Posted by: wordsmithsuk | February 20, 2012

Just a minute! How to overcome common problems when writing meeting minutes

The role of the minute taker carries a lot of responsibility – but usually very little support or credit. There seems to be an assumption that anyone can take minutes. But minute takers are often unsure what to write and meetings are often badly chaired and chaotic. There is much more involved in minute taking than the writing quickly – including active listening and the ability to summarise accurately.

Minute writing has changed over the years. The requirements and expectations of the 21st century are very different from the expectations even 10, 20 and 30 years ago. It helps to try to see minute writing, not as a chore to be endured, but rather as an opportunity to develop your skills, increase your confidence and enhance your visibility in the organisation.

Why is minute taking difficult?

Taking minutes is a job which few people enjoy because they think that taking the minutes involves them capturing every word that is said. Once you change your mindset to one that understands that the purpose of minutes is to capture the issues, the decisions and the major reasons, and then the action that is required,the job becomes a lot easier – almost enjoyable. The very word minutes suggests something brief. They are summary of key issues, decisions and agreed actions. They do not need to record exactly what people said. By taking the time to record proper meeting notes you’ll make sure the time and effort that goes into a meeting isn’t wasted.

Common problems

There are many things that make every minute-taker’s life difficult. Here are some of the most common problems:

  • It is difficult to know exactly what has been agreed because no-one is sticking to the point and lots of different suggestions are being made about what to do.
  • The discussion jumps from one item to another before any of them are finished.
  • Everyone is talking at once, and you can’t follow the discussion
  • There is a long, confusing discussion and you don’t know which bits are important to get down.
  • You have been very involved in a particular issue and want to say things, but can’t minute at the same time.
  • You are nervous about getting it right.

Suggested solutions

If a meeting is well run it makes taking minutes much easier. It’s the chair’s job to keep the meeting in order – but they can only do this with the co-operation of everyone at the meeting. One idea is to discuss and agree together some guidelines by which you’ll run your meetings – for example not interrupting, putting your hand up if you want to talk, keeping to the agenda item under discussion.

  • Feel free to point out that is impossible to take minutes if everyone is talking at once and not following the agenda.
  • If it’s not clear what decision has been made, ask the chair to clarify this.
  • If there is a particularly important decision it can be useful to check what you are writing down with the meeting. For example; “so the meeting wants it minuted that £100,000 should be moved from balances to meet with the increased heating costs during the current year?”

If you are concentrating on taking minutes it does limit how much you can join in the meeting – it goes with the job. If there is an item where you have been centrally involved and have a lot to say, think about asking someone else to take minutes just for that item.

Finally, many problems can be avoided if the minute taker takes time to discuss the agenda with the chair before the meeting – the clearer you are about the content of the meeting, the easier it is to minute it.

How Word Smiths can help

There are a few ways in which Word Smiths can help you to improve your skills in taking minutes at meetings and writing them up in the form of a meeting report.

  • Do several people in your department or team want to develop their skills? Ask us to provide a proposal for an in-house course on Effective Minute Taking.
  • Would you like to join people from other organisations who may be struggling with aspects of minute-taking? Find out about our occasional open courses on this topic
  • Do you need a cost-effective way of improving your skills quickly and flexibly? Check our audio CD with it’s related booklet and online resources.
  • Finally – do get in touch with your particular questions and problems about minute taking. We are always happy to help!

Happy minute writing



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