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Don’t Work So Hard Taking Meeting Minutes

Last week I taught Meeting Notes Made Easy online. One attendee named Rhett said his biggest challenge in taking meeting minutes was facilitating the meeting and taking notes at the same time.

To Rhett and everyone else I say, "Don't work so hard!"

The meeting facilitator should not be the meeting note-taker. Two big jobs can't be done well at the same time. I watched this strained effort as a meeting attendee awhile back, when a meeting leader insisted on pausing to record notes. She couldn't write and talk at the same time, so we would sit silently while she wrote and then took up her role as facilitator again. 

Rhett said he was doing both jobs because he couldn't get volunteers to take notes at the meetings. If you are like Rhett, it's time to move beyond volunteers and start naming note-takers. I suggested Rhett state it this way: "I can't do a good job of running the meeting and taking notes, so you are going to need to take turns taking notes. Without meeting minutes, we won't have a good record of our decisions and action items." Then he could ask for a volunteer to take a turn, or simply pick someone.

Rhett and you will get more willing note-takers by making their job easy. Send out an agenda in advance so they will know what to expect. Give them electronic copies of the handouts. Give them a template to fill in, and tell them what needs to be recorded.

When Rhett is doing only one job, he will be able to facilitate the meeting effectively, and that will make the note-taker's job easier. Rhett will be focused enough to state, "I think we have gotten off topic" and to ask, "Have we made a decision?" and "Who wants to handle that action item?" His comments and questions will help note-takers recognize what to ignore and what to record.

If you are a meeting facilitator or note-taker (not both!), the online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy will give you lots of tips, strategies, and even practice to make your job easier. 

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.