesome to insert links to these boards or tasks into your meeting notes so people can easily refer to or bookmark the page, especially if their tasks are dependent on others.
You can even do prioritisation exercises with the list of action items!
4. THE DISTRIBUTION: WHO NEEDS TO KNOW AND WHERE CAN THEY FIND IT?
This can be at once the most straightforward task of the lot and the most stressful. Besides the people directly involved the meeting, you might need to ask yourself: “Who else needs to see this? Who will benefit from this?”
If you are ever uncertain about who you need to send the notes to, or which channels you should be using to issue them, you can always ask the owner of the meeting for clarity on their distribution.
And there you have it!
I hope you found some of these tips and tricks insightful or picked up something along the way to make your life a lil’ more productive!
I’ll be adding to the Communication series in the weeks to come — we’ve only scratched the surface of the iceberg here. Stay tuned for much more on the subject!