Minutes are one of those things that often get dismissed as pointless, and it’s easy to see why. I mean, you just talked about this stuff, you know it now - why bother writing it down? But keeping effective records of the discussions that happen in your meetings will save you time, stress, and who knows when you might need to double-check something that was decided a year ago? Here’s a few tips that’ll help make taking minutes as quick and painless as possible.

1. Pre-Planning

Like all board governance, a little preparation ahead of time will save you in the long run. When it comes to minutes, there’s one big thing you can do: get a template! Templates are a great way to keep yourself organised while in the meeting, and particularly effective ones can help guide discussion and keep everyone’s ideas, even off-topic ones, properly sorted.

If you’re well-versed in the minute-taking art, you might want to develop your own template. Otherwise, the internet is chock-full of options, so have a browse.

2. During the Meeting

This is where you need to focus. Discussions happen quickly, and it’s rare that anyone will actively pause to let the minute-taker write. So there’s a few things to remember:

  1. You’re going to be rewriting this later for official submission into the records. It doesn’t have to be pretty. So long as you can understand it, it’ll do.
  2. Don’t try to capture it all. Writing down every word verbatim will just give you carpal tunnel. Make quick notes of major topics, decisions, assignments, and action items, and keep it simple.
  3. You’re part of this meeting to, and you’re within your rights to speak up on any topic - this also means that you can ask for clarification. If the committee moves on from a topic without reaching a resolution for you to write down, you asking about it will both light a fire under them to make a decision, as well as give you something concrete to write.
  4. Still having trouble keeping up? Why not record the meeting? Using a smartphone or other audio recording device so you can go back and re-listen to the meeting for clarification can slow down the frantic pace and make minute- taking much less stressful. Just be sure to ask the committee members for their permission before recording them.

3. Transcribing the Minutes

After the meeting, you’ll need to rewrite the notes you took into properly formatted, official minutes. Doing this as soon after the meeting as possible will help a lot, since the discussions will still be fresh in your mind and you’ll be able to clarify any points that seem shaky.

Be sure to edit down for brevity and clarity, and cut all irrelevant items. If you’re including an opinion, an off-topic idea, or anything that isn’t wholly fact-based, cut it. If you need to reference another document, don’t summarise it; if you’re writing digitally, link it, otherwise include it as an appendix.

It’s also a good idea (and often organisational policy) to have the Chair review and approve the minutes, so be sure to send them any final drafts before officially filing.

Minutes are vital for any organisation, and writing them can be a stressful task. Practice makes perfect, though, and taking the time to recognise where and how you can improve will help your committee function smoother.

Keep our tips in mind and you’ll be just fine.