Learning how to write meeting notes is an important skill that can help to improve productivity, provide important records and ensure a better overall outcome for each meeting.
If you’ve ever suffered from information overload while taking meeting notes, struggled to separate the necessary details from the nice-to-knows, or worried that you’re writing too much and not paying enough attention, this guide is for you.
Taking useful meeting notes isn’t as straightforward as it first seems; it’s a more nuanced skill than simply writing down everything that’s been said, and can take time to master. By reading this guide and learning how to change your approach to taking meeting notes, you’ll gain the confidence to document meetings efficiently, ensuring that the final result is a useful tool that can be easily understood at a later date.
Along with a variety of useful, actionable tips, we’ve also put together a handy meeting notes template for you to use in your next meeting.
In this guide, we will be covering:
- The difference between meeting notes and minutes
- Why meeting notes are important to get right
- How to take meeting notes
- Meeting notes template
- Other tips on taking meeting notes and what to include
The difference between meeting notes and minutes
Before we get started, let’s look at the difference between meeting notes and minutes. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are actually some key differences.
Meeting minutes are a formal transcript of the meeting, usually following a set template. It’s shared with team members after the meeting, providing a useful summary and list of action points that anyone can understand, whether or not they attended the meeting.
Meeting notes are less formal than minutes, and are often taken and kept by an individual for their own reference. They include the key details of the meeting, and may only cover topics and actionable items that are relevant to the person writing them.
In this guide, we’re looking specifically at how to take meeting notes, so you can improve your skills and confidence in this area to get more out of each meeting you attend.
Why meeting notes are important to get right
How often have you heard people say “I’m bad at taking meeting notes” or “I don’t find meeting notes helpful” in your office?
Rather than highlighting that it’s a pointless exercise, this actually shows a weakness in the individual’s note-taking ability. The better the notes, the better the overall outcome for you, your team, and the business as a whole.
Here are just a few of the reasons why learning how to take notes in a meeting can help to benefit you and your team.
Helps you to remember what happened
It’s easy to forget what happened in a meeting, especially if you’re busy and have to jump straight on another task as soon as you get back to your desk. Writing clear, concise notes during the meeting will help you to remember what was discussed, and what actions you need to take.
Supports team members who couldn’t attend
Whether through absence, a diary clash or simply being too busy, there are lots of reasons why someone might not be able to attend a meeting. Well-written meeting notes are a useful tool that can be shared with your colleagues and clients, so they know exactly what’s happening with a certain task or project.
Improves overall communication
Communication is one of the most important skills you can build, and is extremely useful both within the workplace and in your personal life. By taking the care to listen to each person, assess the main points they are making and reiterate them in your own words, you can better understand the goals, intentions and priorities of your teammates.
Builds commitment to action items
We all know that saying you’ll do something and actually doing it are two different things. Writing down your action items within the context of why they are important to the overall success of your project or team helps you to commit to the tasks and understand the value of your contribution.
Helps to focus future meetings
When you take notes, you get a good overall idea of what the meeting was about, and what useful information came from it. The more you focus on this, the better you can plan the timing, agenda and attendees of future meetings to make sure they are useful for everyone involved.
How to take meeting notes
We’ve put together some top tips on how to take notes in a meeting, so you can get the most out of your meetings and ensure a beneficial outcome for your team.
Remember that, just like any other skill, improving your note-taking requires time and practice.
Familiarise yourself with the steps below, and try working on them one at a time until taking useful, actionable meeting notes becomes second nature.
Stick to the key points
Unless you’re taking formal meeting minutes, there’s no need to write down absolutely everything anyone says. Focus on the key information for each item on the agenda, recording a brief summary of the most critical points covered and any decisions made.
Record action items
Planning next steps is a key part of any meeting, and recording exactly what needs to be done, when and who by is extremely important. Make sure to confirm action items with the other attendees before writing them down to avoid mistakes and confusion in the future.
Track the decision-making process
As well as recording action items, make a note of why certain decisions were made. This can help to provide useful information and context for completing any tasks, and offers a record of the thought process should you forget a few weeks or months down the line.
Take note of questions and answers
If someone asks an important or insightful question, take a note of this and make sure to include the answer received. As well as giving you something to refer back to, this can help you to better understand the concerns of others, and how your actions impact their work.
Write down your ideas
Make sure to write down any ideas, questions or concerns that come to you during the meeting so you don’t forget to follow up. Meetings can be a bit of an information overload, and it’s easy to forget that great idea when the topic turns to something else.
Use a meeting notes template
Even for informal note taking, a meeting notes template is a great way to make sure you stay on track, filter out the information that isn’t needed, and cover all the important details. Because they’re such a helpful tool for taking meeting notes, let’s look at templates in more detail.
Meeting notes template
If you’re taking formal meeting minutes, you’ll likely be required to use a certain format or template. However, when taking meeting notes for their own personal use, people often scribble down information on a single page in one long stream of consciousness, which can be hard to decipher at a later date.
Using a meeting notes template provides structure, helping you to focus on the most important details and keep your thoughts organised. As well as improving the efficiency of your note taking during the meeting, a structured format will make it easier to look back over your notes to find important information in the future.
[Title] Meeting notes template with action items
When creating your meeting notes template, you should experiment to find out what works best for you. You might need to create different templates for different types of meetings, such as team catch-ups, client meetings, project handovers or campaign planning.
We’ve put together a meeting notes template with action items below for you to try out and adjust to your preference.
- Agenda: Having the agenda in your notes provides a clear reminder of which topics were covered in this particular meeting.
- Attendees: Record the full names of all attendees to avoid confusion and to keep track of who had a say in the decisions made.
- Decisions: Write down what was agreed upon in the meeting, and any relevant reasoning behind the decisions.
- Outcomes: Make sure you know what is expected to come from this meeting, and what you are looking to achieve overall.
- Questions and ideas: Remember to write down any questions that you need to follow up on, as well as any interesting ideas you have during the meeting.
- Action items: Take note of what needs doing, who by, and when. For personal notes, you might choose to record only your own action items.
This is just a basic meeting notes template to get you started. By sticking to the template, you can work to change your outlook when it comes to noting down key information and learn how to take meeting notes that are actually useful. Once you figure out the most important takeaways for you, you can adjust your template to suit your needs.
Other tips on taking meeting notes and what to include
Along with using a meeting notes template, there are a few more useful tips we’d like to share, helping you to get more out of your meetings.
Use pen and paper
While taking meeting notes on your laptop may be quicker, research has shown that typing notes makes people more likely to record the key points word-for-word rather than summarising, paraphrasing, or processing their own ideas. Writing information by hand also improves retention, making it easier to remember.
Record the basics
Don’t forget to start your meeting notes with the date, time and list of attendees, as well as the meeting location if it’s relevant. Record the full names of everyone in attendance to avoid confusion in the future, particularly when it comes to action items.
Create codes and abbreviations
Abbreviations help to improve the efficiency of your note taking, so you can jot down the key points more quickly. As well as standard business abbreviations like “EOD” or “TBD”, you might use “DL” for deadline, “!” to denote important information, or create your own set of easy-to-draw symbols.
For most people, learning shorthand won’t be necessary. However, if you attend a lot of meetings and find yourself taking notes regularly, it might be a useful time saver. If the meeting notes are to be shared with other team members, however, you’ll need to type them up so others can understand them.
Share your notes
Whether you were assigned as the designated note taker for this meeting, or you just like to keep useful records for yourself, sharing your notes with others can be extremely beneficial. Type up your notes in a shared document and give the link to attendees, as well as those who weren’t able to make it, so everyone has access to all the important information.
Now you’ve taken an in-depth look at how to take notes in a meeting, you should have lots of action items to take care of before your next meeting.
Remember that good note taking is a skill that takes practice to master. Keep your focus on the purpose behind the meeting, the key discussions and decisions, and what the next steps are. By putting in the work to learn how to write meeting notes that are goal orientated and easy to follow, you can ensure better outcomes for yourself and your team.
If you’d like to free up more of your team’s time to focus on collaboration during meetings, take a look at Advance’d range of HR software and payroll software. By seamlessly handling these important functions, our tools help to free up a little headspace so your employees can focus on efficient, beneficial meetings.
Get in touch to book your demo and learn more about the time-saving benefits of our HR and payroll solutions.