Did you know that learning how to take meeting notes can be a game-changing move for your career? Taking detailed and concise meeting notes will not only help you stay organized. It will also help you track important decisions and stay accountable for what you promise your manager, coworkers, and direct reports.
But what precisely do you need to include when taking meeting notes? How do you take meeting notes – should you just offer a shorthand version of what happened at the meeting? Read on to discover what needs to go in your meeting notes, as well as ten helpful tips for taking game-changing meeting notes!
- What are meeting notes?
- 10 practical tips for taking stellar meeting notes
- Key items to include in your meeting notes
- Benefits of taking notes in meetings
What are meeting notes?
Meeting notes are the record of talking points, decisions, and key insights discussed during a meeting. These points could include anything from important deadlines, to action items, to new ideas or topics that come up during a conversation. The key to taking good meeting notes is to include the most important details and keep everything well-organized and easy to read.
As a meeting productivity software company, we’ve studied and mastered the art of taking great meeting notes over the last few years. In this guide, we’ll share 10 best practices you can apply to make sure that your team is taking the most effective meeting notes possible!
Run efficient meetings, come to a decision, and get back to work.
Never misplace your meeting notes again! Having all your meeting notes in Fellow will allow you to link all your meeting notes to calendar events and easily search for specific talking points, action items, and decisions.
Why are meeting notes important?
Meeting notes are important because writing or typing things down forces us to listen and absorb the information that we are hearing. Recording information pushes us to analyze the information we hear, which promotes our ability to retain important information from meetings.
From a productivity perspective, you can refer back to your meeting notes to remind yourself of important deadlines, decisions or topics that you’d like to speak about at the next meeting.
Last but not least, meeting notes are a great resource to share with people who can’t attend a meeting, so they can catch up and get up to speed.
Are meeting notes and meeting minutes the same?
Before we do a deep dive into the 10 best practices, let’s review the main difference between meeting notes and meeting minutes: Meeting notes are informal and include the biggest takeaways from the meeting, and you can write them however you want without anyone else’s approval.
When you write meeting minutes, you instead create a formal, official document that lists every little thing that happened. Writing minutes means you have to follow a set structure and get a sign-off on the final product.
How to take effective meeting notes: 10 tactical tips
If you’re new to taking meeting notes, your first few times might feel like you’ve bitten off a bit more than you can chew. Maybe you don’t know what’s essential to include, so you write down everything, or perhaps your notes feel scattered and directionless. You can avoid both these traps with the below tips for taking notes in meetings:
- Experiment with different note taking systems
- Don’t write down your meeting word for word
- Find a meeting notes template
- Rotate the role of notetaker
- Document questions and answers
- Use the parking lot technique
- Assign clear action items
- Record and transcribe your meeting online
- Write a quick meeting recap right after the meeting
- Send your notes to all participants
1 Experiment with different note taking systems
There are many different formats for meeting notes. The way that your teammate jots down their own personal notes doesn’t mean that’ll work well for you. The best note-taking method for you allows you to write down the key points effortlessly and make them easily understandable for later. Below are four different formats you can use to start.
To use the Cornell note-taking system, you’ll divide your notes into two columns. The left side is where you’ll write main topics or key ideas. On the right side, you’ll go deeper on each idea.
In this system, you’ll separate your notes into a grid of four quadrants (yes, the same one from your high school math classes). At the top of each square, you’ll write one of the following headings: “general notes,” “team member action items,” “my action items,” and “questions.” You’ll write key meeting takeaways in the general notes section and dip into the other sections as the meeting progresses.
If your meeting leader is using a slideshow, see if they can share their slides with everyone before the meeting starts. This way, you can take notes on each slide or print off the slides if you prefer to write directly on them.
Meeting outline system
[recommended]: The meeting leader will likely share a meeting agenda with you before the meeting begins. In that case, you may want to look over the general topics you’re about to discuss and set your notes up to match them.
2 Don’t write down your meeting word for word
Not everything said in a meeting is noteworthy, so you don’t have to write everything down word for word. After all, many meetings are mostly conversations – why use all your energy to type up every single detail? Next time you’re in a meeting, try documenting the main discussion points as bullet points and creating tags for important points such as key decisions or insights. This way, you can stick to the main points and remain engaged with the conversation.
Pro tip: If you’re using Fellow as your meeting notes app, you can use the tags feature to track important takeaways!
3 Find a meeting notes template
Whether you’re recording formal minutes of a meeting or taking notes, a pre-built meeting notes template will come in handy. Your template will help you keep the same format for all your notes. This way, everyone who sees them will know exactly what’s where and what to expect.
Additionally, a pre-built template is the ultimate time and energy saver. Now, you no longer need to waste your precious time creating a detailed template before your meeting. Instead, it’s already built-in.
That said, if you can’t find a template that works for you, you might want to create a template of your own. To start, try mind-mapping everything you want to include in your template, from general notes to specific items. Once you have the basics down, you can start structuring your template. You can organize it exactly how you want and keep using it for years to come.
4 Rotate the role of note-taker
One leadership best practice we’ve learned from our Supermanagers podcast guests is to empower different members of your team to take responsibility for the success and efficiency of your meetings. If you want to take better meeting notes, it’s a good idea to assign and rotate the role of meeting note-taker. Ideally, a time will come when people on your team will volunteer to take notes and keep track of decisions in a collaborative manner. However, if you notice that the same person is taking notes over and over again, it might be a good idea to rotate this important meeting role!
5 Document questions and answers
It’s likely that if one person has a question, others are probably wondering the same thing. Writing down questions that come up in meetings and their answers is useful because when these questions arise while you are working on your everyday tasks, you can refer back to your notes without having to reach out and ask the same questions to the appropriate individual. Similarly, other members of the team can refer back to the meeting notes to find the answer.
6 Use the parking lot technique for future talking points
When taking meeting notes, you can create a section in the meeting agenda for any ideas or discussion points that you want to follow up on after the meeting is done. Some people call this the “parking lot technique” – a method in which you move talking points to the “parking lot” section of the agenda so they can be discussed at a later time.
7 Assign clear action items
Whenever an action item is proposed during the meeting, document the assignment, the context, who it’s assigned to, as well as the due date. Assigning directly responsible individuals for your action items with a tool like Fellow will increase accountability and productivity within your team.
8 Record and transcribe the meeting
Many video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet allow you to record your meetings. Later, you can upload the audio to a Zoom transcription service, and edit everything down into meeting notes. This way, you can pay attention during the meeting and, afterward, quickly separate the fluff from the important stuff.
You can share the meeting recording and notes with attendees that missed the meeting, so they can get up to speed quickly!
9 Write a quick meeting recap right after the meeting
One good practice after you finish taking your notes is to write a quick meeting recap of everything you’ve discussed while it’s still fresh in your mind. In this summary, you should include the most important points and any action items you or your teammates need to do before the next meeting. Your recap will be easy to look back on for any relevant future conversations.
10 Send your notes to all participants
After your team meeting is over, you should send a notes email or share the notes doc with your whole team. Doing so helps everyone on your team and especially anyone who couldn’t make the meeting. Your notes will let them see everything they missed without feeling behind during your next meeting. Additionally, if you miss any points, someone else from the meeting can add them into the document for everyone to see.
Key items to include in your meeting notes
Before you get into the bread and butter of your meeting, you’re going to want to leave space for the basics. Once the meeting starts, you’ll need to jot down all the most important items. Below are five things that should be included in any meeting notes format:
- Time, date, and place. Before your meeting goes into full swing, you should note its date, time, and location. This information will give you helpful context and detail when certain key project details were shared.
- Attendees. Writing down the names of your meeting attendees may seem a bit odd or redundant. In reality, a list of attendee names makes it clear who was in the room when big conversations were held. Pro tip: Often, the meeting invite that goes out beforehand includes everyone who will go to the meeting. Just copy these down so you don’t need to scramble to write every person’s name at the start.
- Agenda items. You can use your meeting agenda as a general guideline for your meeting notes. For each topic discussed, start a new section in your notes. Doing so will break up your notes better and make it easier for everyone to understand when you look back on them.
- Any questions discussed. Chances are that if a question arises during the meeting, other people besides the person asking it were wondering too. After the question is answered, you should add both the question and answer to your meeting notes. Doing so will save your team from having to ask the same question again at the next meeting. Instead, everyone will have the answers right within reach.
- Any action items or decisions made. This one might seem obvious, but documenting the main takeaways, next steps, and decisions ensure that your meeting notes will be a great, definitive source of truth for that meeting.
Benefits of taking notes in meetings
Although writing meeting notes can feel a bit tedious, the long-term benefits of good notes are well worth the effort. They’re basically a way for your brain not to suddenly go blank on everything that came up at the meeting. Below are more details of why note taking in meetings is so important.
- They document important details. Remembering every single detail from a meeting doesn’t come easily for most people. Meeting notes can bridge that gap. They create a written record of all decisions and actions made during a meeting. Even if your memories of the meeting fade, your notes last a lifetime.
- They fill people in if they missed the meeting. If one of your team members missed the meeting, they can look at your notes and not scramble to figure out what they missed. Your previous meeting notes can help everyone properly feel caught up and ready to participate in the next meeting.
- They help you retain information. All the way back in 1885, the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus tested how well his brain can retain information. This study is now known as the Forgetting Curve, named after the graph Ebbinghaus created to summarize it. The graph rapidly drops before flattening out since our memory rapidly loses a portion of any new information. If you take notes, you can let your brain forget just about anything – it’s all on paper for your next meeting.
Set up an effective meeting notes template with Fellow
Now that you know how to effectively take meeting notes, it’s time to test out your skills. To write well-organized, effective meeting notes, you’ll need a space where you can write, share, and collaborate on meeting notes. With Fellow, you can create your own templates and use a bunch of others to write meeting notes with your whole team. Forget scribbling down messy scratch notes – whether at the meeting or afterward, you can write effective notes in just minutes.