Minute taking definitely isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be stressful. In its simplest form minutes are a record of discussion, decisions and actions to be taken and the date by when it needs to be completed. Below are a few tips so the task is not as daunting:
Filling in the blanks
I take minutes on a laptop so it is easy to make a template ahead of time which is based on the agenda. I put the items from the agenda on the template in the same order and with a space to put the discussion and decisions/actions from the meeting. Putting it in table format is the easiest, then it is just a matter of filling in the blanks. I use four columns with the headings: Item#, Discussion, Decision/Action, By when.
Going in cold
When you don't know the subject matter and are asked to take minutes, preparation is the key. Read three or four of the previous minutes to get familiar with the language of the meeting and the subjects that are discussed. If you can meet with the regular minute taker that is ideal or schedule a meeting with the Chair.
Putting it in context
You need to summarize the discussion around each agenda item and then write the action or decision that comes out of it. For instance, if you put the action down as Finance Director to pay invoice by January 31st, you need to put what was discussed or later on you will never remember what prompted that action. To put it in context you could say that Discussion ensued regarding the invoice received for the installation of the swing set. The team members were pleased with the work and it was agreed that the Finance Director should pay the invoice from the Recreation Account. Then the action makes perfect sense.
The language of minutes
Discussion and questions ensued -- The team members agreed -- It was decided -- The following points were made. Having some key phrases at your fingertips really helps when taking minutes. A simple phrase such as "Discussion ensued" can summarize 20 minutes of heated debate. Minutes are not a he said/she said kind of record. People at the meeting don't want to be singled out. The decision made is always recorded as a group decision.
If the Chair says this part of the meeting is in-camera, take your fingers off the keyboard, or put your pen down. The meeting participants want to be assured nothing is being recorded. Sometimes the minute taker is even asked to leave the room. At our board meetings I do not attend the in-camera part of the meeting, but when I return to the meeting they tell me the decision that came out of the discussion and I record that for the minutes such as "An in-camera session was held with the following decision made..."
Time is of the essence
Pay attention to the time the meeting starts and the time it ends. If you don't get the exact time, don't panic, but you should get in the habit of checking the time. On my minute template I put [insert time] at the beginning and also after the final item, just to remind myself to check the time.
Being part of the team
I am a valuable member of the team I take minutes for. They rely on me to know the ins and outs of the meeting. They come to me to give me agenda items, ask about certain actions, check back in past minutes and other meeting related things. I feel part of the team and to be as effective as possible you really need to see yourself as more than just the minute taker. I don't know the subject matter as well as they do because that is not my expertise, but I know how to take minutes. It has been said that if proper minutes are not taken it is just as if the meeting never happened. The team has to be able to rely on the minute taker to take accurate minutes and keep good records. The minute taker is important to the success of the meeting.
Don't wait too long after the meeting to type the minutes. I like to complete them by the following day. The discussion is still fresh on my mind and I find it easier to make sense of my notes. The longer I wait to record the minutes, the harder it is to complete. A friend of mine recommends doing them within two hours after the meeting. I find I cannot always do that, but within 12 hours works for me.