How to be a better note taker for meetings?
September 12, 2012 7:31 AM   Subscribe

What do you do before, during, and after a meeting to end up with concise, but accurate and useful notes? Technical/practical and framing advice welcome.

As a junior member of the policy meetings I'm in, I often end up as the note-taker. I don't mind this role, but I wish I could be better at it.

Obviously, increasing how quickly I type help, but I'd also like to be better at listening for the stuff that's important to take down verbatim, and what stuff is better summarized. I'd also like to be better at balancing note-taking with being involved in the meeting.

Ideally, I'd end up with something that was not a transcript, but that had verbatim quotes for some key policy points.

(Generally I'm working in Word or Google Docs, but could be open to other platforms)
posted by mercredi to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I structure my notes as follows:

1. Status of current projects

2. Updates

3. New Projects

4. Action Items

I think the last one is most important. You list what the item is, who is responsible for it, and what the deadline or first milestone date is.

Before the meeting adjorns, run over the notes quickly and ask if there's anything you missed, or that needs special emphasis.

Also, be sure that the on the action items that you've got your folks and dates correct.

Then send that out.

The shorter the better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:42 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks! For clarification, these are 20-25 person workshops with a focus on policy, drafting, etc, not just management/projects. So the note/record are a big part of the project.
posted by mercredi at 7:50 AM on September 12, 2012

One way might be to project the notes on a screen during/after the meeting and ask for clarifications.

Assuming you have an agenda of some kind, using that as the framing or structure would help.
posted by idb at 7:52 AM on September 12, 2012

Split the paper, 30/10/60. Outline of the meeting on 30 side, specific bits, extended info on 60 side, connections and errata drawn through on the 10 in the middle.

During meetings (I am a fast typist) I use One Note that splits up similarly, but use short cut keys to bold important or outline things. I'll develop "shorthand" for often used terms or speakers. I'll ignore spelling and fix it later.

I'll annotate it into readable, distributable notes immediately after.

If it's a policy and drafting thing like you said, starting with the expected outline of the discussion is a way to go, then bullet point what's been said.

If specific quotes are needed, slow things down and have the group hash out the wording, or task a smaller group offline to flesh that part out.
posted by tilde at 7:56 AM on September 12, 2012

I am a big believer in saying (loudly) at the right moment "excuse me everyone, but FOR THE MINUTES, we are saying X, Y, Z, correct?" (You might say 'notes' or 'record'.) This statement has a magical effect on people who forgot that they are in a meeting with a particular purpose (to make decisions) and suddenly everyone snaps back into 'making sense and agreeing with each other' mode from 'waffling on and disagreeing with each other' mode. It actually forces decisions to be made. It can be awkward to jump in, but your job is to clarify the discussion into notes that make sense, and everyone appreciates that at the end of the day.

To be able to relax and participate more, you could have a back-up recording via dictaphone and make notes of the exact times where you need to double check something e.g. '15:41 - statement from Chair summarising decision on blah'. Never ever rely on a recording to write up a whole meeting, it's basically attending the same meeting twice. Also, your people might not be happy with a recording being made so you'd need to check this.

I agree with the above point about projecting the policy onscreen. With 20-25 people giving feedback at the same time, it's kind of the only way.

Work closely with your Chair, if you can get involved in preparing the agenda, do. Sit next to him/her if you can, and agree that you can keep an eye on the time and nudge them if things are dragging on. Meeting notetaking is so much easier if you and your Chair are in it together. You being there to mutter 'half an hour left' is going to make their job easier, because they can focus on leading the discussion.

Also, a technical tip I swear by is drawing a diagram of the table and writing initials of all the people around it at the start. This helps later on when you're looking at notes and thinking 'who the heck said that?' and all you can remember is it was the lady to the left of the guy in front of you.
posted by pink_gorilla at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2012

Oh yeah, and I think it's a good idea to be explicit about the kind of notes you'll be taking, before the meeting.

(To the Chair): 'Just before we start, today I'll be recording the ACTION POINTS and DECISIONS from today'...


'I'm going to focus on capturing the discussion, which may mean we need to slow things down if things are being discussed in detail...'

I always, always opted for action points only over discussion, if possible. Two pages of concise decisions and actions are way more readable/useful than 4-5 pages of discussion.
posted by pink_gorilla at 3:01 PM on September 12, 2012

Can you record the meeting? Taking notes during the meeting is wonderful, but a recording is great for you to go back and pull quotes. I report on government meetings and I record all of them so I can quote, perfectly, in my notes and the articles.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:03 AM on September 13, 2012

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