Exploding some myths and misconceptions and bringing your minutes and minute taking into the 21st century
Minute taking has changed. The requirements and expectations of the 21st century are very different from the expectations even 10, but certainly 20 and 30 years ago.
1. Minutes are written for people who were at the meeting, not for people who were not! It is not realistic to expect the minutes to be a communication device to tell everyone in an organisation what went on. The minutes are a management tool for the people at the meeting. If you want to communicate to people about decisions or policies, do what top managers do – prepare an information bulletin or mini newsletter.
2. Around 60% – 70% of the minute taker’s work is done before the meeting begins. Most but not all of this work is in the preparation of the agenda. The agenda is essentially the draft minutes! Every character you type into the agenda is going to appear in the minutes so as you are preparing the agenda, you are in fact, preparing the skeleton of the minutes.
3. If the minute taker is to be able to do the job properly, then he or she must be involved in physically preparing the agenda. Ideally, the chair and the minute taker should have a pre-meeting meeting to discuss the agenda and the order of items, then the minute taker types and prepares the agenda and distributes it. A chair who insists on preparing the agenda does not understand the process the minute takers needs to go through and creates more work for everyone.
4. Shorthand is not a necessary skill for a good minute taker. People who take minutes using shorthand often take poor minutes because their training is to take down everything and very few meetings require that amount of detail.
5. The last type of paper to take into a meeting for the minutes is an A4 pad or a shorthand notebook. You need to take in pre-prepared blank “forms” which you complete as the meeting progresses. Using these forms provides structure to your notes and enables you to assist the chair to keep the meeting on track. Examples of pre-prepared forms are on the website – www.bettermeetings.info
6. With a very small number of exceptions, recording the names of who said what and the details of the discussion which takes place is no longer required in minutes. Research has shown us that the only people who look at the comment a particular person made in a meeting, if it is recorded in the minutes, is that very person – no-one else is interested in reading what they said – they heard it! Caution: Sometimes it is necessary to record the major reasons which led to a decision but this different to the discussion.
7. Modern minutes are action oriented, and record issues and decisions and action only, not all of the discussion.
8. The most up to date minute takers take the minutes directly onto a laptop computer. They edit as they go, and then by the end of the meeting, the minutes are virtually finished if not completely finished. They can then email the minutes to the participants (often from the meeting room) so that the minutes are “at the participants’ desks” often before they arrive themselves.
9. Many modern minutes are taken in a table format. This method has significant advantages especially when the chair is either inexperienced or is not skilful. Examples are on our website www.bettermeetings.info.
10. Using a tape recorder is counter-productive. It sounds good but it actually creates far more work for the minute taker as well as having some significant Freedom of Information implications in some circumstances. Our research shows that a minute taker who tapes a meeting will on average spend four times as long finalising the minutes as a minute taker who takes them directly onto a computer.
11. Up to date and competent minute takers spend very little time “transcribing” their notes. The minutes are virtually finished as the meeting finishes. They then send them out immediately after the meeting and everyone begins the action they were assigned.
12. In every type of meeting, the minute taker has a crucial role to play and therefore needs to be an active, although perhaps relatively silent, participant. There will be times when the minute taker must speak. To do this they must sit next to the person in the chair. (A competent chairperson who understands their own role and the minute taker’s role, will not let the minute taker sit anywhere else except next to them!)
13. The minutes need to be sent out within 24 hours of the meeting. Because minutes should be action oriented, people need and want their minutes very quickly after the meeting. Many modern organisations and certainly modern managers have a guideline that minutes should be out within 2 hours of the meeting. With modern minute taking methods, there is nothing difficult about this.
David Price, The Master of Meetings runs training programs regularly throughout Australia in Minute Taking and other meeting skills. Visit www.minutetaking.com or www.davidprice.com