minutesmadness

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

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?

 

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Once you’ve completed your draft minutes the job’s done, right? Not quite. Minutes should be double-checked particularly for content accuracy.

The accepted chain of command for getting your draft minutes checked include:

  • your executive and/or
  • the chairman
  • the rest of the meeting members.

The people listed above will be mostly looking to ensure that the minutes accurately reflected what happened at the meeting.

There is another group who could also check your minutes. Have you considered peer review?

The case for peer review

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A peer review, from a trusted colleague, will check the quality of your minutes – a trained eye that will pick up errors in:

  • formatting
  • spelling
  • punctuation
  • grammar.

All of those important things that we sometimes overlook when we’re under pressure to get our minutes completed.

The main disadvantage of peer review would be confidentiality. If you choose this path ensure that you have clearance from your executive first before sending them out to another person.

I’m hearing more and more from minute takers who state that peer review is now standard practice in their organisations.

Having your minutes peer reviewed is another way of providing self-assurance that you’ve done the best job possible of producing a perfect set of minutes.

What do you think of the idea of having minutes peer reviewed?

 

 

 

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Ever been in a meeting and wanted to tear your hair out as the group goes slowly off track getting further and further away from the agenda item they’re supposed to be discussing?

When this happens it creates two issues:

  1. the ticking clock doesn’t stop as the group stays longer on an item and there are still other items that need to be discussed
  2. should I minute this discussion?

The ticking clock

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Ultimately it’s up to the chairman to keep an eye on time and steer the discussion to a conclusion. However, the chairman has a lot to do and this is where a good minute taker, where appropriate, can lend a hand.

Here are a number of helpful tips (use those that you feel  comfortable with):

  1. This is the one that works the best. Ensure that you have a timeframe (eg 1/2 hour or 9.30-10.00 am) printed next to each agenda item as a guide as to how long should be spent on this item.
  2. Having done No. 1, at the meeting, ensure you are sitting next to the chairman. Then when too much time has been spent on an item you can subtly point with a pen to the next spot on the agenda as to where the group should be. I have done this a couple of times at meetings and have received a simple acknowledgement nod by the chairman to my desperate plea to wind up discussion.
  3. In informal meetings, I have sometimes said, “Where are we on the agenda?” I find that this stops the discussion, everyone looks at the agenda and then someone usually says, “Oh, yes, we have gone off track.”
  4. Do what you feel you can get away with (having a good relationship with the chairperson will be your guide here) – I’ve even passed notes to my chairman stating, “we need to move on”!

Should I minute the discussion?

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Tricky one, this.

  1. If it’s mainly opinion I tend to leave it.
  2. If it’s worth noting, but the topic has drifted off the original agenda item (and an action point has arisen) I will record it under a separate heading.
  3. Failing that, use the capture-it-all phrase – “An extensive discussion took place.”

 

While it is the chairman’s job to manage the discussion and pull it back when it goes off track it sometimes requires someone else to take the lead – the minute taker!

 

Do you have any tips to share when the discussion goes off track at your meetings?

 

 

 

 

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Many times as a minute taker I would be asked by either the CEO or chairman to find out more information regarding an issue that has been discussed at a previous meeting (this request normally comes outside of the meeting). This is all well and good if the meeting was only a year ago, but if you’re having to research something that goes back further, say two or even 10 years ago, the task becomes a lot more complicated.

It’s a good idea to keep a summary of decisions (and this includes motions for formal meetings) in one document to enable easier accessibility. The decisions are just inserted into a rolling table.

Steps involved in setting up a decision register

  1. When recording minutes give your decision a number eg:

    Decision Number: 2016/5/1
    It was agreed that the 2017 AGM be held in July.

    What the numbers mean2016 – the year
    5 – the number of the month (ie May)
    1 – first decision made of that meeting

  2. Set up a decision register template in a table.
  3. After the minutes have been completed copy and paste all decisions into the register.

And there you have it – a nice, compact document that will cut down the amount of time trying to find decisions in previous minutes. I take the register to my meetings as well just in case a question comes about something where people quickly want confirmation of something.

If you would like  a copy of the template I use for my decision register contact me at minutesmadness@xtra.co.nz.

 

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Today I’m launching my book Minute Taking Madness and it’s available for you at a special launch price.

This book is a result of knowledge gained from many years of practical minute taking experience coupled with over 13 years of running minute taking courses.

What’s the book about?

If you want to write minutes quickly and alleviate what can sometimes be a stressful task then this is the book for you.

Minute Taking Madness is jam-packed with tips and techniques on:

  • how the critical relationship between the minute taker and the chairperson can make or break your minutes
  • the tools to use to take minutes
  • suggested types of templates
  • what style of minutes is best suited for different meetings
  • how to differentiate between waffle and the key points
  • how much detail should be recorded
  • recording different viewpoints
  • paraphrasing
  • listening skills
  • identifying meeting participants’ communication style.

This essential resource includes a summary at the end of each chapter, exercises to refine your skills and links to additional resources.

Whether you’ve been taking minutes for years, are a newbie, it’s part of your job or you’re doing it voluntary this book will help reduce the madness we sometimes feel as a minute taker.

After reading Minute Taking Madness you will be well-equipped to tackle your minutes with confidence.

Where can I buy the book?

Minute Taking Madness is available as an e-book from the following outlets:

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (USA and rest of world)

ibooks

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

 

Hope you enjoy the book! Would love to hear your feedback!

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Guest Post – Tendai

I’m excited to have a special guest post this week from Tendai.

Welcome Tendai!

Love or hate minutes?

When my referee told me one of the questions asked about me by my future employer was if I was good at taking minutes, my heart sank! It was like pouring boiling water on my crème brûlée. Honestly!

I had applied for this job because of the love and admiration of both the organisation and the CEO, and I was so excited about it, until then! Hadn’t thought minutes were that important! After all, most admin jobs required one to take minutes at some point but not much really, so I hadn’t paid much attention to them. Where I could, I had avoided them completely. BUT, as it turns out they were a huge part of this job. Board, Executive, and Project meetings needed a minute taker – and that was going to be me!

Well, I got the job! And both my new boss and I agreed I’d take an advanced minute taking course to “brush on my skills and give me confidence”, my boss said, as I thought to myself, “to learn the ropes”.

I duly went along to a minute taking course where I can recall the facilitator, Robyn Bennett  laughing at a few of us who confessed to recording the minutes using our dictaphones, and listening to the whole tape again after the meeting, to make sure we got everything right. “Why do you do that?” she asked. “Waste of time!”

Quite frankly, most of us didn’t know what we were doing. And we were going round and round in circles. We just didn’t know the right and easy way of doing it!

I see people roll their eyes when asked to take minutes. I hear people mourn when asked to take minutes. I don’t see or hear people singing and dancing about minutes.

Looking back now, I’m so glad I took that course. And I’m so glad I was pushed outside my comfort zone. As a business owner, a Virtual Assistant, I now find providing this service (minute taking) is a part of my work that I truly enjoy. Yes, I do. All-day board meetings no longer scare me and I don’t think twice before saying yes to taking minutes.

Mastering minutes

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  1. Familiarising self with meeting/subject matter – reading meeting papers prior to the meeting helps immensely. It saves lots of time from repeating what’s already written and read in the reports, to merely understanding conversations as they occur.

 

  1. Checking with the Chair or CEO prior to the meeting – understanding how the organisation/Committee works, how the Chair wants the meeting to go, and how they want minutes written. Just because previous minutes were recorded a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean they should be like that always. Sometimes all they need are action points, sometimes proper notes. Best to always check.

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  1. Where/how I record them matters – Personally, I don’t use shorthand. And I don’t waste time hand writing. Typing them straight to laptop or iPad saves me time afterwards as I’ll only need a few minutes-hours to format and tidy up a few things. But this is a personal choice.

 

  1. Comfortable seating in the meeting – back in the day, I heard minute takers weren’t allowed around the boardroom table. I think it was to show they weren’t part of the Committee/group, their job was to listen and record. Nowadays, or at least the meetings I’ve attended, a minute taker is part of the team. It means we can hear/see clearly like everyone else. At the last Board meeting I attended, we sat on the most comfortable couches as the Board Chair needed to put his feet up. It felt great, I thought I was gonna fall asleep so I kept reminding myself not to get too comfortable but being comfortable meant I could concentrate on the work not the environment. The minutes were my best piece of work to-date.

So, once I mastered these few techniques, it became a breeze. They aren’t so bad after all!

What about you? Do you struggle with, or have you struggled in past? I’d love to hear your experiences.

 

About Tendai

Tendai is a business woman, a blogger, an all-around gatherer of information, and a mummy. After years of working as an Executive Assistant (to C-Level executives mainly), she started her own business as a Virtual Assistant and she works with business owners/consultants/coaches etc providing general admin support, social media and email marketing services. You can find out more about her company here

 

Thanks Tendai for sharing!

 

 

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