Meeting Notes vs Meeting Minutes

If you’re thinking of taking notes in a meeting, the first question is “Why?” Notes taken for yourself to boost your engagement, learning, and retention are best taken by hand, as supported by a robust body of research. Taking notes by hand slows you down and forces you to synthesize what you’re hearing, as you decide what and how to capture important points. Because you’re not just transcribing what you hear, but actually thinking about it, you are better able to see connections, ask questions, and conceptualize next steps. Pro tip: always keep your ACTIONS separate from your notes so you walk away from a meeting with a crystal clear checklist of things you are committing to do.

Taking detailed meeting “minutes” on the other hand, makes it nearly impossible for the note taker to fully engage in discussion. Sure, you can type a lot faster than you can write, and you can capture – often verbatim – a detailed stream of discussion. But to what end?

Unless your meeting is required (by law or policy) to produce detailed minutes, then you’re keeping them because… Why exactly? I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But you definitely SHOULD know why. Let’s not just take notes so that people can justify skipping the meeting by saying “I’ll read the notes.” Do we really expect them to read detailed notes? And do we want to revisit the detailed discussion if they decide to weigh in after the fact?

Productive meetings are ultimately about moving forward. So the most important aspect of a meeting is the action or next steps resulting from the discussion. That’s what you want recorded: next step action.

To maximize engagement of everyone at the meeting, dispense with taking “minutes” and instead take “Speed Notes.” Add a column on the right hand side of the agenda to capture “Actions.” Following discussion of each agenda item, wrap up by identifying who is going to do what, and write that in the Action column (eg: “•Tom will CALL Suzie regarding blahblah blah”). Speed Notes make it possible for everyone to be fully engaged in discussion while improving accountability and streamlining follow up at the next meeting.

How will this change your note-taking at future meetings? Let me know.

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