Minutes 101: Minute Taking Essentials

Effective meetings are important  for any organization, be it a corporate enterprise, a school board, a nonprofit entity, or a governmental body. These gatherings are where decisions are made, strategies are crafted, and ideas are exchanged. One vital element that often goes unnoticed yet plays a significant role in shaping the outcomes of these meetings, is the humble meeting minutes.
Meeting minutes are the written record of what transpired during a meeting. They are an official document, a blueprint for action, and a guidepost for future endeavors. This article delves deep into the art and science of taking minutes during board meetings, with a focus on best practices, techniques, and the importance of accuracy and clarity.

Why Are Meeting Minutes Important?

Board meetings are the epicenter of decision-making. The decisions made in these meetings can have far-reaching implications for the organization, its stakeholders, and even the broader community . Accurate and comprehensive minutes are necessary to capture and preserve the essence of these decisions. Before diving into the nuts and bolts of minutes taking, let's understand why meeting minutes are essential. Meeting minutes serve several crucial purposes:

1. Historical record: Meeting minutes provide a window into the organization's previous decisions, strategies, and actions, enabling the board to revisit and learn from the past.

2. Legal documentation: Meeting minutes often serve as legal evidence, validating the board's adherence to statutory requirements and its fiduciary responsibilities. In case of disputes or audits, these minutes can provide an impartial account of the proceedings.

3. Accountability: By recording decisions and action items, minutes hold participants accountable for their commitments, creating a sense of responsibility and urgency.

4. Communication: Minutes can be shared with stakeholders who were not present at the meeting, helping them stay informed about key developments.

5. Reference material: Minutes act as a reference point for attendees, helping them recall what was discussed, decided, and what action items were assigned.

6. Transparency: Clear and detailed minutes promote transparency within an organization, making it clear what happened during meetings.

Preparing for the Meeting

Minutes taking starts before the meeting begins. Follow these tips to ensure your minute-taking efforts are successful.

1. Review the agenda.
The agenda is your blueprint. It outlines what will be discussed, the order of topics, and who will present. Understanding the agenda is crucial for effective minutes taking because it gives you context and a roadmap for the meeting. Take some time before the meeting to familiarize yourself with that meeting’s agenda.
2. Familiarize yourself with the material.
Before the meeting, make sure to read any documents or reports related to the agenda items. This preparation will help you understand the topics, anticipate the discussion, and follow along more easily during the meeting. It also allows you to prepare a list of key terms, acronyms, and jargon that may be used during the meeting, so you can accurately capture what is being discussed.
3. Know the participants.
Find out about the board members, attendees, and any key guests you expect to attend or present at the meeting. Learn their names and how to spell and pronounce them correctly so you can accurately attribute statements and actions during the meeting.

During the Meeting

Once you’re in a meeting taking minutes, be sure to follow these best practices.

1. The basics: Meeting details and participants
Before diving into the heart of the discussion, it is crucial to set the stage by recording essential details. Start with the basics:

  • Organization name: Clearly state the name of the organization to which the meeting pertains. This helps prevent confusion in case there are multiple entities under consideration.
  • Date and time: Record the date and time of the meeting. Be sure to note the start and end times. This is crucial for timekeeping and for maintaining a proper record. 
  • Location: Include the physical or virtual location of the meeting. In a rapidly changing world where meetings can be conducted online, the meeting location adds context.
  • Participants: Record the names of all attendees, noting any absentees or late arrivals. Be sure to include any guest speakers or observers.

2. Capturing the essence: Discussion summary
This is the heart of the meeting minutes, where discussions and deliberations are distilled into a clear and concise summary. Here is how you can capture the essence:

  • Key points: Summarize the main topics, arguments, and any points of contention during the discussions. Avoid delving into lengthy transcripts.
  • Supporting data: If there are data, statistics, or documents presented, summarize the key points, and note any references.
  • Questions and concerns: Note any questions or concerns raised by board members and the responses provided. These can be essential for understanding the context of decisions.
  • Action items: Action items are a crucial part of any meeting. They define the next steps and who handles them. List the action items, specify the individuals accountable, and provide deadlines.
  • Motions and resolutions: If the meeting involves formal motions and resolutions, make sure to record them accurately. Include the name of the mover, the seconder, and the outcome of the vote.
  • Decisions: Clearly state the decisions made during the meeting, including not just what the decision was, but also who made the decision and any specifics or conditions attached to it.

3. Next steps and future meetings: Keeping the momentum
Meetings are often part of an ongoing process. To ensure continuity and proper planning, include information about future meetings, upcoming agenda items, and any preparatory steps that need to be taken.

  • Next steps: Summarize any follow-up actions or decisions that will be addressed in future meetings.
  • Future meetings: Mention the date, time, and location of upcoming meetings. 
  • Preparation: Note any specific tasks or preparations required for the next meeting. This helps participants come prepared and ensures a productive follow-up.

After the Meeting

A critical timeframe for the process of recording meeting minutes happens after the meeting has ended.
1. Transcribe and organize
As soon as possible after the meeting, transcribe any handwritten notes into a digital document. Use a template to organize the information you gathered during the meeting. This step ensures clarity, consistency, and ease of sharing the minutes with the board and other stakeholders.

2. Proofread and edit
After transcription, carefully read through the minutes to correct any spelling or grammatical errors and ensure that the content is clear and concise. The final minutes should be a polished and professional document.

3. Distribute draft minutes
Send the draft minutes to the board members and other stakeholders for review and approval. This step is essential to ensure that all participants agree on the accuracy and completeness of the minutes. It is also an opportunity for board members to provide any necessary clarifications.

Best Practices for Taking Minutes

1. Give yourself a head start. 
Preparation  is key to successful minutes taking. Familiarize yourself with the meeting agenda and any relevant documents beforehand. This will help you understand the context and focus on the most critical points during the meeting.

2. Stay a neutral scribe.
Someone taking minutes should be an objective and impartial observer and recorder. Avoid injecting personal opinions, biases, or judgments into the minutes. A well-crafted set of minutes should reflect what was said and decided, free from editorializing.

3. Learn the art of summarization.
Effective minutes are clear and concise. Summarize discussions in a way that captures the essence without overwhelming the reader. Use simple, straightforward language.

4. Improve clarity with action verbs.
When describing decisions and action items, use action verbs. For example, instead of writing, "The committee discussed the proposal," you can write, "The committee approved the proposal." 

5. Include the 'why' behind decisions.
Documenting the rationale of decisions can provide context that aids comprehension and assists readers who may not have been present at the meeting.

6. Break out your fine-toothed comb.
Before sharing the minutes with participants or stakeholders, take the time to review and edit them. Correct any errors, ensure the language is consistent, and verify that the minutes align with the meeting's objectives.

7. Follow a blueprint for consistency.
Maintaining a standardized format for meeting minutes is essential. This helps readers easily navigate the document and locate the information they need. Consistency in formatting is particularly important if your organization holds frequent meetings.

8. Leave a paper trail.
If any documents, reports, or presentations were discussed or referred to during the meeting, make sure to include references or attachments. This provides additional context and supports the decision-making process.

Technology and Minutes Taking

Technology has revolutionized minutes taking. Organizations are increasingly adopting digital solutions for minutes taking to increase accuracy and accessibility. A tool like BoardBook® Premier allows you to streamline the agenda preparation and minute-taking processes with features such as templates, real-time collaboration, automated action item tracking, and easy distribution.

A Plethora of Online Resources

For those looking to delve deeper into the art of taking effective minutes, numerous online resources are available. Two such resources that offer valuable insights and guidelines for optimizing the minute-taking process during board meetings are:

Indeed – How to Write Meeting Minutes in 7 Steps: This article on Indeed breaks the minutes taking process down to easy-to-follow steps.

Dummies – Meeting Minutes According to Robert’s Rules: Dummies is known for simplifying complex topics. This guide is an excellent resource for beginners.

Become a Minute-Taking Pro

Mastering the art of taking effective meeting minutes is a valuable skill that can contribute to the success of your organization. By understanding the importance of minutes, following best practices, and using available resources, you can ensure that your minutes serve as a reliable and indispensable record of your meetings

Elevate Your Minutes-Taking

BoardBook Premier has a host of tools to elevate your minute taking to the next level. Record attendance, motions, votes, and notes in BoardBook Premier. When the meeting is over, export everything into a single custom minutes report. Many BoardBook Premier users are finished with their meeting minutes as soon as the meeting is over.

“It is a time saver. I am able to do minutes during the meeting from the online agenda packet.”
— City of Waverly

Attend an online demonstration to learn how.