How to Take and Transcribe Effective Minutes


Taking the Minutes

  1. Take a real interest in the work of the committee or project group. You cannot minute effectively what you do not follow or understand.

  2. Get into the meeting room early and, having set out papers, glasses, water carafe and stationery, etc, be sure to note who is present and who sent apologies for absence.

  3. Make sure you can put the name (correctly spelled of course) to each face, so that you know instantly who is speaking. Use the initials of members in the margin to the left-hand side of your notes to save time. You can then use the right-hand margin to make particularly important notes.

  4. If you are using shorthand to take your notes of the meeting, generally avoid trying to take a verbatim transcript. A good deal of 'waffle' or verbiage is uttered at most meetings and producing a full transcript of the meeting is a waste of time and effort. Good chairmen usually sum up towards the end of each item of business before a consensus decision is made or a vote taken. This is an important moment for the minute-taker as it will provide the salient points for noting. If in doubt, ask the chairman before the meeting if there is any item for which a full transcription would prove useful.

  5. Get to know who are the senior decision-makers and influencers. This is not to imply 'switching off' when other members speak, but to suggest paying special attention when senior members join the debate.

  6. Set down your notes in double-line spacing so that you can go back and insert a word or phrase easily if you need to.

  7. Seek to pick up key words and phrases to act as triggers when you transcribe the notes.

  8. Use abbreviations and symbols - like arrows or brackets if they help to communicate data easily and quickly, but only if you are sure you will remember what they stand for at a later date.

  9. Make sure you note the date of the next meeting and always take your diary - and your manager's if need be - to meetings, so as to ensure that the dates fixed are suitable.

  10. Most meetings include confidential items, so clear tables of any papers members leave behind and shred if necessary.

Transcribing the minutes

  1. Never defer this important task. Remember the cycle of the regular meeting, and the need to distribute minutes promptly. Also it pays to transcribe while the meeting's business is still fresh in your mind.

  2. Check in advance with the chairman as to the format conventions to be applied - narrative, action, resolution. Note that some meetings adopt the convention of never referring to a speaker by name but of using an impersonal construction: "It was suggested that..." or "Strong reservations were expressed about...". Make sure you know the adopted conventions before you start.

  3. Sometimes feelings run high in meetings and members say things in the heat of the moment which they would consider ill-advised in calmer moments. No one will thank you for highlighting such moments in painful accuracy. In these cases it is both diplomatic and prudent to convey the sentiment and not precise words.

  4. Busy secretaries learn how to condense lengthy and sometimes digressing discussions with phrases like: "After a general discussion it was decided to...".

  5. Seek to convey the important points quickly and simply: managers are busy and prefer the short to the long, provided that arguments are not distorted. Always ensure that you convey the action statement - what was decided - clearly and accurately since minutes serve as written records and you have a duty to provide a faithful transcript. If you have problems over transcribing a sensitive item, consult with the chairman and abide by his/her advice.

  6. Always maintain the confidentiality of your draft minutes until the chairman has approved them.

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