5 Ways to Make Meeting Minutes More Manageable
Does your non-profit organization call on you to capture the minutes from leadership or committee meetings? If you’re looking for ways to simplify the process, take advantage of these 5 tips the next time you’re called on to record the proceedings.
The whys and wherefores
Well-organized strategic meetings begin before they start, with an agenda that outlines the topics for discussion. Whether it’s transmitted via e-mail or as an informal list in a text message, it’s meant to improve efficiency and get everyone on the “same page” (literally, in this case) so participants know what to expect and can prepare their questions or information in advance. The agenda also should itemize who’s expected to attend, including regular members as well as any guests.
If you’re the official secretary of your organization, you may be responsible for preparing the agenda as well as distributing it. When someone else compiles the agenda content, review it before you pass it along to ensure that all recipients will understand what’s expected.
Get to the points
Meeting minutes fulfill two important objectives. First, they record the proceedings so all discussions and decisions become part of the permanent documentation of your group. Second, they enable anyone who’s unable to attend—or not part of the meeting itself but affected by its outcomes—to catch up on what occurred.
You’re not expected to record a word-for-word transcript of every remark and reply. After all, this isn’t a court proceeding, in which every incremental comment holds official meaning. But if you’re going to take good notes, you need to apply your undivided attention to the task. That means no multi-tasking while you’re note taking, and that’s all the more important to remember if the meeting’s virtual, and you’re in the midst of potential distractions at home.
But it’s essential to capture every point of discussion, each call for a vote on an issue—and the outcome—and any plans or policies that emerge from the proceedings. If you’re concerned about capturing every nuance of the proceedings, record them. In a virtual meeting, that’s typically easy to do because the meeting platform itself includes the built-in ability to create an audio and video record, but you—or the person who instigates the online meeting—need to start the recording. In person, you can use a recording app on your phone or tablet, or even go old school if you have access to a pocket recorder.
Just as the meeting agenda should list the expected participants, the meeting minutes must itemize all persons in attendance, including their role in the organization. If you’re joined by outsiders, verify name spellings, titles, and other details. One easy way to simplify this part is to ask any guests for a business card. The attendance list also should mention any absentees. All these issues belong at the beginning of the finished minutes document, after you’ve noted the name of the committee, the date and time of the meeting, and where the meeting takes place.
The essentials of your minutes involve the meeting’s proceedings. What did the group agree to do or avoid doing? What outcomes will these decisions have in terms of further developments? Who’ll take charge of action or research? Which issues did you decide to postpone discussing until a later date, and when will they come up for review? What new business did you take up beyond the action items on your agenda?
At each step, connect the “what” with the “who.” In other words, it’s not enough to note that you decided to plan a new event or connect with another organization for a shared objective. You also need to make clear who suggested what. Who convened the meeting? Who called for each vote?
Put it all together
Before you create the document you turn in as the official record of your secretarial duties, find out whether you’ll need to submit an official set of minutes or just clear, thorough notes. You’ll find plenty of templates for your favorite word processing software, and these ready-to-roll files will include all the section headings you typically need, along with placeholders that indicate what kind of information belongs in each section.
If you’re concerned about following the formal rules of meeting organization as well as the equivalent structural expectations for minutes, take a look at the ultimate guide to the subject. Robert’s Rules of Order dates back to the first edition of the Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies in 1876. This enduring resource came about when one Henry Martyn Robert found himself responsible for conducting a meeting that he didn’t know how to lead. The official guide to parliamentary procedure that he created has become the formal resource to consult for proper meeting etiquette and conduct in the U.S.
Share the knowledge
Once you’ve crafted and proofread your minutes, it’s time to make them public. How you share them depends on the expectations of your group—and your committee. Many member-based organizations request their secretaries to distribute minutes first to everyone on the committee, including those who weren’t present as well as those in attendance.
But depending on your group’s rules and how you’ve decided to handle meeting minutes, your next step may be to ensure that they appear on a document repository on your organization’s website. Before you upload them, verify that you have the site access to do so. If you’re a website administrator, that’s a given, but if you’re only a sub-admin, your site privileges may not include document management. In that case, connect with an administrator, pass on your file, and verify that they’ve added your document to the site.
Additionally, your group needs to make an overall decision about the online status of meeting minutes. Do you make them available to the public? Every group is unique, and the answer to that question depends on the nature of your committee and its business. Otherwise, if you need to keep these documents private—either for all members to view or for even more limited access based on committee membership or other criteria—ensure that they’re uploaded with the correct permissions attached to them.