How to Take Minutes at a Business Meeting

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A combination of recording tools can help ensure information is not lost when problems occur.
A combination of recording tools can help ensure information is not lost when problems occur. (Image: shironosov/iStock/Getty Images)

Whether it's an employee meeting or one that involves managers, employees, CEOs and investors, someone needs to be there to record the meeting and share the information with others who were not there. And since memories can be short, the meeting minutes also serve as a reminder to those present about the issues discussed, the decisions made and the actions people are supposed to take. Because the minutes serve as a guide for future business dealings, it's important to be organized and to include the right information. That starts with reliable tools.

Choose Your Tools

When it comes to choosing tools, select the ones that work best for you and will allow you to stay on top of what's happening at the meeting and take coherent notes. For some people, that's a laptop or a tablet computer; for others, it's a notebook and pen. Having a recording device such as a voice recorder or a smartphone with a recording app can also help you review the meeting later. If you're using a smartphone, tablet or computer, turn off any sounds, games or social media applications so you don't get disrupted during the meeting. Those tools can help you take notes faster -- but you should always have a notebook and a few pens or pencils on hand as a backup.

Use a Template

Developing a template can help save you time, since you won't have to spend precious moments during the meeting writing out the topics discussed. Computer programs, including Microsoft Office, offer business meeting templates you can use -- or you can develop your own blank document using the agenda you receive ahead of the meeting. These templates typically have sections that include "Attendees," "Action Items," "New Business" and so on, but check with your employer to find out whether any other items are required, such as the names of shareholders attending, the names of guests and the location of the meeting. At the top of each section, create a small box with the word "Time" in it, so you can write down the time that section began. On a computer, save the template in Word or another editable format, leaving a few blank spaces in each section. If you're creating a template to print and then fill out by hand, leave ample space in each section. When you write notes in a hurry, you'll often write larger and take up more space than you would if you had more time.

What to Include and What to Leave Out

The purpose of taking minutes at a meeting is not to record every single thing that people discuss, but instead to record the things that happened, suggests "Robert's Rules of Order," a short book that outlines how to handle parliamentary meetings. This book is often used by nonprofits and businesses as a guide for running meetings. In terms of meeting notes, don't waste your time writing down every argument someone made for or against a particular business action, for example. When someone makes a motion, for example, write down the exact wording of the motion, who made it, and the final results of the vote. You don't, however, need to write down everyone's comments for or against the motion. When someone makes a report, write down who made the report, the name of the report, a short summary of the report, and the action taken. And since you're taking "minutes," also write the time the decision was made, as well as the time people began discussing the item.

Developing a Shorthand

Even though you're not writing down every single thing that happened, sometimes the action in the meeting might go faster than you can keep up. When that happens, use your own shorthand. For example, you might use abbreviations of common business words, such as "mgmt" for management or "prod" for product or productivity. Use initials for people involved in the meeting, such as "JS" for John Smith. Symbols such as a question mark can also be shorthand for "question." For example, you might write "JS ?" to indicate that John Smith asked a question. Develop your own shorthand, and then translate it into terms everyone can understand before you publish the meeting notes.

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