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Effective Minute-Taking – Part IV: Minute Taking Q & A’s

The questions below are the most often asked when giving training on effective minute taking.

How long should we retain the minutes of each meeting?
That would depend on your organization and the type of minutes you are taking—whether they are for more informal meetings, staff meetings, quarterly meetings or a board meeting.
After you have given your chairman a chance to edit the minutes, do you give the minutes to other participants to edit?
It’s usually just up to the chairperson. The exception would be if there was someone you were quoting in the meeting, or if the chairperson wasn’t sure about something. In that case, he or she might say to you, “You need to go talk to Bill Smith directly and get clarification on that item.”
When paraphrasing, do you have to say something like, “Mr. Brown said such-and such, but Mrs. Smith responded another way.” Or could you just give the gist of the conversation without using the specific names?
With paraphrasing, it is suggested that you would still use the initials, so you can keep track of those—as long as they are not formal minutes, for which you are really supposed to abide by formal names.
To what extent do you paraphrase when you are taking minutes? Sometimes the conversation goes off topic, and you don’t know what to write.
This is the hardest part. You should always be listening for an action, a clarification or a requirement.

For example, this comes up when you are working with new clients. They are rattling off tons of information about their organization and what they want in their training. So when you are listening, you should always be listening for key words and phrases.

It’s similar when you’re sitting with a group in a meeting. Jot down key phrases—even if it’s only a couple of words. Anything that has to do with an action or a viewpoint is worth writing.

What you’re capturing isn’t “Bob was really upset about the new project.” Rather, you should be capturing Bob’s comment about the project, that he feels it’s going to be too big an investment or that the company won’t get a return on its money.

What if we don’t understand a term they are using during the meeting?
Ask the person who is using that term if he could please repeat it or spell it for you. If it’s an acronym, ask, “What does that acronym stand for? I need to put that in the meeting minutes.”

It just takes courage to speak up in that meeting. Feel confident about the role you play, because it will impact what is happening after the meeting.

If you cannot get a word in edgewise, write down what you thought you heard, and then afterward go to that person and ask about it.

It’s hard sometimes to know how to interrupt to clarify or even to check whether a motion has been recorded accurately. What is the proper way to do that?
The proper way and the best way is to say, “Excuse me, John.” If you are not comfortable using first names, I would say, “Excuse me, Mr. Rule, I need clarification on that point” or “Excuse me, Mr. Rule, can you repeat that information so I can make sure I have captured it accurately in my notes?”

You just have to speak up, and it’s your tone of voice and your volume that convey confidence.

I do informal staff meetings. Am I just supposed to generalize what was said on each topic? Or, do I have to say, “Christine said this” or “Marge said that”?
A narrative style means just including a generalization, a conclusion or an overall statement. Where you go into the detail is in writing about action items.
In several of our meetings, people have gotten into arguments. How do you deal with that? Do you capture it?
You need to get comfortable about just sitting there and letting everyone finish hashing out the idea. Sometimes you might say, “Joan, I think this is what Dave is trying say” or “Dave, I think this is really the message Joan is trying to say.” So it’s good if you are comfortable in facilitating that discussion and getting them back on track in that way. Otherwise, they’ll have to get themselves back on track, but that could take a while. You could capture what they’re saying, put their initials by it, then ask a clarifying question: “Are we going to go with this route?” That will bring them back and get them focused.
We do formal board meetings with up to 40 people. Would you suggest we have two people taking minutes in a situation like that?
It would be good if you could position yourself at one end of a U-shaped table and someone else toward the bottom of the U. Also, if you’re allowed to do audio, you could set up two or three audio units around the U as back-up.
I am a minute-taker, but I also participate in the meeting. Sometimes I have a problem keeping track of my minutes when I’m talking and trying to take minutes at the same time.
When you’re expressing your ideas, immediately jot notes of the key words you have said. Then quickly, right after you are done, jot the two, three or four key ideas or words that you mentioned. As soon as your meeting is over, go back and add your details. The key word is “immediately.”
I do formal board meetings, and when I am doing the final minutes, I often have to write, “Supervisor Well said this” and “Supervisor Moody said that.” How do you get away from writing “Supervisor So and So” 20 times?
Go to your chairperson because it is ultimately what he or she is comfortable with. When it comes to formal minutes, there are usually standards set. Hopefully, you get to a point where you could just put the person’s last name or initials.

Even though we’re in a more casual world, some organizations still want the formality that we had 15 or 25 years ago. You may have to use your good persuasion skills to explain why they should update their standards. Say something like, “I could cut my time by 25% by using only last names, which means I’m going to get the minutes out faster and move on to my next project.”

I take the formal board meeting minutes, and in our organization I have always been told not to use names.
There are some organizations that want that and others that don’t. The way it should be looked at is, down the road if there were a legal situation, how critical would it be for me to know which board member said what? I look at the potential impact of things down the road.
Note: Try to use the DHS Meeting Agenda and the DHS Meeting Minutes templates located on the InfoNet, or something similar to them.