18 January 2008

The Art of Minute Taking

Minute taking is an art! Anyone who is good at it is to be commended.

I have never had to take minutes, but I almost did many years ago. My boss came to my desk and told me he needed me to take minutes for a meeting. I was not aware of the meeting so I wasn't prepared. I started to sweat and my heart started pumping as I mumbled something about it being a long time since I had taken minutes and he had better tell me when I needed to write something down. As my boss and I entered the meeting room I heard, “Surprise”! It ended up that instead of a meeting it was a surprise baby shower for me. Whew! I had escaped once again having to taking minutes.

Is the thought of taking minutes really that frightening? I thought so and I know many others who feel the same way. I recently spoke to a friend who is a minute taker and she passed along her wisdom and experience and I noticed when we broke the steps down, it really didn’t seem that daunting a task and I think that even I could do it.

Of course these tips are general ones and some meetings require more specific preparation, but they should be a help and a guide to you.

What you need to do before the meeting

Whether you are booking a meeting room on-site or off-site you need to ensure you have the space booked for the time and date you need it. If you require videoconferencing or teleconferencing, you will have to arrange for that. An LCD, laptop and a screen will need to be available if there is going to be a presentation at the meeting. You will want to order food if required.

An agenda should be sent to the attendees with the previous minutes and all background documents. It is advisable to bring extra copies of the agenda and attachments to the meeting in case someone arrives and has forgotten theirs.

A preferable way to send the agenda and attachments would be by e-mail, but some offices or Boards now have a website on which they post the agenda and any back-up materials, which can then be retrieved by the meeting attendees or Board members when they log onto the site.

Getting Yourself Prepared

In order to be as prepared as you can be for the meeting you should look at the attendance sheet from the past minutes to know who is on the committee and will be attending. If this is the first time you are taking minutes at this particular meeting, read through three to four previous minutes to familiarize yourself with the issues.

You can also start to create an agenda from the last minutes and present it to be approved by the Chair of the meeting. Once the agenda is approved you can use the new agenda to start the minutes.

If you start the minute template ahead of time and fill in as much information as you can, that will help you to be better prepared going into the meeting.

The first thing you will need to do in the meeting is to take attendance. You are required to record those who are present, anyone who sent their regrets, any guests, and remember to record your name as the Recorder or Minute Taker.

If you don’t know all the people in the room ask them to introduce themselves, or make sure there are nameplates provided. Minute takers should not be afraid to speak up and ask people to identify themselves for the minutes. Especially those calling in or on videoconference who may forget to identify themselves before speaking. If the participants are not clear you need to ask them to repeat what they said for the minutes.

The two most important people in a meeting are the Chair and the Minute Taker. Your job is important!

A good way to record the minutes is on a laptop. You have already started your minutes with as much information as you have been able to gather ahead of time so you are as prepared at this point as you can be.

When you are recording the minutes you should record each item in the same order as the agenda lists them, not in the order they talk about them.

If the Chair says this is not for the minutes you need to take your hands off the keyboard so the meeting participants know it is not being recorded.

Don’t feel offended if you are asked to leave a meeting during an “in-camera session”. For example if they are discussing staff or executive salaries they will ask staff to leave. No minutes are taken during an in-camera session, but you still have a role to play as you will need to record for the minutes the duration of the in-camera session. Be aware of the time you left the meeting and the time you go back in.

A good Chairperson can make the difference

Denise Bellfoy an Executive Assistant and regular minute taker says, “A good Chairperson can make your job much easier”.

A good Chair will keep the meeting on time and will summarize the discussion for the minute taker. If the Chair is sensitive to a long meeting he or she can call a break. Sometimes the hardest part for the minute taker is to stay alert and concentrate, especially if the meeting is long and drawn out.

If there are motions for approval, a good Chair will word the motion for you for the minutes.

Some things to be aware of

If there is a presentation in the meeting, you do not need to record the presentation in the minutes, but you will need to include a copy of the presentation with the minutes when you send them out.

Some good advice for the minute taker would be to sit to the left of the Chair and take as much space as you need. Important people take a lot of room and you want to be as comfortable as possible and have everything easily accessible to you.

When transcribing minutes avoid writing “he said, she said”. Summarize the conversations and record the outcome. Again, if you have a good Chair, he or she will be able to guide you on what to record.

Avoid using emotional words when recording the minutes. Use business words. For example, do not use “she felt”, but rather write, “the committee member agreed”.

It is recommended you do a rough draft of the minutes at least two hours after the meeting with a final draft within 24 hours. The Chair will need to review and approve them before they are finalized and sent out.

Here are a few examples of different types of meetings:

Operational Meetings

An Operational Meeting is a meeting that deals with the business of an organization. A table format is the easiest form to take minutes at an operational meeting.

I would recommend setting up the table with these headings:

Agenda Item/Discussion/Responsible Person/Timeline

Items from the Operational Meeting will then be brought forward for Board approval.

Board Meetings

A Board Meeting is normally run by Roberts Rules of Order, which is a recognized guide on how to run a meeting. A Board can also set their own rules if they choose.

Items requiring approval by the Board are summarized by the Chair and the minute taker will need to record the Motion, who Moved the motion for approval and who Seconded it.

There should be an Appendix of Action Items attached to your minutes (which is basically a to-do list).

It is important to note that Board minutes are public once they are approved.

Meeting adjourned

Now that wasn’t so bad was it? I found when the steps needed to record the minutes were set out, it made the task not seem so overwhelming. Minute taking is not easy, but it can be accomplished without fear and trembling each time you are called upon to take them if you go in prepared.


Anonymous said...

This article is great! I am a work study- hoping that the company I am working for is going to keep me in Sept when I graduate. So you can imagine my thoughts when the Executive Director came and asked me to take minutes on a Board meeting tomorrow. I feel better now that I have ready your article. Thank you!

Patricia Robb said...

I am glad it was helpful. My friend is an Executive Assistant and I nagged and nagged until she finally agreed to let me interview her for this article. I found after talking to her, minute taking just didn't seem as frightening anymore and I wanted to pass that along.

- Joyce said...

Thank you Patricia!
I recently was interviewed and the question on how to you prepare to take minutes of a meeting when you are asked at the last minute and you are not familiar with the subject matter or those attending the meeting. I wish I'd read this article before that interview!
- Joyce