Minute Taking: A skill to avoid or conquer?

05 June 2018 Laura Barratt

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Taking minutes - you either love them or hate them. Prior to learning the skill, it can be a daunting task to undertake. I can recall earlier in my career avoiding any EA position that involved taking minutes. But in most cases, there is no way of avoiding it; if you’re looking to succeed as an EA a big part of your will be minute taking.

So, when I could avoid them no longer, I thought: ‘how am I going to succeed at this?’ I’ll be honest, it came down to the classic mantra of fake it til you make it! One of the Directors I am currently supporting is a strong believer of sticking with a task until you are great at it, because regardless of your skill, the universe will just keep sending it your way. And trust me, the universe did just that! Now, I am the minute taking queen at my work. I have even facilitated “lunch and learn” training sessions on taking minutes.

I would love to share with you my tips to the art of taking minutes, and have broken it down into 3 steps:

1. Be organised

I am sure in your role, you understand the importance of being prepared and planning ahead. Minute taking is exactly the same. Plan ahead, know the agenda, understand the content that will be discussed in the meeting and know your business. That is the key. A holistic understanding of the business and subject matter allows you to keep up with the meeting when agenda items are being discussed on topics that you are unfamiliar with. Your very first step is to always read the previous minutes and have a list of the actions that resulted from that meeting.

2. Taking the actual minutes

This is the part that always intimidated me the most, sitting in the meeting, trying to capture every single word that was said. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is, you don’t have to capture everything word for word. As long as you note down the main point of what is being discussed, what the actions are and who is responsible, you are winning. My laptop is my saviour in my current role. I would be lost without it now. I don’t even want to imagine taking minutes with a pen and paper.

I always try to sit next to the Chair of the meeting as this allows me ask questions and flag items when needed. It is important to ensure you are communicating with the Chair on any item you may be unsure of or didn’t hear clearly. When I am taking minutes, I don’t hesitate to ask for something to be repeated or clarified. When you have a good relationship with the Chair, they really do appreciate the interaction to ensure accurate information is being recorded. Remember, the most important items to capture are the decisions, actions, next steps and who is responsible.

3. Writing and distributing the final minutes

A hot tip for writing up your minutes is to block out time in your diary as soon as you can after the meeting. It’s so much easier to recall things that were discussed in the meeting if you can write the minutes up straight away. Clarify the timeline expectation for the circulation of minutes.

For example, my workplace has an expectation that the minutes will be distributed within in 48 hours of the meeting.

When writing your minutes, always remember to not put too much detail in them or to be emotive in your language. Minutes need to be as objective as possible as they are a record of the meeting and could potentially become a legal recording of what took place. Detail is the key; always ensure grammar, spellings of names etc., are correct before distributing. When summarising, use language like ‘it was noted’, ‘it was discussed’, and ‘the committee was advised’.

Before distributing, the Chair should always review and approve the minutes to be sent out. Once they have, PDF the minutes and distribute to all attendees of the meeting. If for some reason, you have a request to amend the minutes, this should be noted in the next meeting when the minutes are put forward for noting.
The three most important details of minute taking are right there for you. I wish I had known these all those years ago! Life as an EA would have been very different. I say this laughing at myself for the years I spent avoiding good roles. Don’t avoid learning a new skill. Conquer it!