Meetings are time-intensive. They require people to take time away from other tasks they could be doing. They also require preparation and focus. So if you’re going to call a meeting, you better be sure you have a plan for how you’re going to make the most out of it. And that means taking detailed meeting notes.
Meeting Notes vs. Meeting Minutes
While the two terms sound very familiar, meeting notes and meeting minutes are not the same thing. Knowing the difference will give you a better idea of what you’re trying to accomplish and how to go about it.
The biggest difference can be summed up by the fact that meeting minutes follow a very specific pattern that includes objective details like the number of attendees, the duration of the meeting, an outline of key points discussed, who said what, decisions that were made, etc. With meeting notes, you don’t need all of that technical information. All you care about are insights, takeaways, ideas, and action steps.
The best way to think about meeting notes is like you’re writing to someone who wasn’t at the meeting. That person doesn’t care about when the meeting started or who showed up. All they want is to catch up on anything important they missed and find out what steps they’re supposed to take next.
Tips for Effective Meeting Notes
How you organize meeting notes is totally up to you. Short-hand, full sentences, bullet points, paragraphs – it’s all up to you. It’s about substance over shine. As long as you’re able to succinctly articulate the major points and takeaways, you’ve done your job.
Having said that, here are several tips that will help you write more effective meeting notes:
Don’t rush into a meeting and pull up a random Google Doc and start pecking away on your keyboard. It’s important that you prepare for the meeting.
Ideally, you should have some sort of template saved to your drive that’s used for meeting notes. Roughly 10 minutes before the meeting starts, you can go in and add basic details like the date, the topic of the meeting, and any other information that you already have available. Once the meeting starts, it’s as simple as filling in the information in the correct places.
Use a Note Taking App
Honestly, the best way to take notes is with a note taking application. There are several options available online, but a popular option is Box Notes. In addition to having all of the standard features that other note taking apps have, Box allows multiple members of the meeting to log in and record notes in real-time. It’s basically a centralized platform for collaboration (which is especially great for virtual meetings and brainstorming sessions).
Recording notes live is always an adventure. The key is to get the information down. Then, after the meeting concludes, you can take several minutes to go back and clean up any spelling or formatting issues.
After cleaning up the notes, the next step is to organize all takeaways into their own section. (Some people like to put this at the top of the notes, while others place it at the end. It’s totally your call.)
The takeaway section should be a numbered/bulleted list of any action step that is supposed to be taken after the meeting concludes. (This could be everything from sending an email to starting a new project.) Be as specific as possible. If the takeaway is to start a project, make sure it’s clear who is responsible, what the first steps are, when they are to be completed, and who they are to be submitted to upon completion.
Send to the Right People
Having well-organized and articulate meeting notes is great, but they aren’t very effective unless they end up in the right hands. Make sure you send the meeting notes to all responsible parties afterward. This includes everyone who attended the meeting, but may also include people who missed the meeting and/or superiors who need to be in the loop.
Improve Your Note Taking Skills
Taking good notes is an acquired skill. The best thing you can do is come up with a system and get as much practice under your belt as possible. Eventually, you won’t even have to think about it. Taking clear and concise notes will become second nature. Until then, rely on these tips to gradually improve your skillset.