What Are Meeting Notes?
Meetings notes are typically informal records of decisions, key ideas, and actions. You typically want to take meeting notes as they provide an official record for the attendees that may have missed the meeting and are an effective way to recall what happened during the meeting without having to review entire meeting recordings.
Not to be confused with meeting minutes which are more formal meetings for note-taking usually reserved for events like annual meetings with shareholders.
Why Are Meeting Notes Important
Writing meeting notes allows you to capture ideas and thought processes that would otherwise go unrecorded.
When decisions are made during meetings, you want these documented for a few reasons. This can be used as an official record during discussions of scope and deliverables.
In project retrospectives, you can refer back to the decision-making thought line and identify where “things went wrong” in the project if you have a record of it.
Typically after a meeting, you will be left with a list of your action items, but what about the actions of your colleagues? This is where the action items section of your meeting notes becomes helpful, especially if your action has a dependency on someone else.
Preparing for Meetings
Without preparing for meetings, you’ll likely waste time at the meeting. Here are some tips for taking effective meeting notes.
Know The Meeting Participants
The first step is to know who is going to attend the meeting. Knowing this information helps you determine how much preparation time you need.
If the CEO is attending your meeting or the problem is complex, you might want to spend extra time preparing.
Know The Objective
Before attending a meeting, it helps to know what type of meeting it will be. What decision needs to be made? Who else needs to be involved? Do you just want to listen? Or do you want to contribute ideas? Knowing your purpose ahead of time will help you focus on the best outcome.
Set The Meeting Agenda
When preparing for a meeting, set a clear meeting agenda. If you don’t have formal agenda items, write down key points or ideas you’d like to cover. This way, everyone knows where things stand before the meeting begins.
If you’re taking notes digitally, you can always select from a gallery of meeting note templates. Most modern apps will have an array of templates for you to choose from and using these can save you a lot of time, especially for repetitive tasks.
What to do During the Meeting
It’s team meeting time. Here’s how to make sure you take effective notes during the meeting.
Laptop Versus Pen and Paper
A laptop can be distracting because it requires our attention. If you’re writing notes on the computer, you might be distracted by email notifications or social media posts. The upside is you will type faster than you can write.
Pen and paper are good alternatives to laptops. You don’t have to worry about losing your place in a document or having to switch apps. Plus, you can use pen and paper anywhere without dealing with chargers.
A study published in Science Daily also found that people taking handwritten notes had improved memory.
Choose A Note-Taking Method That Works For You
Chances are by now you have a routine for how you take notes. I switch back and forth between handwriting and laptop depending on what I’m taking notes about. For actions, I like to write them down in a notebook because there is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off my list.
For everything else, I will write it in a digital organizer like Notion.
Decide on a routine that works for you and stick with it before trying to optimize anything.
Should You Record the Meeting?
You may want to record the meeting if you don’t miss anything important. Or maybe you just want more context to the conversation.
Whatever the reason, recording meetings helps you better understand what happened during the discussion in more detail. Make sure to ask permission before you start recording to give everyone a warning.
When meetings are technical in nature or are simply outside of your expertise, you may want to decide to record the meeting.
As a non-technical project manager myself, I found recording meetings allowed me to communicate better with my colleagues.
Don’t Write A Transcription Of The Meeting
You’ve probably been in meetings where someone takes detailed notes. And while it might seem helpful to review those notes later, there are some things that just aren’t worth writing down. Here are three ways to make sure you don’t forget anything important during a meeting.
Take Notes During the Meeting
The best way to ensure you’ll remember everything discussed during a meeting is to write it down in real time. Unless you have an iron-clad memory, trying to remember something from the beginning of a meeting immediately after will prove difficult.
Ask Clarifying Questions
Another great way to ensure you’ll never forget anything important is to ask questions throughout the meeting. As an active participant, this helps you recall what was covered and makes it easier to follow up on topics later.
Record Keywords or Phrases
If you really want to ensure you’ll remember every detail of the meeting, use keywords and phrases to mark sections of text. For example, if you wanted to record a section of a meeting about how to build a website, you’d type “website building.” Then, whenever you come across that phrase again, you’ll instantly recall why you wrote it down.
Create Sections for Notes, Decisions, and Actions
Outline three main sections for notes, decisions, and actions. Sometimes, I place “actions” at the top for quick recall.
Jot down the majority of your topics and shorthand notes in the “notes” section. Make sure to use bullets where they make sense and for quick formatting if you are typing in your notes.
Indent if there are subtopical notes that are related to the main topic being discussed. Try not to use acronyms when possible or at least expand on the acronym during the post-meeting clean-up phase.
As meetings transition from topic to topic, leave some room between your notes just as you would if you were writing an article.
The “decisions” section helps your team move past a particular problem at that point in the project. You only want to add to this section if it’s a deliberate decision and not just a general topical conversation. As the note taker, you can confirm this with “to confirm, we are making the decision to do XYZ.” You will receive a yes or no with some additional commentary.
Even if the decision is clearly a “no,” you’ll want to add this to the decision section. It’s just as important to document what is moving forward as what is not in a decision.
As for the “actions” section, ensure you are taking actions during the meeting and not at the end. Often by the end, you will have forgotten what happened earlier in the meeting.
Repeat the Actions
The most important aspect of a meeting is making sure the room understands what needs to happen next.
Before the meeting ends, repeat the actions that are in the actions section. Confirm with everyone that they are indeed actions, if not, this is the time to cross them out.
If time permits, you’ll want to also assign the actions to someone. You have to do this later anyway, so it’s ideal to take this time while you’re all together already (the cost of the meeting is already sunk) and assign those tasks.
You may find that the action gets passed around because someone assumed it was someone else’s responsibility. This is why it is helpful to assign them during the meeting so that it gets assigned correctly.
What To Do After The Meeting
At this point, only the actions may have been assigned. You now want to review the meeting notes after the meetings.
This includes cleaning up your notes, shorthand, and rewriting the notes so they are presentable to an audience. Ask yourself “if I come back tomorrow, will these notes make sense to another person in the meeting?” If the answer is no, continue to clarify the notes.
This is also a good time to move your notes to a digital note-taking app so that it gets archived and is accessible to all meeting attendees.
Share The Meeting Notes
As the meeting organizer, it’s now time to share the meeting recap with all the attendees and file them in a shared place where they can be publically accessed. You may also want to copy in other stakeholders that weren’t present at the meeting, so they can view the key takeaways and action items.
Follow up with a quick recap of the actions either through email or your team’s regular instant communication channel like Slack and link the rest of the notes. You don’t want to paste all of the notes into the communication channel as this could get overwhelming. Not everyone needs the notes, but everyone needs the execute the actions.
Be mindful of the content in the notes as well. Many note and communication apps allow for private and public publishing of information. If the meeting was about sensitive topics related to HR, you want to be extra careful about who has access to them and who shouldn’t.
Make Notes Searchable
Apps like Notion have incredible search capabilities. You can search and filter by parameters like Date, Assignee, Title, and so on.
In order to take advantage of these features, you want to add keywords to the titles of your notes if you took or move them to the digital space.
If you use acronyms, make sure to also spell out the entire word so as to capture both search queries in the future.
Instead of naming it Meeting Notes [Date], name it Meeting Notes about Website Concept.
This gives it a bit more context as to what the meeting was about without even having to read it, but more importantly, it will show up in search in tools and apps.
Wrapping It Up
We all want to run productive meetings.
To recap, you’ll want to make sure you take the proper pre-planning tips so you start the meeting off with an agenda.
Then you’ll want to ensure you record the decisions, actions, and key topics of the meeting.
Finally, clean up the notes and share them with all the attendees and make them accessible to everyone in a shared space.
I hope that this article has provided a quick reference for managing your notes for your next important meeting.