How to take great meeting notes and create a meeting notes template

Emerald Nwanne
February 2, 2022
4
Minutes

Meetings are vital to effective communication and collaboration between team members; they ensure everyone is on the same page, accountable, and included, and they’re where decisions get made. But our memories are feeble and fickle things, and with so much going on in our personal and professional lives, it’s easy to forget who was assigned what and exactly what we’re accountable for before the next meeting. Crafting an effective meeting notes template can solve a lot of these issues.


Meeting notes are the essential pieces of information recorded during a meeting. When someone is assigned an action item, it’s recorded in the meeting notes. Is the project changing direction? That change is recorded in the meeting notes. Every relevant detail is recorded so that no one has to rely purely on their memory, which means nothing slips through the cracks. 


Meeting notes aren’t meeting minutes. Though meeting notes and meeting minutes are sometimes used interchangeably, they are slightly different. 


Meeting notes and the strategies for collecting them vary; what works for one team may not work for another, but that’s okay because there isn’t one predetermined way to record meeting notes. Meeting minutes, on the other hand, are a lot more formal and do follow a set structure. It’s up to you and your team to determine if meeting notes or meeting minutes are right for you. 


Learn more about the value of meeting notes, how to take meeting notes, and how to create a meeting notes template that your team can use over and over again. 

Why taking meeting notes is important

Taking meeting notes is vital to a successful meeting. Without meeting notes, who’s to say what was accomplished or agreed upon during the meeting? Our memories simply aren’t reliable; a couple of days after the meeting, participants may have a completely different impression of who is responsible for which action items or which key ideas are currently being pursued. 


Meeting notes collected by a single participant provide one source of truth; they document precisely what was discussed during the meeting. Rather than relying on memory, meeting notes are something concrete that can be referenced later if anyone has questions. They highlight key action items that require follow-up, and they’re a space for recording feedback about the meeting that can be saved and used to improve processes.


How to take notes in a meeting

Great meeting notes start with great meeting agendas

From one on one meetings to all-hands meetings, clear and collaborative meeting agendas are vital to the success of any meeting. 


Effective meeting agendas clearly explain the objective of the meeting, talking points, discussion topics, and outline how long the meeting should take. An agenda provides necessary structure so that each team member asked to attend can get on the same page about what the meeting will entail and what is expected of them. 


The meeting agenda can also provide structure to meeting notes. The team member assigned to record the meeting notes can use the agenda as a guide. 


The notetaker can create a meeting notes document with the same structure as the agenda. Using the previously agreed-upon objectives and discussion points as headings, they can record the notes underneath. How was the discussion point resolved? Using the agenda as a guide structures the meeting notes in an easily digestible way that provides clarity to participants as well as those who could not attend the meeting. 


Capture action items, owners, and deadlines

Recording action items, the deadlines for those items, and who is accountable for them is one of the most essential aspects of taking meeting notes. Simply noting that a task needs to be completed is not enough. The who and when of an action item is vital to ensuring accountability


Once an action item is determined and the owner and deadline agreed upon, it’s a good idea for the meeting facilitator to check in with the notetaker to make sure those details are recorded. If a notetaker records an action item but they are unsure of who to assign it to, they should speak up and ask for clarification. During the meeting is the time to make sure these details are documented. 


Avoid writing things down verbatim

You don't need to record everything word-for-word. This makes meeting notes difficult to understand and sort, and you’ll end up with a lot of random bits of conversation when what you really need to focus on are the ​​key points discussed, outcomes, and action items. 


If the notetaker is too focused on recording every single thing, they’ll get tied up trying to remember what someone just said rather than focusing on what’s currently being said, which means they’ll get lost very quickly, and key information will be missed. 


A meeting isn’t a courtroom, and the team member recording the notes isn’t a stenographer. Decisions must be recorded, but ice breakers or a team member’s witticisms, while entertaining, do not need to be written down. 


Make sure notetakers focus on the aspects of the meeting that matter most. Summarize and distill relevant information so that someone who missed the meeting can get an idea of what happened without having to read through every word spoken. What were the key takeaways? What outcomes were reached? What are the action items, and who is responsible for them?


Add screenshots, links, and relevant documents

Capturing notes digitally will allow you to easily share them with all attendees and anyone who couldn't make it to the meeting. But before sending out the notes, the notetaker can take the time to add relevant documents, links, and screenshots of slides or images shared during the meeting. 

Share notes with all attendees

After the meeting, notes should be shared with all attendees, including anyone who was invited but couldn’t attend. This will keep follow-up emails and Slack messages to a minimum, as anyone seeking clarification about what was discussed and decided in the meeting has access to those answers without needing to bother a coworker. 


Decide how and where you share meeting notes, and keep this process consistent from one meeting to the next. Don’t share Monday's meeting notes in Slack, Tuesday’s meeting notes by email, and Thursday’s meeting notes within the calendar invite. Keep things consistent so that the whole team always knows where they can find meeting notes after any type of meeting.


When it comes to meeting notes, figure out what works best for your team and stick to that system. You can continue to refine your processes but have a set of practices that everyone is aware of and can emulate, no matter what type of meeting it is.


Who is responsible for meeting notes?

How are meeting notes shared?

Where are meeting notes stored for future viewing?

What format are meeting notes taken in?

What essential information must be documented?


The following elements will help your team know what to track and give you a head start at crafting your very own meeting notes template that can be utilized from one meeting to the next.

1. Include meeting details

Every set of meeting notes needs to include key information that will distinguish one meeting from another. Create a system within your meeting agenda template for how you name meeting notes files and what essential information is included.


Are file names based on the date of the meeting or the team holding the meeting? Establish a system and ensure everyone follows it to avoid confusion and to make sure meeting notes are always easily searchable.


Your meeting notes template should include space to add the meeting date and time, who’s in attendance, and what the purpose of the meeting is. If it’s a large team meeting, you may not need to list everyone who attended but indicate which teams or groups were invited, such as “all-hands” or “marketing and sales teams.”

2. Follow the meeting agenda

Utilizing the meeting agenda is a great place to start. Your meeting agenda already has a clear outline of what will happen during the meeting, including discussion topics, important questions, and objectives. You can follow along with the agenda to ensure all key aspects of the meeting are being addressed and recorded in the meeting notes.


This strategy only works if you’ve already put careful planning into your meeting agenda. Work on your meeting agenda well before the meeting so that those involved can collaborate on the agenda and refine it. The success of your meeting depends on the effectiveness of your meeting agenda, and in many ways, the success of your meeting notes also depends on the quality of your agenda.


Without a clear agenda, notetakers may be left wondering what’s important, what will be discussed when, and what key objectives need to be recorded. 


📚 Learn how to build an effective meeting agenda.

3. Record questions and answers

Questions and answers are important to record throughout the meeting. If a question is posed in the meeting agenda, ensure the answer is recorded alongside it. If other questions come up during the meeting, these are valuable to record too.


There’s a reason the question was posed, and there’s a good chance other people have the same question. Recording questions and answers helps reduce repeat questions and informs anyone who wasn't able to attend about the information they missed.

4. Listen for action items

Action items should always be recorded within meeting notes. If any task or further action comes up during a meeting, write it down, and be sure to include all other relevant details, such as who is responsible for said task and when it will be completed.


Unassigned action items at the end of the meeting will likely be forgotten and carried over into the next meeting. Recording these details into the meeting notes will help everyone remember what they are responsible for and when each task is expected to be completed.


Make sure all action items are easy to see and clearly indicated within the meeting notes so that they won’t be missed if someone was to skim the notes. You want to make sure these stand out, so include a specific section in your meeting notes template for assigned action items.

5. Additional ideas, controversies, or things to check

Not everything discussed in your meeting is going to fit inside a box. When something of note happens, record it, such as an idea for how to solve a problem, a controversy or debate, or something that needs checking on before the next meeting.


Every meeting is different, so have an extra space in your template for miscellaneous occurrences that should be documented. If you think something may need to be remembered after the meeting or down the road, include it in the meeting notes.

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