Most project teams don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated meeting note taker. The project manager usually has the responsibility of taking meeting notes while facilitating the meeting at the same time.
And it can be harder than it sounds.
During the meeting, the PM has to engage in conversation, read body language, understand subtle messages, ensure the discussion stays on point, be sensitive to time constraints, and capture the notes, decisions, and action items.
That’s a lot to do at one time.
My meeting notes were terrible
In my early days as a project manager, I tried to capture as much of the discussion as possible. I’d take my laptop to meetings and type and type. I’d sit at the table with my head down transcribing what everyone said, making little eye contact, afraid I’d miss writing something down.
I’d send out a long transcription that was time-consuming to read, and I was disengaged from the discussion.
I remember once going to a meeting and accidentally leaving my laptop at my desk. As a result, I wrote shorter meeting notes in my notebook. I was able to participate in the discussion more. And since I was actually looking at others around the table, I could read their body language. If Sarah furrowed her brow as we discussed end user software testing, I could ask about her concerns. The discussions included points we may otherwise have missed.
At the end of that meeting, one of the attendees shared that she preferred the level of engagement I demonstrated during the meeting.
It changed the way I approached note taking.
Great meeting notes must be balanced with other activities
In order to tackle all these activities at once, I’ve had to find a good balance for note taking during meetings.
I realized I didn’t need to write down everything that was said.
Yet I needed to capture enough information to demonstrate discussion points, decisions, and supporting information.
I began to distill my meeting notes down to better summaries of what was covered. These were much better than my long transcriptions. I was happy with the improvements.
Then one day I asked a peer to facilitate my project meeting while I was on vacation. He happily agreed.
When I returned I read his meeting notes. They were clear summary bullet points of what was covered.
I also read the responses to his distribution email, praising his great notes: they were thorough, yet easy to read.
Ouch. That stung.
But it was great feedback for me. The compliments were on point. My notes were too long and too hard to read. His notes were easy to consume quickly, yet covered the important points.
And yet again I changed the way I approached note taking.
How to take great meeting notes
If meeting notes are long and complicated, it’s difficult for people to review them. You can’t participate fully in the discussion if you spend the whole time writing.
You need a balance. For the best meeting faciliation and documentation, follow these tips:
- Take notes that summarize the points covered.
- Capture decisions.
- Capture action items, who is responsible, and due dates.
- Document who attended, date, time and location.
- Lay the information out in a way that’s easy to read.
Additional Information on Taking Meeting Notes
Here are some additional points about note taking and meeting preparation I’ve found work well:
1. Agenda: To ensure your meeting is effective and focused, prepare a clear agenda and send it out ahead of time. The Agenda should clearly lay out the following:
• Meeting Date/Time/Location
• Clearly Stated Meeting Purpose (ask yourself what you want to have accomplished by the end of the meeting. When the meeting is over – what do you hope to have attained? This is your meeting purpose.)
• Topics to be covered (you can also time block the items if needed)
2. By writing meeting notes in a notebook rather than your laptop, you’ll be more “present” and engaged in the meeting discussions. It’s also clear to others you’re paying attention to the discussion, rather than doing something else unrelated on your computer.
3. I use a modified shorthand method to capture meeting notes more quickly – I like Handywrite, but only use the most commonly used words. My shorthand is a mishmash that works for me.
4. I keep an Excel spreadsheet separately for a comprehensive list of action items and decisions. After each meeting, I simply drop the latest action items into my spreadsheet and update them from there when they are completed.
Templates and Sample Meeting Notes
Templates are helpful, but sometimes seeing samples can give a better picture. For this reason, I’m giving you both templates and samples, so you can see how the notes are actually crafted.
You’ll see I stick to the main points and don’t include a ton of discussion detail. This helps me focus on the meeting while still capturing important information. My goal is to capture high-level discussion points, decisions, and action items also while ensuring the meeting meets it’s intended purpose in the time allotted.
Let me know if you have questions. If you have information to share regarding what works for you. I’d love to know. Share in the comments below!
If you like this post, you might also like these other posts about meetings: