When it comes time to write the minutes of your upcoming municipal board meeting, what notes will you want to have in front of you? Without a plan, you will probably be horror stricken after the meeting when you actually face 10 free-form pages of your own frantic attempt to get down every word. With forethought, you can leave the meeting with a clear and accurate record of the significant actions taken. The trick is to prepare. Here’s how.
Work the Agenda
Most people attending a meeting skim the agenda passively to see which topics will be covered. Not you. Rather, you will convert the agenda into a scaffolding from which you will easily and accurately record what transpired at the meeting. For each item on the agenda, your mind anticipates the next step, asking: “What will I need to know about this item afterwards?”
Your answer to that question will generate the buzzword(s) that you insert into the agenda to create the notes template that you need. These prompts will force you, in the course of the meeting, to cut to the chase, getting down exactly what you need for the minutes – nothing more, nothing less. For each type of agenda item, certain predictable prompts will serve as your visual cue to take note of the necessary information.
As you will record these details verbatim from the agenda, this section is a breeze. You need only add one note-to-self: “Get exact start time.”
The call to order typically includes a welcome, any announcements and a roll call. As you mark up the agenda to prepare for the meeting, you need to prepare a way to record the roll call. You could prepare a sign-in sheet for attendees, or you could type out members’ names and check them off as they enter the room. The latter method has the advantage that you can confirm spellings and you don’t have to strain to read illegible signatures.
You will need to know more than just the names of those in attendance. Write in your agenda also:
The consent agenda will call for a single vote on the minutes of the last meeting and each of several committee reports – e.g., Finance Committee Report, Personnel Committee Report. By each listed item for approval, write down: “Amended?” and “Approved?” That will direct you in the meeting to get down the most important part for the minutes.
As any of these reports may be amended in the meeting, you should bring a copy of each with you (ideally electronically, though paper is easier for some to mark up). You can indicate the changes made right in the text; smoothed out, that document will become the amended version that you attach to the minutes.
The items in this section will be at different points in the life cycle of a topic. One may be a new proposal for which information is still being collected, while another may be ready for a final vote. Different notes are needed for items at these different stages.
Under the “pros” and “cons” sections on the separate sheet of paper, write down: “next steps.” It may be that the item was dismissed, tabled or sent out for more research. Or it could be that the group will vote on the item in a future meeting, which should also be noted in the minutes.
In the course of discussions, motions may be made and seconded. You cannot anticipate those moments going into the meeting, so you must be alert during the meeting to mark them conspicuously when they arise. Your accurate accounting of them is essential to creating a legal public record. In the meeting itself, you should ask speakers to repeat their motions to get them down verbatim.
The agenda should list each speaker’s name. This will be easy to prepare ahead of time if you required speakers to sign up in advance. By those names, jot down “points made.” There, you will summarize their remarks; it is not your job to create a verbatim transcript. If your meeting permits unplanned speakers, bring extra paper to record their names and points made.
Here, you have one job, and you can remind yourself right on the agenda: “Note exact time.” By preparing the agenda this way, you will easily get the notes that you need from the meeting. You will walk in armed with: your copy of the agenda (which has your prompts in big red letters); any added minutes or reports that may be referenced or amended; the list(s) of members’ names for roll call and vote counts; and extra pages for speakers’ remarks on discussion items. During the meeting, you will simply follow the cues you’ve created for yourself. Thus, the minutes will practically write themselves.