Meeting minutes constitute a legal record of a meeting. They effectively provide a snapshot of business accomplished during a board meeting, and should not, therefore, manifest as a verbatim transcript. However, regardless of pre-meeting intentions, minute-takers often struggle with organizing whatever they were able to get on paper into a comprehensive record of the meeting. The promise of such an official document may seem unbelievable – even laughable – at the close of the meeting when you’re looking over the messy pages of scrawl that you jotted down. To best convert your notes into an official record of what transpired, it is wise to break the job down into three components: (1) expanding on the setting; (2) summarizing the work accomplished; and (3) creating an action plan.
It is your job to convey to readers exactly what circumstances surrounded the meeting – what stage directors call the mise-en-scène. You simply need to provide the information to answer the questions “Where?” “When?” and “Who.”
The first two are easy: “Where?” and “When?” You need not add anything to what’s on the agenda; when you type up the minutes, you will just take the time and location of the meeting from it. The only thing you need to highlight in your notes is the actual start time of the meeting, if it differed from the time announced on the agenda.
Reporting those in attendance requires more attention. As recording secretary, you will have gotten the names of everybody in attendance – either on a sign-in sheet or by checking off their names from a list. For the minutes, you will need to include all of those names (with correct titles and spellings). Break them down into two sections for the minutes: “members attending” and “others attending.” Then check the “members attending” list against the full list of members to generate a list of members absent, which you should note in the minutes. Finally, add in the minutes whether a quorum was present, indicating exactly who was authorized to serve as proxies for voting members.
The most useful minutes record actions taken on issues, which are easy to lose sight of in the parade of personalities that can dominate the mood of a meeting. Looking over the “new business” and “old business” sections of the agenda – alongside your notes from the meeting – create a list that tells readers:
Summarizing will be a little different for the part of the meeting devoted to public input. Here, you want to back off from a verbatim accounting, and you certainly don’t want to record each blow in a he-said-she-said altercation. To stay on track, be sure you have the full name of each speaker. Then zero in on the main points that each made.
The key discipline at this juncture is not getting bogged down in too much detail. Think about what would help you as a reader looking back at the meeting a month in the future. In your notes, use arrows or underlining to draw your eye to the main points from each speaker. The idea here is to help you create a concise summary in the minutes – something that reads like this:
“Proponents pointed to the cost savings of adopting the software and the administrative efficiencies it would create.”
“But our clerks presently re-enter the exact same information on three different screens!”
AND CERTAINLY NOT:
“The town auditor spoke at length about why he needs to lighten his documentation requirements. He stayed at the office until midnight three times in the past month, which is too much to ask of him.”
Many boards (but not all of them) include a section that summarizes what follow-up assignments were made in the meeting. The chairperson might review that information at the close of the meeting. If so, your notes will already show what you need to know. If not, you will need to create a useful overview from scratch: Go back over your notes with an eye to answering the question: Who will be taking what steps (and in what timeframe) to move each issue along to its next stage? Pull all of those details into a newly created section that will conclude the notes themselves.
With these three steps, you can easily convert your meeting notes into a blueprint for concise minutes that capture the essential work done in the meeting. They will make it easy to see the forest from the trees as you turn to draft the minutes. Your notes may look like an overwhelming mishmash of digressions and non sequiturs, but you can transform them into a useful and presentable overview of the essentials using these guidelines.