minutesmadness

Write clear, concise and condensed meeting minutes and still keep your sanity!

Have you ever tired to change the way something is done at work and met with resistance? People don’t generally like change – change can be scary, it means a different way of doing things and I might not like it.

Some of things I try to do on the minute taking courses I run is expose participants to different types of minute templates and the preferred style of recording minutes (ie a summarisation of discussion without naming people).

In some instances this can be a complete change to the way minutes have been formatted or displayed for some meeting participants.

I can say that just about all of my course participants embrace that there could be a better way of doing something, they could see how it would work and are willing to give it a try. However, they have reservations as to reactions to the change back at work. And this is mainly because they know they’ll meet with resistance.

There are a number of ways you can implement change without rocking the boat or ruffling too many feathers and I’ll outline two of those suggestions here:

Trial it

I’ve already outlined the reasons why people can be negative about change. A common response when you ask why something is done a particular way is, “this is the way it’s always been done.” This is a poor excuse and we should always be questioning why something is being done so we can be more efficient and effective.

Ensure you outline the reasons and benefits for the change – what will make it better and why. You should have people’s buy in at this point. If not, or your still meeting with some reluctance, a good way to move things forward is to suggest that the change be trialled. That way people don’t have to commit up front.

An example of this was a woman who attended my course really wanted to change the format and style of the minutes. She worked for an old organisation where the minutes style had not changed for 20 years. We talked through some options. In the end we decided that to get the buy in she needed, she would produce two sets of meeting minutes – one in the old style, and one in the new style. She presented this to the committee members and immediately they could see the advantages of the new style, but they were still reluctant to commit. She suggested that they trial using the new style for three months at which time the group would make a decision as to which format they would use. The group agreed to this. When the three months was up, guess which style and format they adopted? Yes, the new one.

Small changes

When you want to make a lot of changes, be careful about making them all at once. You’ll freak people out! List out the changes you want to make, prioritise them and then start with the first one. Once everyone is comfortable with this change then move onto the next one. Rinse and repeat!

By doing it this way you’ll be more likely to implement successful changes and keep people with you as you go. Even if it takes six months or more. And by the end of the six months you’ll have all the changes embedded.

Part of driving efficiencies in any organisation is about asking why, coming up with a more efficient and effective way of doing things and then implementing them by a process of trial and slowly but surely.

Have you implemented any changes in taking minutes and, if so, what did you do to ensure those changes were implemented successfully?

 

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Proofreading is a critical part of the minute taking process.

In this post I wrote about going that one step further and getting your final draft minutes peer reviewed so that a fresh pair of eyes can pick up any errors.

There’s an art to proofreading and it’s a step we quite often skip over. We think, “Let’s just get those minutes done so I can get onto the rest of my work.”

The following are some tips to help you become a better proofreader:

 

Always proofread your minutes

 

Review a hard copy

Proofread from hard copy, never from the screen. It’s too easy to miss something if reading directly from the screen.

 

Take a break

If time allows, set your writing aside for a few hours (or days) after you have finished composing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes.

I used to aim for trying to complete the first draft of the minutes on the same day as the meeting (or within 24 hours) or I’d leave the minutes until the next day and re-read them again. It was surprising what errors I picked up or realised what I wrote just didn’t make sense.

 

Look for one type of problem at a time

A thorough proofread should take a three-prong approach where you look for different things at each stage.

The three steps are:

First proofread

  • Content
  • Sentence structures – logical construction of sentences and flow from one paragraph to the next
  • Any ‘loose ends’

Second proofread

  • Word choice
  • Double check all figures
  • Consistency

Third proofread

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation

 

Read your work out loud
This helps you hear a problem eg a missing word, poor sentence construction or bad grammar that you may’ve missed.

 

Read backwards


This sounds very odd. And it is. Nothing will make sense, but a way to catch spelling errors is to read backwards, from right to left, starting with the last word in the text. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than sentences.

 

Use a ruler

Use a ruler to guide your eyes and only move the ruler down to the next line when you have finished reading that line. This allows you to concentrate on reading one word at a time. This takes practise because when we read, we generally skim over the words fixing our eyes on the words four times in one line.  Most people can only accurately take in about six letters. We need to make a conscious effort to look at each individual word.  

 

Create your own proofreading checklist
Keep a list of the types of mistakes you commonly make, and then refer to that list each time you proofread.

 

Ask for help


Get your work peer reviewed.

 

Using some of the tips above will help you become a better proofreader and ensure your final minutes are accurate and therefore professional.

 

Do you have any tips for becoming a better proofreader?

 

 

 

 

 

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Ever been in a meeting taking minutes and wondered why discussion is taking so long? An agenda item was shelved because there wasn’t enough information or incomplete information to lead the board to make a decision?

For formal meetings, it’s important that there is some kind of structure to discussion.

Having a well-thought-out agenda will help channel people’s ideas and keep the discussion focused.

It is also useful to nail down discussion by putting issues through a robust written process.

There have been many occasions when I’ve been in meetings where a lot of time has been wasted because questions being asked by board members hadn’t been considered or analysed thoroughly beforehand by staff presenting the paper.

One of the ways to test discussion is to ensure:

  • items up for discussion have an associated paper
  • that that paper follows a specific format.

A typical board paper may use the following headings:

  • Executive summary
  • Purpose of the report
  • Background
  • Impacts (eg financial, legal)
  • Recommendation/s

A sample template is available here.

Having a template will focus discussion to lead the board to approving the suggested recommendation in a timely manner.

Does your board meetings have a template?

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Who likes taking minutes?

As a minute taker trainer one of the questions I always ask at the beginning of my courses is, “Who likes taking minutes?” Generally, nobody puts their hand up. A few people say, “I don’t mind it.” Most people vigorously shake their heads. They avoid minute taking like the plague!

What are the most common challenges?

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The next question I ask is; “What are your common challenges in minute taking? What is it about minute taking you don’t like?”

And here’s what people say over and over.

  • How much detail should I put in my minutes
  • Meetings that digress from the agenda
  • Meeting behaviour
  • I’m writing a book
  • Understanding the subject, acronyms and jargon
  • People who talk too fast, have accents and/or speak quietly
  • Listening and writing at the same time
  • Having a dual role (taking the minutes and having to participate)
  • What tools can I use to take minutes?
  • The correct template and style to use
  • I’ve never taken minutes before
  • Staying awake and looking interested!

Could you identify with any of the above? As a minute taker I have experienced all of these. So how can I best help you?

Minute taking resources and support for you

Minute Taking Madness – the book!

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I’ve written about my experiences as a minute taker and minute taker trainer and if you’d like the solutions to the above how about checking out my Minute Taking Madness book (for other purchasing options go to the Home page)? There are heaps of tips, techniques and exercises included in the book to help you be a better minute taker.

 

The challenges we face as minute takers can sometimes seem insurmountable, but there’s always a solution and a way forward. You’re not alone out there! I hope you find the resources helpful.

 

Do you have any challenges not listed above?

 

 

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Why some meetings don’t work?

The biggest complaint about meetings from participants:

  • too long
  • not sure why I’m here
  • too many
  • not sure what we achieved/decided.

Sound familiar?

Where the minute taker can assist

Never underestimate your power as a minute taker as to where you can quietly influence how meetings are run.

Sometimes that work occurs even before the meeting.

 

The two most important questions to ask

The two questions below are the ones that you need to either ask the chairman directly or be satisfied of in your mind.

Do we really need to meet?

This is the first question that needs to be asked before anything else.

There needs to be a very clear reason to call a meeting.

Solution: Have the meeting purpose written at the top of the agenda

Agenda

Compiling an agenda will help ascertain why the meeting is taking place, what will be discussed and will help participants in their preparation.

Solution: Draft an agenda for the chairman immediately after the last meeting. At an appropriate time, email the draft agenda for the chairman for his/her initial input.

See my previous post for more tips on how to develop an effective chairman-minute taker partnership.

 

Really think about what work you can do behind the scenes to ensure that meetings in your organisation are effective and efficient.

What do you do that ensures meetings in your organisation are productive?

 

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As a minute taker you can utilise a number of time saving techniques before and after a meeting to ensure you’re well prepared.

1 Briefing meeting with the chairman

Having a briefing meeting with the chairman before the meeting gives you a heads up and an ability to be able to clarify anything you’re unsure of. A briefing meeting discussion points could include:

  • background to agenda items
  • a reminder to the chairman to summarise discussion at the end of each agenda item
  • an idea of any contentious agenda items
  • a run through of the agenda to confirm break times and guest speaker spots
  • how much time should be allocated to each agenda item if this is not already indicated on the agenda.

2 Meeting invites accepted

Follow up those people who haven’t responded to any meeting invites. This will ensure there is full attendance at the meeting and essential people have confirmed they will be attending. This is particularly important for formal meetings when a quorum is required before the meeting can start.

3 Equipment to take minutes all ready

  • Pen (x 2)
  • Highlighter
  • Notepad
  • Lap top/iPad (battery fully charged)
  • WIFI/passwords etc tested
  • Agenda, minutes and any other documentation (conflict of interest register, decisions register, terms of reference)

4 Scheduled time out after the meeting

Schedule time out in your calendar to complete a first draft of your minutes. This will help you dedicate time to the task and prevent procrastination.

Eliminate desk distractions by either working from home, closing your office door (or using red time if you’re working in an open plan office), closing down e-mail and switching your phone to do not disturb.

 

The above of some of the ways a minute taker can be more productive, efficient and effective in the meeting forum.

 

Do you have any time saving tips that helps you as a minute taker?