Media – Taking Minutes
How and Why to Write Minutes
A guide to producing professional minutes
In a world of increasing litigation and burdensome compliance, proper documentation is becoming ever-more important. Financial regulators require evidence that senior executives have thoroughly considered capital-adequacy risks. The merger of Suez and Gaz de France was delayed because the courts required proof that the unions had been duly informed and consulted. When employees lodge grievances, their hearings need to be documented to allay the risk of the matter progressing to a tribunal. In all these cases, good minutes of meetings are essential.
However, it is still believed that minute taking is a chore that anyone can do. Those senior enough to have a command of the material discussed at high-level meetings seldom have any inclination or time to take the minutes, while those at a more junior level will struggle to capture everything accurately. Neither will be able to take maximum value from the meeting if they are distracted by note taking. Even if an administrator has attended a secretarial college, minute-taking skills are rarely taught.
At their most basic, minutes record: the time, date and place of the meeting; the list of meeting attendees and absentees; approval of the previous meeting’s minutes and any matters arising from those minutes; a record of the main points discussed and decisions taken for each item in the agenda; and the time, date and place of next meeting. Before being archived, the minutes can also be distributed to anyone who missed the meeting for their reference or simply to refresh the memory of anyone who has forgotten responsibility for organising the Christmas party was assigned to them.
Such simple minutes thus serve as little more than a postscript to the agenda, filling in the outcomes. While lists of action points can help as memory aids, modern regulators will require some indication that executives have engaged and understood issues rather than delegated them. One important consideration is therefore whether you want the minutes to record what was decided or what was discussed. Without the context of the wider discussion, decisions will be opaque to those who did not attend the meeting.
While a transcript of the meeting will obviously give the most context if that is the primary concern, an experienced and skilful minute taker may prove the better option. For one thing, the difference will be between wading through a 50-page document or a concise 10 pages of minutes. When people are verbally reflecting on issues, moreover, they will inevitably not be at their most eloquent. The best minute takers will intuitively discern their principal points and render them fluently, which can also make internal communications smoother.
With this in mind, many companies are now outsourcing minute taking to specialist providers. Highly trained writers can attend meetings to take the minutes, saving in-house staff the time, stress and resource of producing them. As the first draft of these professional minutes will be of a much higher standard than normal minutes, such services also dramatically cut down the time spent revising the minutes before they can be circulated. In this way, the final minutes can be ready less than 24 hours after the end of the meeting.
The Managing Director of Global Lingo, Andrew Trotter, explained, ‘Clients come to us because they don’t want to waste their time on low-value activity like minutes. Global Lingo’s writers can save them this stress and get the finished minutes back to them the next day, which is a lot quicker than most people are used to.’.
So, in conclusion, what are the keys to good minutes?
- Make the agenda available before the meeting and stick to it. This will give attendees time to prepare for the meeting and ensure the minutes are structured in an accessible way.
- Take comprehensive notes during the meeting. A lot might be cut, but it is better to have all the information rather than rely on memory.
- Type notes into a laptop instead of using pen and paper. Transferring hand-written notes onto a computer is a waste of time.
- Write up the minutes as soon as possible. In particular, a fresh visual memory will help recall who said what.
- Agree beforehand what the minutes need to achieve. Would a simple list of action points suffice, or is a more comprehensive record called for?
- Consider using a professional. This can enhance the value of the meeting by concentrating everyone’s minds on the business, and will also avoid the unproductive time of writing up the minutes afterwards.