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Minute-Taking Tip: Put Three Appointments on Your Calendar

Here is a tip that will help you feel more confident taking meeting notes and minutes and completing the final draft. I use it when I take minutes for the board of the Joyful! Noise community choir, a job I do about eight times a year. 

When you are scheduled to take minutes at a meeting, put three appointments on your calendar:

  1. An appointment with yourself–and sometimes with the meeting leader–to prepare for the meeting
  2. The meeting 
  3. An appointment with yourself to complete the minutes

Too often note takers put only the meeting time on their calendars, but preparation time before the meeting and completion time afterward make the job much easier. 

During your preparation time before the meeting, complete any of these tasks that match your situation:

  1. Download the meeting agenda.
  2. Create a note-taking template from the agenda.
  3. Fill in as much as possible on the template, for example, attendee names, meeting date and time, and any information that is not likely to change. I include all attendee names; then before the meeting, I highlight the name as each individual arrives.  
  4. Review the minutes of the previous meeting to be aware of ongoing topics and action items. 
  5. Download any materials people have distributed in advance, for example, team reports and slide presentations.
  6. Review the materials, looking for any information you might need to know to make your job easier. I suggest flagging any jargon and abbreviations and finding out what they mean so you will feel informed when people use them during the meeting. 
  7. Create automatic entries for any long terms people may use such as "Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center" and ones with challenging spellings such as "Weyerhaeuser." Using automatic entries (for which you type just a few strokes rather than the entire word or phrase) will help you keep up during the meeting. 
  8. Meet by phone or in person with the meeting leader, if possible, to learn about the kind of meeting and minutes he or she expects. For example, does the leader want you to capture information that participants write on white boards? Is he or she willing to let you know when a point in a long discussion should be recorded? Ask questions about anything on the agenda that isn't yet clear to you. 

During the meeting, you know what to do, right? If not, take our online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy

After the meeting, have time set aside to finish your notes or minutes. I get home from the board meeting around 9:30 p.m., and I like to finish the minutes then. Although doing that makes it a long evening, I love the satisfaction of sending out the finished minutes the next day. When I don't do the minutes within 24 hours, I regret putting it off. The information is less fresh in my mind, and people do not have the typed list of action items to get started on right away. 

Do you have tips that help you take meeting notes efficiently? Please share them here.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

4 comments on “Minute-Taking Tip: Put Three Appointments on Your Calendar”

  • All of the above is good; a good place to start, especially for the type of meeting you outline above, is to commit to three hours of work for every hour of the meeting: one for prep, one for the meeting, one for the follow-up.

  • Great ideas! A great timesaver is the tip about reading through the agenda before the meeting and copying/pasting into your minutes template (which I hope you already have). Also I review my notes and send the minutes out the same day or day after from the meeting while it is fresh in my kind and the minds of those who attended.

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