Meeting Minutes: Why and How

Have you ever thought about the benefits of having meeting minutes? Have you ever experienced problems with taking minutes? Do we really need to do a report after each meeting? There is only one possible answer: YES! Here are some ideas on the importance of minutes and how to write them.

Usually, people are reluctant to do meeting reports because they are afraid that it will take them a lot of time and they will be held accountable for the content. Both assumptions are false!

In a very formal situation you may need to report every detail of the meeting, but in most cases, it’s sufficient to report the topics discussed and the final decisions (or in case no common ground has been found, the different positions).

Are you accountable for the content? Not really. First of all, you should summarise at the end of each topic the main point of the discussion and the decisions that were taken. In this way, you will be sure you’ve made accurate notes. When you send the meeting report you should always ask if you’d missed or misunderstood something. This gives the participants the possibility to add or change something (softening or underlining a topic) and it makes all of the participants accountable for the correctness of the meetings.

Why Do We Need Meeting Minutes?

Two different persons hearing the same speech may remember it differently. According to Elizabeth F. Loftus research on human memory, remembering is memomry holes“more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording”. An average person is not likely to remember a complete conversation but only the parts that stuck. Furthermore, whatever the brain forgets tends to get filled in by imagination, creating false memories.

In a business environment, where money and careers may be at stake, altering memories may be more than an involuntary reflex.

In short, we record meeting minutes to avoid future misunderstandings and conflicts. This is why we need to be sure that after a meeting all the participants have the same understanding of all the discussed points and decisions.

Apart from preventing misunderstandings and/or conflicts, minutes serve other purposes:

  • Topics discussed during a meeting often transform into an action list (who must do what by when) which must be implemented; they act as a formal task assignment and planning update.
  • The minutes are a great communication tool for sharing the decisions taken during the meeting to all interested parties (regardless of their attendance).
  • In case some topics were not treated during the meeting, minutes serve as a reminder for the next meeting.
  • In a case of a conflict, the meeting minutes rule on what was decided.

Minutes are a formal declaration of what was decided and what the expected actions are.

How Do We Create Successful Minutes?

The content:

taking Meeting minutesIn the current business environment, minutes are often defined as an overview of a meeting containing:

  • Participants: persons attending the meeting (including roles).
  • Distribution list: persons who will receive the meeting minutes, includes those invited, which could not attend it.
  • Agenda: Topics that were expected to be discussed in the meeting.
  • Summary: a short “inventory” of all topics discussed during the meeting, written in a short, concise and business appropriate way.
  • Topics discussed: Each discussed topic should be presented as a separate item.
  • Actions: action expected for each topic (who is accountable, which are the deadlines and so on).
  • Next steps: actions to be taken before the next meeting.

Make your minutes easy to read by dividing them into parts. The first part could be composed of the list of participants, distribution list and the expected agenda. The discussed items and eventually a list of open points to address in another meeting could be in the second part.

Bear in mind you can perform some tasks even before the meeting takes place and prepare yourself.

Before the meeting:

  • prepare a draft of the minutes, based on known participants, topics to be discussed, date, time and location of the meeting, the name of the minute taker
  • have the company’s minute template ready or, in case you do not have such a template, try designing one that fits your needs

notesDuring the meeting:

  • you need to write down the essence of what is being discussed and to make sure the information you get is accurate
  • keep your focus on what is being discussed and ask for clarification in case something is not clear
  • before passing to another topic, sum up to the audience what has been told and decided

After the meeting, you should issue the final version of minutes and if need be, add asked/needed changes.

When transcribing, it is important to:

  • make sure you don’t leave anything out from the notes taken during the meeting
  • issue the minutes as soon as the meeting is over, if possible; having fresh information in your mind will help you create a very accurate meeting minutes
  • issue the minutes in a clear way by using short and concise sentences
  • use formatting (such as headings, bullets and outlines) properly, in accordance with the information discussed during the meeting
  • use past tense in 3rd person
  • make sure you attach any agreed materials or indicate where they can be found
  • check the minutes before sharing and make sure the distribution list is correct
  • distribute it in a common folder, based on your company’s procedures

Last but not least, Meeting Report should be sent after no more that one week from the meeting (best in 2 or 3 days) or 24 hours before the next meeting, whichever comes first.

Efficient and well-done minutes make successful meetings! Next time you need to take minutes, focus on these two things: their purpose (remember who said what, implementation of the Action Plan, communicating decisions and/or empowering owners of tasks) and their content (participants, agenda, summary, actions, responsible persons, timelines and follow-up, if applicable).

You can download a template from our site.

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