How to write meeting minutes the correct way

You’ve likely heard of writing minutes for a board or staff meeting. But this is how you should be taking them down.
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A group of people having a meeting, with the near person taking meeting minutes.

If you’re in marketing, sales, or just volunteering for a local club or non-profit, you may be asked to “take down the minutes” of a particular meeting. Many assume that recording meeting minutes is an arbitrary process that varies by preference. While there is some truth to this, there are some best practices when documenting the discussion points of a formal meeting.

In my professional life, I’m an engineer who records the minutes for an automotive company and a deacon who uses Robert’s Rules for my local church. Having a reusable template for taking minutes formalizes what seemingly are important meetings. For those in marketing or sales, writing detailed minutes is also a great skill, as having a detailed record of your conversation(s) gives you something to refer to and reference for more personal follow-ups.

If you need to write minutes for a meeting now, or in the future, here’s what you quickly need to know … in 5 minutes.

Why are meeting minutes referred to as minutes?

As early as the 18th Century, the Latin term “minuta scriptura” referred to small, or minute, notes. So, the idea with meeting minutes is to write down the key points, not literally the minute-by-minute details. Sometimes, meeting minutes will include timestamps at the start and end of each topical discussion. However, taking minutes is meant to offer a summary of a conversation. While creating a transcript is meant to record a meeting word-for-word and is therefore much more comprehensive.

Sample meeting minutes template

Although the sequence and style of meeting minutes can vary widely, a good template for writing minutes should include:

  • Title – A succinct description of what the meeting is about, such as “2020 Shareholder’s Meeting.” If the meeting reoccurs on a regular basis, the title may stay the same but update the number each time. For instance, “Schoolboard Meeting #4.”
  • Date – Include the date(s) the meeting is held, and time(s) if applicable. Sometimes the date is combined with the title line.
  • Agenda – List the main topics, speakers, and activities planned for the meeting. Denote if some topics are tabled until the next meeting.
  • Attendance – At a minimum, include people present with their names, titles, and organizations. You can also include a list of absent people who were invited or expected to attend. When applicable, list members in order of their standing starting with President, Vice President, etc.
  • Key discussion – Describe the main topics discussed, key objective points, and any decisions made. This can be a repeat of the Agenda but with more detail. Keep notes grouped by topic even if the real-time conversation bounces around.
  • Action plan – Document who needs to do what, and when, after the meeting ends. For example, “Ms. Smith will contact the agency by the end of October to request an extension.” Including these next steps helps hold people accountable outside of the meeting room.

Other items that could be documented in meeting minutes could be the meeting format, location, special guests, or relevant attachments. You should also consider obtaining copies of each presenter’s slides to include with the meeting minutes.

What is the point of uniformly recording meeting minutes?

Sure, it’s not quantum physics to record the essence as to what occurs during a meeting. But writing minutes with a formal structure does allow for the following:

Accountability

Taking down minutes is a way of documenting proposals and decisions made during a meeting—it keeps all parties involved accountable. Sometimes, meeting minutes provide formal proof of business activity in audits or legal disputes. The same can be said for meetings involving government organizations or entities.

Some quick tips on taking minutes

To prepare meeting minutes, it is a good idea to prepare a notes outline before the meeting begins. Ask the meeting organizer for a copy of the anticipated agenda and attendance so you can follow along. Additionally, lean on the meeting participants to help you with documentation. Pass around an attendance sheet towards the start of a meeting. And grab a copy of the speakers’ contact information in case you have follow-up questions.

Also, highlight the main takeaways

In short, while minutes should always include some pieces of information (see above), there is no universal format to a minutes template. So if your boss does not provide specific instructions, then you have some flexibility in how to take meeting minutes. You can use paragraphs, bullet points, or a combination of methods to group information by topic.

Tips for virtual meeting minutes

A virtual meeting where a woman is leading a conversation, while another watches by and is likely taking minutes.
Even though many meeting have gone virtual, the formal approach to writing minutes should not change. Thanks to airfocus for this photo via Unsplash.

With the ever-rising popularity of digital meetings, there may be some question as to how to take meeting minutes remotely. The process is very similar to in-person meetings but here are a few tips for the differences.

  • Before the meeting begins, ask attendees to join the meeting formally for attendance purposes. Attendees should turn on their webcams if possible and make their display names show their full name. Also explain that only one person should speak at a time, with the rest staying muted, for best clarity.
  • During the meeting, leverage virtual meeting platform tools like voting, chat or recording to help log the proceedings. The chat, for instance, can typically be exported as a text file when the meeting ends. However, you will still be responsible for summarizing the meeting.
  • Afterward, consider saving a copy of the minutes in landscape mode for optimal full-screen viewing at the next virtual meeting. By exporting the attendance list, you should also have a list of email addresses for minutes distribution.

What NOT to include in the minutes of a meeting

However, a few items are not appropriate to include in meeting minutes. These include your opinions, subjective statements, and verbatim transcripts. There is also no need to rewrite the documents presented, as the originals can be attached to the minutes.

Robert’s Rules of Order minutes

If you really want to show off your breadth of minute-recording knowledge, understanding Robert’s Rules of Orders as they pertain to minutes can be important.

  • In addition to the title line, the introductory paragraph should describe the organization name, meeting type, date, time, and location.
  • Denote whether the previous minutes are read and approved. And list whether the key officers and/or sufficient members are present to hold a formal meeting.
  • For each motion, specifically, write out the speaker’s full name and action taken, and whether the motion is approved.
  • If the motion is decided by vote, include voting type and results. When relevant, include the names of those who second the motion. For example, the end of your minutes could include: “John Doe moved to adjourn the meeting. The motion passed with a majority vote and the meeting ended at 2pm.” The hour the meeting ends should be noted.

After the meeting, have at least the committee secretary review and sign the minutes. Then bring the minutes to the rest of the body for approval at the next meeting. Organizations that follow Robert’s Rules of Order may review the meeting minutes to ensure procedures are properly followed.

Final Minute

Meeting minutes provide important and high-level documentation of organizations’ activities and decisions. Properly writing them can be critical for holding everyone accountable for decisions made and tasks assigned during the meeting. At a minimum, your meeting minutes template should include title, date, attendees, agenda, topical summaries, and action items. And in general, Robert’s Rules of Order minutes will use more formal phrasing than other templates.

The best practice is to type up meeting minutes within 24 hours. Send the minutes to the meeting host and ask how they would like them distributed. Include a request for feedback on any incorrect or missing information.

This article was written by:

Margaux Krause wears many hats as an engineer, blogger, wife and mother. She believes there are not enough hours in a day so she leans on tools like schedules, to-do lists, and mom hacks. She shares tips for busy moms at her blog A Momma and her Flock. In the professional environment, Margaux works for a Korean automotive company and travels to South Korea annually when possible. She interacts with her Korean colleagues regularly over video conferencing, chat, and email.
Check out some of her other How-to’s, such as "How to create a vision board for 2021"at her blog.

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