How to Write Better Meeting Notes: A Complete Guide
Emily Liu |
Aug 28, 2022 |
Aug 28, 2022
We’ve all had those days when it felt like the meetings would never end. When your calendar app sends notification after notification, sitting down for some actual work feels like a vacation and the contents of your meetings become a total blur. So how do you make sure you and your team members actually remember the meetings you hold?
While it’s nearly impossible to remember every single thing that happens in your meetings, meeting notes can fill the gaps in your memory and give your team the information they need to jump into action. With good meeting notes, you can get more value out of each meeting.
In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the benefits of meeting notes and explore how to make your meeting notes count.
What are meeting notes?
Meeting notes are documents that highlight the key points discussed during a meeting. There are no rules regarding what they need to include or what they need to look like. However, they should make it easy for you, your team members, and any other stakeholders to review what happened during a discussion.
Meeting notes vs. meeting minutes
Meeting notes are often confused with meeting minutes, but there’s actually a big difference between the two. Notes are informal, while minutes are heavily structured. For example, if you’re writing board meeting minutes, you’ll need to include details like the date and time your meeting was called to order, what motions were proposed, and the outcome of every vote.
While everyone can write and share meeting notes, meeting minutes usually need approval. This is because they’re often used as official records, especially for nonprofits and corporate boards that are required to keep them.
When you don’t need a formal record of your meeting, taking simple notes can streamline your workflow while still helping you document key ideas. This is a great way for project managers and business leaders to document everyday team discussions, one-on-ones, and strategy sessions for their team.
3 benefits of writing meeting notes
If you don’t need to write meeting notes, you may be wondering why you should. Notes can be extremely helpful for all types of organizations and all sorts of meeting topics. Here are three key benefits of writing meeting notes that may inspire you to make note-taking a habit.
1. Document important details
We’ve all had days when we forgot what a team member said as soon as your meeting ended. To keep this from happening, you can use meeting notes to keep track of all the must-know ideas and decisions from your discussion.
You don’t need a superhuman memory to keep key points at the top of your mind. When you need a refresher on a specific agenda item, all you need to do is search through a doc.
2. Spark action in your organization
Does anything important actually happen at the meetings you attend? According to 67% of workers, meetings often distract them from more impactful work rather than the mind-blowing collaboration sessions we want them to be. However, taking meeting notes can help you have more productive meetings.
Meeting notes keep your team accountable by documenting action items and who’s responsible for each one. Translation: more teamwork, less pointing fingers.
Plus, when everything you cover during the meeting can be put on the record, your team members probably won’t go on tangents about their weekend plans or bad client stories. You can keep your meetings on-topic and brief.
3. Keep your team on the same page
It isn’t always easy to get a team together. No matter what type of organization you’re in, there will always be people who for any number of reasons can’t attend. Not to mention, team members who are present may occasionally be too distracted to focus. Sharing meeting notes is an easy way to get everyone up to speed with the most important points from your meeting.
Meeting notes can also keep external stakeholders aligned with what was agreed upon. It’s always better to have an accurate record than a heated argument.
How to write better meeting notes: 8 tips
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take good meeting notes. In fact, your notes should never feel like a rocket scientist wrote them at all. The best meeting notes are simple, organized, and concise — complete with all the information your meeting guests may need in the future.
Whether you’re hopping on a Zoom meeting, using Microsoft Teams, or walking into a good ol’ fashioned meeting room, you can use these eight tips to write better meeting notes for your team.
1. Select a note-taking method
While there aren’t any rules about how you should take meeting notes, you don’t want your final document to be a jumbled mess. Even if your meeting was chaotic, your notes should at least be organized chaos.
To bring a bit of structure to your document, select a note-taking method that works for your needs. Here are a few popular options:
- Cornell method: This popular method breaks down your main notes section into two columns: a small one for keywords or main topics, and a larger one that allows you to expand upon each one. This is best used for meetings that can easily be broken down into sections.
- Mapping method: If you want a more flexible and visual way to take notes, you can break down your notes into a “map” that links key concepts with lines and arrows. This is a great option for creative strategy meetings.
- Quadrant method: If you want something in between structure and visualization, the quadrant method lets you visually separate your notes into four quadrants of a square. These four quadrants will represent your general notes, personal action items, action items for your team, and questions.
- Outline method: One of the most-used note-taking methods, the outline method breaks information into bullet points, usually with indents to indicate the relationship between main topics, subtopics, and key points. This is a versatile option that can work for any type of meeting, no matter the length.
Feel free to try out a few different methods during your next meetings to figure out what makes sense for your role, meeting topics, and writing or typing style.
2. Create a meeting notes template
When you’re jotting down notes, it can feel like everyone talks a mile a minute. People naturally talk faster than they type, and during a meeting, you don’t have the luxury of asking people to pause or slow down for the sake of your notes. Prepping a meeting notes template ahead of time is a simple way to boost your efficiency.
Your template doesn’t have to be as complex as a meeting minutes template. You can create a simple structure just by writing down the planned topics from your team meeting agenda.
If you have a recurring meeting that follows the same structure each time, like a monthly all-hands meeting, you can always copy and reuse your template. By using the same template for multiple meetings, your team members can easily skim the meeting notes to find the information they need.
Consider creating your template with digital apps like Google Docs or Evernote, or Figma. With these apps, you can edit your template with just a quick change online — no need to worry about physically erasing or rewriting anything during critical points of your meeting.
3. Designate a single note-taker
You don’t need more than one note-taker to gather an informal record of what’s being discussed. Designate a single person to write down meeting notes each time you call a meeting — even if that person is you. This allows everyone else to actively participate (or actively listen) during your meeting.
The designated note-taker doesn’t have to be the same person every time. By rotating the role, you can avoid burdening one person with the task (unless it’s part of their official role). However, the note-taker should never be someone who is leading or presenting during the meeting.
4. Write down attendee names
While there’s no need to annoy all your meeting participants with a roll call, it’s important to jot down the names of every person who attends. Your attendee list can prove to be helpful in a number of situations, such as:
- When someone who was absent has a question and wants to know who to reach out to
- When upper-level management needs to know who was involved in a specific decision
- When you need to go through a topic with people who didn’t attend and need to remember who was absent
Make sure to hop into your virtual or in-person meeting early so you can start taking names as people join in. This way, you can avoid scrambling to write people’s names when the meeting has already started — or freaking out when you realize you don’t know someone’s name and your mic has been set on mute.
5. Highlight key takeaways
Recording key takeaways is what meeting notes are all about. Each of your takeaways should basically be a “tl;dr”: clear and concise, without unnecessary filler.
In your takeaways, note the key decisions and main ideas from the meeting. However, you can always use your best judgment to determine if a point is important enough to include, even if it doesn’t fall into either of these two categories.
Your meeting notes should include enough key takeaways that people who didn’t attend can get the gist of what occurred. However, takeaways shouldn’t be so extensive that people feel like they’re sitting through a boring meeting just by reading your notes.
6. Record action items
Truly productive meetings happen when everyone knows exactly what they need to do. Write down action items as they’re discussed — give them special formatting or place them in a section of their own — to make it easy for attendees to review what they’re responsible for.
Action items should include due dates, as well as the name of the person in charge of the item. Even if multiple people will be working on a task or project, having one point of contact will keep your team members accountable and allow project managers to easily follow up.
Your meeting notes can also include action items to cover in your next meeting — for instance, new ideas that you want to vote on or project outcomes you want to discuss. These action items don’t need to be assigned, but they should be listed in a visible place so your team members can spot the items when they create the next agenda.
7. Don’t write everything word for word
No matter what you’re discussing, you’re probably not getting monumental information every time someone speaks. Trying to write down your entire conversation — especially if you’re trying to create a verbatim record — is not only difficult, but also completely unnecessary and not exactly helpful. Instead, focus on recording the information that your team will need to know – the key points, decisions, and action items.
When note-taking, you don’t even need to type out full words. Using abbreviations and acronyms can help you type in real time instead of constantly playing catch-up throughout a conversation. Just make sure you’re using shorthand that you can actually translate later. For example, if you won’t instinctively know that “tm” means “tomorrow,” don’t use it — or at least use a legend that lists the meanings of your abbreviations.
After your meeting ends, you can quickly change your shorthand to complete words so everyone else knows what you’re talking about, too.
If you need more than key points and action items in your meeting notes, you can always record your meeting or use AI note-taking software like Anchor AI to get word-for-word transcriptions.
8. Share your meeting notes
Your meeting is over. Your notes are all cleaned up. The final step to make your meeting notes actually effective is to share them with all your meeting guests, absent parties, and any external stakeholders who need them. This is essential if you want to reap the third benefit of writing meeting notes: keeping everyone on the same page.
If you want to make your meeting notes extra helpful for your organization, share them on a collaborative platform like Google Docs, rather than as a PDF. When you do so, you can directly assign action items to specific team members — and make sure they get a notification for it — and easily follow up. Plus, team members can comment to ask questions or suggest edits if they spot any errors.
Here are a few more ways you can ensure your team jumps on action items quickly, especially if they’re time sensitive:
- Send a notification to an appropriate Slack channel when meeting notes are ready
- Add action items to your project management tool, such as Asana or Trello
- Request that absent meeting guests confirm when they finish reviewing your notes
Automate effective meeting notes with Anchor AI
Meeting notes are incredibly helpful documents that can give your team members and external stakeholders all the must-know facts about your meetings — and they’re a whole lot more efficient than your standard meeting minutes. But while they’re not formal or rigidly structured, meeting notes should be well-organized and clear.
To take better meeting notes, choose a note-taking style that works for you and create a template before you join your meeting. Then, make sure you’re documenting key takeaways and action items, instead of writing down every word.
Want to take even better notes than the ones you can take yourself? With Anchor AI, you can automate meeting notes for your video calls and get complete, searchable transcriptions of your entire discussion. Our smart technology will instantly identify action items, speakers, and timestamps, so you can easily get more out of your meetings.
When your note-taking process becomes hands-free, your meeting attendees can take part in the conversation without worrying about missing a word. Check out the beta version to be one of the first people to try Anchor AI.