7 top tips for minute taking
By Teresa Cook
Writing up the Minutes after a meeting can be a stressful chore which is why many people put off doing it. So here are seven tips to help and inspire you:
- Just start
You return from the meeting. You’re exhausted from concentrating hard, not quite sure what some of it was about, and daunted about how you’re going to write it all up. So you leave it until tomorrow, and then the next day you still can’t face it.
Well bite the bullet, eat that frog and just start. Getting started is the hardest bit. Give it 20-30 minutes to write down what you remember, using your notes to guide you. Once you’ve made a start and got something on paper, you can ask others for help. Go talk to someone else who was in the meeting and ask them to recap on any of the bits you are unsure about.
2. Summarise, summarise summarise
If your first draft looks something like this:
The Chair said she needed an example of such a policy to show the Board. JB said he had one from another organisation that could be used. The Chair said that would be very helpful if he could put his hands on one. JB agreed to send a copy to her. The Chair thanked him for his help.
Summarise it to something like this:
JB agreed to send an example of a policy to the Chair so she could present it to the Board.
Now you try this one:
Tina Biscuit (TB) distributed the sales figures for Q4 to the meeting. These were passed around to the members of the Committee and discussed and Justin Time (JT) pointed out they had improved. All other attendees agreed they had improved too and that was good news. It was therefore agreed that the annual bonus could be paid this year because of the good results as was agreed previously.
3. Use synonyms for ‘said’
Instead of trying to write a verbatim account looking like a transcript of ‘he said/she said’ use a combination of alternative words and summarising the gist of the discussion.
For example ‘The MD said there would be no redundancies’ might be better worded ‘The MD assured the meeting ….’ or perhaps ‘The MD clarified’, ‘explained’ or even ‘stressed’ might fit the bill and be the perfect word. Usually in Minutes you are trying to capture the essence of the discussion rather than repeat the actual words used.
4. Write actively rather than passively
If you compare:
The report was approved by the Committee (passive)
The Committee approved the report (active)
You will notice the second version is easier to understand, and also has slightly fewer words. In the second one the person or thing doing the action (the Committee) is written first, then what it did and to what, and that is the most direct way of describing an action. In grammar-speak this is known as Subject-Verb-Object.
So instead of ‘Approval for the project was given by the CEO’ write ‘The CEO approved the project’.
5. Use action verbs instead of vague abstract nouns
You probably learned at schools that verbs were ‘doing words’ and ‘nouns were things’. But there are ‘concrete nouns’, things you can touch such as a keyboard, a mouse, a cup, and ‘abstract nouns’ such as ‘clarity’, ‘beauty’, ‘approval’ and ‘a decision’. When we talk about an abstract noun it is not only difficult to visualise what you are talking about but also the same word might bean different things to different people. It also takes more words to describe the action, which is harder for our brains to take in. Compare:
Abstract noun Action verb
Made a decision Decided
Added clarity Clarified
Gave an explanation Explained
Took a vote Voted
Gave a presentation Presented
For example ‘Councillors took a vote’ can be re-written as ‘Councillors voted’.
6. Be diplomatic
In the heat of the meeting, people often speak very frankly, but that doesn’t mean you have to repeat their words; it’s often a case of diplomatically capturing what they actually meant.
For example ‘TC said that there is no way she was going to sink any more money into this mess and that she was going to pull the plug on it’ might become something like ‘TC confirmed that the project would be shelved’.
This is really when you get into the art and heart of Minutes.
7. Know how much detail the readers actually need
Something I often hear on my courses is ‘[my boss] wants me to write all the detail’. But how do you know that for sure? Usually people want to flick through the minutes to remind themselves what happened and what they were tasked to do.
A delegate on one of my courses told me a story of how she went back to work and put her new minute writing skills into practice. She gave her manager the finished minutes to read and he said ‘Just the one page? When she tentatively answered ‘Yes’ he said ‘Wow, that’s brilliant’. So it’s worth a go, if the Chair wants more fine detail you can always add it.
© Teresa Cook 2016
Do you struggle with Minute taking? It is difficult but I hope you find these tips useful. I’d love to get your feedback and I welcome questions and comments.
For training in Minute taking, report writing or any other aspect of writing in the workplace, contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org
or for an informal chat Tel (0113) 268 0487 or Mob 07702 046645
or via the Contact us form on the website www.reportwritingtraining.co.uk
For more information on some of the writing techniques such as writing actively see the excellent free resources on www.plainenglish.co.uk