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If you think the minute taker at your meeting enjoys the role, you’re probably wrong. I’ve seen more anxiety about taking minutes than about any other form of business writing.
It doesn’t surprise me.
The minute taker is often the most junior and least experienced person in the room. I know because I spent a lot of time early in my career being this person. Taking notes in meetings where I knew very little about what was being discussed. Things haven’t changed, and it’s why so few people enjoy the role.
Here are five things you can do as a Chair to make things easier for your minute taker:
- Summarise decisions. Before moving to a new agenda item always summarise – in plain language – the decision taken on the current item. Few Chairs do this, but nothing helps your minute taker more. The fear of getting it wrong disappears.
- Manage changes to the agenda. Minute taking gets messy when discussions move away from the agenda. Don’t let this happen. Allow people to raise other matters, but manage how those matters impact on the agenda. If they’re important, add them as new items under Other Business. If they’re more important than existing items, adjust the agenda to suit. Give clear direction to your committee and to your minute taker.
- Keep order. It’s difficult to take minutes of chaotic meetings. Encourage full and open input, but remind people to stay on topic. If discussion gets heated, intervene. Calm things down. In complex discussions, pause occasionally and summarise how things are going. If necessary, remind people about the purpose of the discussion. Aim to achieve an agreed outcome in the shortest possible time, with maximum goodwill. Achieve this, and both your minute taker and your committee will be grateful.
- Be clear about your expectations. If you have preferences about the style and content of minutes, let your minute taker know. Any guidance you can give will be helpful. Note that standards are changing. A good set of minutes today will accurately record three things: the matters discussed, the decisions reached on those matters, and – if necessary – key points raised in discussion. The if necessary is important. Before insisting on a detailed point-by-point summary of everything said, be sure you need it. The standard today in many organisations is to record little or no discussion unless it’s needed for legal or other reasons. What is wanted is an accurate (and fast) summary of items discussed and decisions made. There are times you’ll want more, and as Chair this is your call. But if the minimum will do, go with the minimum.
- Be human. Talk to your minute taker. Be supportive. Don’t offer to write the minutes, but if it was a particularly complex meeting make time have a chat. Many minute takers, especially those new to the role, find the task overwhelming. They will appreciate any support, acknowledgement or encouragement you can give.
Minutes matter. They’re the formal link between a productive meeting and the action that follows from the meeting. They can be the difference between good and bad communication across an organisation. Support your minute taker by applying these tips, and everyone benefits.
What do you think? Let me know if you have other suggestions.
Shaun McNicholas is the founder and principal of Cool Rules [for writers], an Adelaide based consultancy working with organisations across Australia to improve workplace writing. He is the author of Cool English: A Musical Guide to Better Grammar and Writing (2001) and The Apostrophe Song iPhone app.