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8 Tips for Taking Meeting Notes that Make Sense to Everyone

Follow these tips to take practical and helpful meeting notes your team will appreciate, plus a FREE template!

It’s the start of a new week, and there’s a kick off meeting to start your workday. Today, you’re responsible for taking the meeting notes. But what precisely do you need to record? Do you take detailed notes or 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 eight helpful tips for taking meeting notes.

What are meeting notes? 

Meeting notes are key points you document during a meeting. These points could include anything from important deadlines, to action items, to new ideas or topics that come up at the meeting. There’s no one correct way to create an informal written record of a meeting, though you can easily work from a template. The key to good meeting notes is to include the most important details and keep everything well-organized and easy to read. 

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Are meeting notes and meeting minutes the same?

Though you might sometimes see the terms “meeting notes” and “meeting minutes” used interchangeably, don’t fall for it! 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 sign-off on the final thing. Meeting notes are basically a way of saving time compared to meeting minutes.

8 practical tips for taking stellar meeting notes

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 meeting notes that you and your whole team can understand. 

1 Find a system that works best for you

There are many different ways you can take notes for a meeting. The way your teammate is jotting down their own personal notes next to you 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 templates you can use to start. 

  • Cornell system. To use the Cornell 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.
  • Quadrant system. 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.
  • Presentation system. 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. 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 out one of the above notetaking methods instead. This way, you can stick to the main points and remain engaged with the conversation.

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 Record and transcribe your meeting online 

Even if you’re meeting with your team in person, you can use virtual meeting tools for better notetaking. For example, many video conferencing platforms such as Zoom allow you to record and transcribe a meeting. You can run Zoom in the background solely to record what everyone’s saying – no need for video. 

Later, yoLater, 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. 

5 Choose someone to take notes during the meeting 

Instead of having everyone take notes during the meeting, it’s best for just one person to take notes. This way, more people will be active meeting participants and, over time, the whole team gets a turn at taking notes. And that‘s only fair. 

6 Write down names and important questions

If someone brings up a question or topic that might need more discussion, make sure you write down their name. This way, you can talk to them after the meeting for more information. This tip is especially important if there’s conflict in a meeting. Writing down names means you can ask people to discuss their side after the meeting to reach a final decision that works for everyone. 

7 Sum it up ASAP

After you finish taking your notes, you should 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. 

8 Send your notes to all participants

After your team meeting is over, you should send a notes email or shared 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 two basics and two types of meeting items you should include in your meeting notes. 

  • 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 notes section. For each topic discussed, you can 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. 

Benefits of taking meeting notes

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 taking meeting notes 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.

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Fellow is the meeting productivity and team management software where teams gather to build collaborative agendas, record decisions, and keep each other accountable.

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