Not only does minute taking provide an important reference point for business management in the future, looking back to find out why the board made certain decisions, but they are also a legal requirement in many cases and can be used as evidence in court proceedings.
This is why many board secretaries can feel nervous about taking on this task. Robyn Bennett, who runs the Art of Minute Taking course at Victoria University in Auckland, New Zealand as well as being a minute taker herself, describes the feeling precisely:
“those of us who do [take minutes] sometimes fear the job because of the expectation that is put on us to produce discussions accurately.”
Secretaries must also make judgement calls about confidentiality in the minutes, as administrative assistant Simona Cantarelli writes about in Geneva Business News, stating,
“for questions about privacy, it can be preferable during a meeting to write the minutes rather than record the whole discussion.”
Improving your minute taking skills is vital to producing an accurate representation of what happened during a meeting. If you want to brush up on your abilities, we have brought together a selection of expert minute taking tips for you.
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Questions to Ask Before You Minute a Meeting
There are a number of questions you can ask before you minute a meeting that will help you in creating an accurate and clear document. Here are some helpful suggestions.
- Can you clarify some details?
You should endeavour to bring yourself up to speed on the minutes from the previous meeting and with the contents of any supporting papers required for this event before it takes place. Understanding the business at hand helps inform your notes and minutes. So, if you have any doubts, ask the chair before you minute a meeting to clarify the points. This allows you to enter the meeting fully briefed (and more confident).
- Does anyone have any corrections to make to the previous minutes?
Although there is a point in the meeting where attendees can bring up any errors in the previous meeting’s minutes, this takes up valuable time. By asking for corrections before the next meeting, you can amend the document, distribute it to members and they will simply approve it at the next meeting and move on to the important business of the day.
- Can I see a copy of the agenda?
The board secretary will usually be involved with the production of the agenda for the meeting. But, if not, they should read the agenda and use it to help build a template for their minutes. Knowing which items will occur and when saves time at the meeting and allows you to concentrate more on the discussions in the room.
- Do you mind if I record the meeting?
Having an audio or video recording of the meeting to reference certainly helps ensure the accuracy of your minutes. So, if you can record it, you should. However, some people do not like being recorded, and there may be sensitive information to be discussed, so always make sure you ask attendees first.
Top Ten Minute Taking Tips
1. Prepare for the Topics of the Meeting
It is vital that you understand the topics that are to be discussed in the meeting. Only when you have a grasp of the issues at hand will you know what you should be making notes of and what is unnecessary. It’s not best practice to rely on writing exactly what you hear because this may dilute the clarity of your minutes.
Once you have an idea of the relative relevance of the information at hand, you can spend more time listening and picking up more accurately on the theme of the discussion, rather than desperately trying to not down every word.
3. Be Assertive
It is important that you clarify anything you don’t understand as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to talk up in the meeting and ask someone to repeat a point or to explain it further. It is in everybody's interests that the minutes are accurate.
4. Create a Minute Template
Assuming you minute more than one meeting, creating a template saves you time. You should add all the relevant information that doesn’t change such as the business name. You can also prefill the standard running order (bringing to order, approval of the minutes, etc). Then, you can simply drop in items from the agenda into the template ahead of the next meeting. This way your documents will be consistent and look professional with minimum effort.
5. Meet With the Chair in Advance
Meeting with the chair before the meeting allows you to finalise the agenda, ask any questions you might have and to gain a feel for how the meeting will run. This helps you go in ready for what will happen and saves you time trying to get up to speed.
6. Talk to the Other Attendees
By talking to other attendees of the meeting, you can gain a greater insight into the topics up for discussion. This allows you to better make a judgement call on the key elements to record in the minutes. If you have any questions about the subject matter, it is a good idea to ask them as people with expert knowledge.
7. Tick Off Attendees as They Arrive
It is important that the attendee list is accurate, so make sure you tick the names off as participants arrive in the room. That way, you don’t miss anyone from the official record. You can also use this information to make a list that you pass around the room, if people are not familiar with each other. You could also introduce the different parties to each other if necessary.
8. Sit Next to the Chair
Sitting next to the chair means you have the best chance of hearing everything going on, as all discussion is aimed towards them. It also allows you to easily gain their attention when you need clarification during the meeting.
9. Write Clear, Brief Notes
The notes you make in the meeting are a reminder for the official board meeting minutes document. As such, you don’t need large amounts of detail or verbatim records of conversations, but they must be clear and communicate the arguments, outcomes and intentions.
10. Write Up the Minutes as Soon After the Meeting as Possible
Make sure you write up the meeting notes as soon as possible whilst the meeting is still fresh in your mind. It will help with achieving an accurate representation of the discussions. You could meet with the chair soon after to have them confirm the notes are a true picture of the meeting too. The other benefit of finalising the minutes quickly is that you can distribute them sooner and make any amendments before the next meeting.
Words and Phrases to Help With Minute Taking
One of the traps many board secretaries fall into is using the same words over and over again. Here are some common terms that come up regularly in the meeting environment, along with alternatives to drop in to keep the document feeling fresh:
|Drew Attention To||Stressed||Highlighted||Emphasised|
You should also be careful to use the active voice rather than the passive as much as possible when writing a professional document. Here are some passive/active alternatives:
|The board was informed that...||The chair informed the board that...|
|Consideration was given to...||The board considered...|
|The financial report was presented by...||XXXX presented the financial report|
|It was agreed that...||The board agreed that...|
|The motion was proposed by XXXX||XXXX proposed the motion|
How to Handle Confidential Minutes
There are a number of reasons that you might have to make the minutes of a meeting confidential. They might refer to private information about an individual, sensitive financial details or any other such content. In this case, you should only distribute minutes featuring these items to those who attended the meeting and were present for the discussion.
You might want to distribute hard copies only and then destroy them once they have been returned. You can then file the final copy in the company records with restricted access. Alternatively, if you use a board meeting portal, you can ensure that only authorised members who were at the meeting have access to the minutes. You can also restrict access to the minutes completely once they have been approved.
Tips For Remote Minute Taking
Remote working has been increasing in popularity in recent times, but since the coronavirus lockdown, the ability to run remote board meetings has become essential. With that in mind, you will need a few additional skills to call upon for remote minute taking. Here are some simple tips:
- Work With the Meeting Chair
You will need the chair to help make your life easier so catch up with them before the start of the meeting. You can suggest that they recap the main talking points and action items at the end of each item, that they ensure only one attendee speaks at once and, if it is a telephone meeting, that they ask each participant to state their name before they speak.
- Keep on Top of Attendance
On a video call it is easier to keep track of attendance than during a telephone meeting. In the event of the latter, go through the names of those who confirmed they would be there to ensure that they are in fact on the call.
- Interrupt if You Need To
We have all been on a video call that glitches or on a phone call that loses signal. In order that you don’t miss important details, you should interrupt the meeting in these circumstances to ask the speaker to repeat themselves.
Technology to Help With Minute Taking
Board Meeting Software
Board meeting software such as iBabs allows you and the meeting attendees to keep on top of the most recent documentation. You can also interact through the portal to clarify decisions and action points that help you when completing the minutes. This enables you to adjust the document and make sure it is accurate ahead of its approval at the next meeting. With iBabs, board members can sign the meeting minutes and other documents securely, directly on the platform. No need to send hard copies of documents back and forth or chase board members to sign.
Other tech that can help you with minutes includes a recording device or dictaphone to record the conversation. This acts as a memory aid when recounting the events of the meeting. You could also video the meeting if the attendees agree.
Minutes Transcribing Tech
There are a host of minutes transcribing apps, such as Otter.ai, Voicera and Reason8. Essentially, you download your app of choice to your device, record the meeting and it transcribes the conversation for you.
Some apps require all attendees to run the app on their devices, others record the whole room. There are a number of apps on the market, so you need to work out which features would work best for your situation.
Should I Put Names in Minutes?
Whether you write the full names of each board member in minutes is up to you. It is quicker to use initials, although there are some potential issues, such as two people having the same initials. As long as it is clear who is being referred to, it is your decision. You could start by listing all the attendees with their full names and then refer to them by their initials.
What are Apologies in Meeting Minutes?
Apologies in meeting minutes are the list of people who informed you in advance that they could not attend the meeting. You should note them in the minutes.
Do Meeting Minutes Have to Be Approved?
The board minutes must be approved at the following meeting for them to be seen as a legal representation of what happened. It is important that the board approves minutes before continuing with the next meeting agenda items.
What Tense Do I Write Minutes In?
You should write the minutes in the past tense, as it is a document recounting events that have already happened.
We hope these minute taking tips have helped you increase your confidence and skills when it comes to recording the actions and decisions made in your meetings. Producing effective meeting minutes is a skill, as well as an art, and is an essential written record to the governance of your organisation, too.