Perhaps this will be the first time you have taken minutes. If so - and if you are the conscientious type - then it's only natural to feel a bit nervous as you sit down and open your laptop or notepad. If you already have some experience then you will take it all in your stride.
Whether you're a novice or a veteran, though, there's always room for improvement. To help you get started, below is a list of our top six tips on how you can sharpen your minute-taking skills.
How to Improve Your Minute-Taking
1) Plan properlyThe most important questions you need to consider (and know the answer to) before you begin are, where the meeting is held and how you will get to it. You can't really play a significant part in any meeting if you are stuck on the motorway a mile from the junction you need to take, or if you are frantically hunting round the corridors of a strange building, asking people how to get to a certain room.
Even more so because minute taking is an activity which calls for calmness and presence of mind. You don't want to be sweating after a swift run across the car park and up two flights of stairs, only to arrive at the last minute. Always make sure you have everything you need to hand and allow yourself plenty of time.
2) Prepare in advanceIdeally, you should start your preparation at least a day in advance of the meeting. Sadly, real life often doesn’t work like that, and you may find yourself scrabbling around for key information a few minutes before the meeting starts. Either way, before the first word is spoken you should have read and mastered any previous paperwork, especially the minutes of any earlier meetings.
Remember that it is your job to bring order to things, not to add your own dose of misunderstandings. If the previous minutes seem vague (which they may well do), then ask for clarification. You might get a reputation for being picky, but that is no bad thing in a minute taker. This will be the official record, so it has to be correct.
3) Know the agendaThe last thing you want is to sit down at the beginning of the meeting, only to then realise that you have no idea what everyone is talking about. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the purpose of the meeting and the agenda that is to be followed. A good agenda will make your life much easier, as it will give shape to the discussions.
If the person chairing the meeting is a businesslike person who wants to get on with it, then the meeting will follow the agenda pretty closely. You might even be able to write out subheadings in advance and come to them in sequence.
4) Know who's in chargeIt is always worth your while to get to know whoever is in charge at the meeting. He or she will probably have strong opinions on all sorts of matters, including how minutes should be taken. Accept their opinions - after all, it’s their meeting. Find out from them the context that your minutes should take. How much detail will be required? Do they want a concise and general summary or should you be noting every point?
5) Create a glossary of namesWhen you have mastered the agenda and are sure of the purpose of the meeting, it is time for you to compile a short glossary of names and terms. Although it sounds daunting, this will greatly simplify your note taking.
If Ms Jennifer Smith of Logistics (and not Mrs Jane Smith of HR) wants to make a point on the proposed introduction of Just In Time, then you can note ‘JenS re JIT’, safe in the knowledge that you will understand your notes when you write them up. It will all be there in the glossary, who JenS is and what JIT means. What you don’t want to happen is to use a list of abbreviations, only to return to your notes an hour later in a state of bewilderment and panic, clueless as to their meaning.
6) Be objectiveWhen you are in the meeting, you might have strong opinions on certain topics. However, you must not let either of these opinions affect the way you take the minutes. Always remember that when you are taking minutes you are a neutral observer and recorder.
However, just because you are neutral does not mean that you are not part of the meeting. You are very much a part, in fact a vital part. You may discover that you are more engaged in the meeting than you would be if you were just one of the participants.
ConclusionThe secret of good minute-taking is the same as the secret of almost any skill. You need to prepare thoroughly, think about the task in hand, identify any potential problems and do your level best to nullify them in advance. In these ways, minute-taking is like anything else in your working life. The more that you put in, the more you get out.
If you need some help with sharpening your skills, Activia offers special one-day training courses on minute-taking and can help you get started.