How to Take Excellent Meeting Minutes

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Get copies of all materials distributed during meetings where you're the note taker.
Get copies of all materials distributed during meetings where you're the note taker. (Image: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Whether you simply volunteered to keep track of the activities during weekly staff meetings or your peers elected you to the office of recording secretary of a charitable foundation, it's essential that you construct clear and precise records of what occurs during your organization's meetings. Meeting minutes serve as an official record of issues discussed or acted upon. As such, they often are considered historical documents. Consequently, the importance of taking excellent meeting minutes cannot be overstated and attendees will appreciate your attention to detail as well as your professionalism.

Things You'll Need

  • Roberts Rules of Order Handbook
  • Membership Roster

Select a method for recording the meeting minutes. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of tape recording, typing notes, and writing the details by hand during the course of the meeting. Consider a fail-safe method, such as a combination of two of these methods. For example, you might tape-record the meeting and also type notes onto your laptop or tablet.

Obtain a copy of "Robert's Rules of Order" or access an online subscription of this primer on parliamentary procedure and best practices for conducting and recording meetings. Study the proper format for recording meeting discussions, motions, seconds to motions, discussion and voting. If possible, have a copy of the book or the website accessible to you during the meeting. This will prove invaluable in the event that members look to you for answers on proper governance, conduct, official records and minutes.

Format an introduction and structure for your minutes. For example, list the date, time, officers' names, location and purpose of the meeting in your introduction. Meeting minutes should reflect the time the meeting was called to order, as well as the time it adjourned. The purpose of formal meetings might simply be a monthly membership meeting; however, if you're recording the minutes for a special membership meeting, ensure your minutes accurately reflect that this is a meeting that the organization does not typically conduct in the course of its normal business. Many public sector organizations may call special meetings to discuss confidential matters, such as personnel issues, which are exempt from certain provisions of a state's Sunshine Law.

Stand up when the president of the organization or the group's leader introduces you. If you're not formally introduced, introduce yourself to the group and explain your role as the recording secretary or the note taker. Tell the group what methods you're using to capture meeting discussions. This way, members identify you as the person responsible for creating and maintaining the organization's official documents, which is particularly helpful for members who don't know you or those who aren't familiar with the organization and its practices. In addition, your introduction serves as a suggestion that attendees must speak audibly so you can effectively perform your note-taking duties.

Ask attendees to introduce themselves while you quickly note their names and where they're seated. This way, you don't have to constantly ask people to repeat their names when you're recording motions, seconds and discussion points. For example, you should always record the name of the person who makes a motion, the person who seconds it, and the person who calls for the vote on a motion. When someone calls for the vote, they usually say, "Call for the question." The leader of the group then asks the members to vote. If there is discussion before the voting, record salient parts of the discussion and note any official objections. Your notes concerning motions and voting also should contain the names of ayes, nays and abstentions.

Avoid interjecting subjective statements into your notes. Don't interpret what a speaker means by his tone, inflection or nonverbal cues. Meeting minutes must be factual and objective -- any twist on an attendee's statements could erode the integrity of your minutes and call into question your ability to properly record minutes. For example, write, "John Doe made the following motion: Close schools on days where the National Weather Service predicts more than five inches of snow for Jackson, Adams and Madison counties," not "John Doe emphatically stated that he wanted the group to vote on whether to close schools on days when regional weather conditions indicate inclement weather and impassable roads."

Finalize your minutes as soon as possible after the meeting adjourns, while the actions are still fresh in your mind. Review your notes, listen to the tape recording and prepare to draft your final version. If you have questions about what occurred during the meeting, confer with an officer or a leader in the group. In some cases, you may need to contact the person for whose statements you need clarification.

Provide your group's leader with what you propose are the final minutes; ask for feedback, questions or corrections. When you get the green light, prepare your final version and arrange for the minutes to be disseminated to the members. Use your organization's preferred method for distributing copies of the minutes, whether via email, snail mail or personal delivery if you're in the same office setting with the attendees.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your meeting includes an initial roll call, you needn't ask that members introduce themselves. Simply capture the names of people present and record the names of people who are absent. Roll calls generally are a standard procedure in formal meetings, such as those with boards of directors. Make a separate note of where people are seated. This becomes your "cheat sheet" so you can easily refer to people by name in your minutes or address them when you ask someone to clarify or repeat what she said.
  • Even if the meeting is informal, your role as the note taker isn't. Even for informal meetings, approach the note-taking responsibility seriously and produce formal written notes that accurately and formally describe the meeting activities. Attendees will appreciate your attention to detail.
  • Refrain from using a device like a smartphone to capture meeting notes -- it doesn't project a positive image and people who are unaware of the capabilities of smartphones might think you're simply playing on your phone instead of listening to what the organization's members are discussing.

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