Taking effective meeting minutes

Taking good meeting documentation creates value for yourself, your team and your customers. Just like any other type of documentation, the meeting minutes become a record that you can use for various business needs. While creating the meeting minutes, it is important to take as many notes as you possibly can. You should note people’s opinions, concerns or questions, but most importantly you should write down the decisions that were made.

Your meeting minutes should follow the structure of the meeting agenda, which is typically sent to all meeting participants.  

The meeting agenda

Every meeting should start with a meeting agenda. While a meeting agenda is not absolutely necessary, it is a very good idea to plan ahead of time what the meeting will be about. A well-planned agenda saves time and makes for a more productive discussion.

You should send out the meeting agenda ahead of time, so that you inform the other parties what the meeting is about. The appropriate time when to send the meeting agenda will vary based on your meeting dynamics. Usually, it’s best to send the agenda a day or two ahead of the meeting, but sometimes a couple of hours notice works well too.

If some of your agenda items require preparation time from your meeting participants, it is always better to send the meeting agenda earlier rather than later.

If you are unsure when to send the meeting agenda, you may want to consider sending it multiple times. For example, send the agenda once early, with enough preparation time before the meeting, and then send it one more time closer to the meeting as a reminder.

When sending out the meeting agenda always include the meeting information, such as the meeting place, date and time, call-in numbers or video conferencing links and passwords.

Writing the meeting minutes

Your meeting minutes are part of your project documentation, and therefore, you should treat them as such. You should keep as much data as possible and organize the meeting materials well. There are several things that good meeting minutes must have:

a)   Date and place of the meeting, along with other accompanying meeting information. There will be times when you’ll need to go back and find information about a meeting that happened on a certain date.

b)   Attendance. Taking meeting attendance is very important, especially when there’s liability involved. With the attendance information you can always tell who was present when decisions were made, or when certain topics were discussed.

c)    Meeting notes. Write as much as you can about what is being said, decided or voted on. Do not worry about your notes structure or the text formatting while you are typing. Capture as much data as possible. Later when the meeting is over, spend some time to properly format the meeting notes text.

d)   Action items. If there’s an action, a to-do, or a task, that needs to be done by someone, write it down and take note of any deadlines associated with the action item. It is a good idea to have the action items written separately, and to avoid mixing them with the meeting notes. People tend to skim over the notes text and your action items should stand out in the report. Another approach to make the action items easily visible is to put the action items text (or the owner and due date information) in bold.

Emailing the meeting minutes

When you are finished with writing, proofing and formatting the meeting minutes you should send them out to the meeting participants. When sending the meeting minutes include all participants, even the people that did not attend. The minutes are of great value to people that could not participate at the meeting in person. They can reply to the minutes with comments or ask questions for clarification. If the discussion evolves after you send the initial minutes, make sure that all comments and decisions that happen offline are added to your meeting notes.

It’s usually best to send out the meeting minutes no later than two days after the meeting is over. If your meeting minutes contain urgent action items, you should send the minutes as soon as possible. This way you will allow for an appropriate response from the action owners.

Organizing your meeting minutes

Managing your meeting minutes effectively requires creating of a good record keeping system, where you can easily retrieve the documentation you need at a later date based on various lookup criteria.

One simple way to create a meeting minutes management system is to use a combination of folders and word processor documents. For example, you could create a folder for each of the recurring meetings you have, and in each of the folders save a blank template word processor document with the actual meeting information. Your meeting information should include the participant names and emails, along with the meeting location and call-in numbers. In your blank template document, add sections for the meeting date, attendance, the meeting notes and the action items.

When you start a new meeting, copy the template document and start filling in the different sections with the current meeting information. You can also keep your outstanding agenda items in a separate document in the same folder.

If you need to take meeting minutes frequently, then you should consider investing in software for writing meeting minutes. There are different app options depending on your platform. If you are using a Mac, an iPad or an Android tablet you can find several decent apps, by searching for “meetings” or “meeting minutes” in the productivity category of the app stores. Here are some great, useful and intuitive apps that will help you taking your meeting minutes easily.

Microsoft OneNote is a great application for information gathering and multi-user collaboration. You can manage your meetings, meeting notes, and share them with your co-workers.  You can even record an audio note if you don’;t feel like typing.

Meetings is a great app for managing meeting effectively on your Mac, iPad and iPhone. You can write meeting minutes with ease, setup meeting agendas, manage action items, take attendance, set up reminders and quickly prepare meeting related emails.

Meeting Minutes Pro for Android is a simple, user-friendly and intuitive app to organize, store and track meetings, participants, agenda, discussion and action items. It has a simple easy to use UI coupled with rich functionality and features to increase productivity during meetings.