Meetings can provide a sense of clarity, improve decision-making, and encourage action. Despite listening carefully during those all-important discussions, it’s easy to forget what was said. Good meeting notes can help you to come away with an actionable to-do list and key takeaways. Note-taking during meetings makes it easier for you to follow along and draw value from the decisions and insights shared. But, how can you take effective notes while trying to listen actively and participate?
Meeting Notes vs. Minutes
Meeting minutes are formal, structured documentation of what occurred during the meeting. This includes all the factual information about who attended and where or when the meeting took place. Minutes are most commonly taken in meetings among large teams at companies. This is because minutes serve as legal documentation if needed later. If such a detailed log exists, why should you take meeting notes?
Meeting notes can help you to keep track of discussions, action items, and your own thoughts or questions. This is important for developing your own understanding during the meeting. More importantly, not all meetings will have minute-takers. For smaller team meetings, 1-2-1 discussions, and other creative or collaborative meetings, note-taking can provide clarity on key decisions and insights. Good meeting notes will provide a reference point for deadlines, ideas, and goals, which will be beneficial for ensuring progress is made on your projects.
Benefits of Good Meeting Notes
- Team Collaboration: Good meeting notes can help all team members to stay engaged and well-informed. This is particularly important for hybrid teams and those who work asynchronously.
- Decision Documentation: You can maintain a log of decisions made at a certain point in time.
This makes it easy for you and your team members to reference and remember key decision-making points. This can be useful for maintaining a sense of accountability but also, for keeping team members who might have missed the meeting informed of the decision-making process and outcomes.
- Active Listening: To take good and effective meeting notes, you need to listen actively. Note-taking encourages the skill of active listening but also can help you think more innovatively. If you’re keeping track of the discussions, you can chime in with your thoughts.
- Team Connection: If you work in a big team, taking notes can help you understand your fellow team members. Who they are, what their role is, and how they’re contributing to the discussions. This can improve the connection that you have with team members that you see less regularly.
- Increased Productivity: Getting started is hard when it’s unclear what you need to be doing. Good meeting notes will outline the next steps for you and help you to excel at your job role. This will improve your productivity but can also improve team productivity. Notes can help you to avoid having repetitive conversations and define a clear course of action for everyone to take between meetings.
Techniques for Taking Good Meeting Notes
What exactly do good meeting notes look like? Note-taking is often an underlooked skill outside of education. It can be difficult to know what you should look out for and how to extract the most value. Meeting notes should summarise and document important information. Good meeting notes will also highlight key takeaways and actionable to-do items that need to be addressed. Instead of short sentences and hard-to-read scribbles, you’ll be left with a clear and valuable action plan.
Here are four simple ways you can improve your note-taking during meetings:
- Focus on action items and decision outcomes. These can be assignments, deadlines, or any tasks that need to be completed soon. It can help to write these down even if they’re not yours so you know who’s handling which tasks if you have questions later on. For decision outcomes, simply write a short note on what was decided as the discussion begins to die down.
- Make your notes personal by writing down your ideas, insights, questions, and follow-ups. This can help you absorb and reflect upon anything you learned during the meeting. You’re also more likely to follow up with other team members and address your questions if you’ve made a clear note.
- Avoid writing things down word-for-word. Instead, focus on jotting down keywords and phrases each time the topic of discussion changes. You can write less by using codes, abbreviations, or symbols. For example, you can use an exclamation mark (!) to highlight important tasks and deadlines or a question mark for (?) for follow-up items.
- If you like to doodle during meetings, you can use visuals and diagrams to capture information. This can help you stay focused while keeping track of action items, ideas, and decision-making outcomes. Meeting notes can take any structure as long as they are easy to review later and provide the most important details.
3 Ways to Boost the Effectiveness of Meeting Notes
Finally, we’ll share some tips on how to become a well-prepared note-taker.
Use the Meeting Agenda
You can prepare effectively for meetings using a meeting agenda. This is usually sent out before the meeting and will outline all key discussion points. By reviewing the agenda, you’ll already have an idea of the potential outcomes. You can prepare some notes beforehand and use the meeting agenda to structure your notes in the meeting. It will be easier to follow along if you know what to expect and have a clear understanding of the meeting goals. For meetings without an agenda, create a basic outline of what you think will be discussed. This can be done by reflecting on the purpose of the meeting and the relationship you have with those attending.
The structure of your meeting notes is important for context and clarity. You can use note-taking templates or go-to note-taking systems to keep things concise and clear. This will differ depending on the type of meeting and desired outcomes.
Here are 3 note-taking structures to follow:
- Outline Method: This is a simple way to utilise the meeting agenda. Use the items on the agenda to create sub-headings / sections to add notes under during the meeting. This is an easy and quick way to keep your notes organised.
- Quadrants: This is a simplified version of the Cornell note-taking method that uses four sections. These sections are dedicated to questions, personal to-dos, notes, and tasks to assign to others. You can easily capture all the important information as mentioned earlier.
- Mind Maps: For project planning or brainstorming sessions, mind maps can be a great way to visualise ideas. Using themes and ideas, you can connect information throughout the meeting but also, throughout multiple meetings on the same topic.
You can combine these methods to find what works for you. The simpler the note-taking method, the better. The ideal outcome is to capture key takeaways and to-dos while actively participating and listening.
Record the Meeting
Recording meetings can be an easier way to ensure all important information is captured. You can also make use of audio transcription tools to extract meaningful notes from recordings. This is ideal for keeping everyone on the team informed, especially when working in a hybrid or fully remote team. You’ll also be better able to focus on making personal meeting notes if there’s a recording to reference later. Genei, a research and note-taking tool powered by artificial intelligence, now offers audio transcription to make taking meeting notes more efficient.