Optimizing Meeting Minutes
Following a meeting, you have to align your project team as quickly as possible. Meeting summaries should highlight important decisions, focus on remaining questions, and inform the project team of their tasks. Optimizing your notes is the key to sharing information successfully, and ensuring meetings aren’t a waste of time.
The following process ensures that the EightShapes team captures meeting notes consistently and comprehensively.
Step 1: Define your audience
Anticipate the recipient of your meeting summary, as this will impact your note-taking. To identify the audience, ask yourself whether the readers will be meeting attendees, people who didn’t attend, or a mix of both:
- Will you be sending the minutes to people who did not attend the session? If so, include context for each item within your document. For example, provide a top-level meeting summary within your notes to recap the purpose and the goal of the meeting. Identify roles and responsibilities for speakers and participants.
- Are these minutes intended for only participants of the meeting? If so, you may not need to list out each person with their responsibilities. Participants may be primarily interested in a task list of action items. However, including a high-level recap of the meeting would help to frame the context of the notes for anyone reading them at a future point in time.
- Will the audience be a combination of the two? If so, ensure that you have context for both groups. While it may be redundant to identify, your project team will thank you.
Once you’ve established your audience, prepare your plan.
Step 2: Preparation
Depending upon your audience, decide what format to use for your meeting minutes. EightShapes uses three different structures, depending on the style and purpose of the meeting: summary oriented, task lists, and journalistic.
Step 3: Outline
Using the audience, and your plan, you should be equipped to draft an outline of how you’re going to format your minutes during the session. For example, you know you’ll need to list: open questions (answered or not), desired outcome (was it met, or not), action items.
Your outline should include four placeholders:
- Summary: where you will describe the purpose and outcome in 2-3 sentences, or up to 5 quick bullet-points. You’ll include information about decisions made, final outcomes, what topics were deferred (if any).
- Attendees: where you identify who was at your meeting. You can fill this in tentatively with all the people invited. Optional: include which team or organization the participants represent (e.g. PJ – EightShapes).
- Action Items: where you will identify actions required as a follow-up to the meeting. Be sure to save space for information about who is responsible for the action, a detailed description of the desired outcome, and a due date.
- Minutes: where you will capture topics discussed during the meeting. Pre-populate the outline with potential sub-topics, including open questions (answered or not), desired outcome (was it met, or not).
Step 4: Capture notes
Using the outline, you can capture comments and decisions as the meeting progresses. To document the proceedings efficiently:
Include context in your bullet points. Remember that someone who wasn’t present in the room might read your minutes. For example, during a design review meeting, one of your proposals (Option A) is approved.
In reviewing the design concepts, Dan approved Option A, which will undergo revisions.
Include direct quotes, especially if the meeting is in a more conversational style. I’ve found that it’s often easier to just type what people are saying rather than try to boil it down.
[PJ] “Less than 10% of our original budget remains.”
[Dan] “Let’s communicate that to the client and prioritize our tasks.”
Step 5: Finalize and Send
Immediately following the meeting, re-read your notes for legibility and clarity. Remember, the recipients may not have been in the room for the conversation so ensure that the notes have context.
Areas to clean-up:
- Check any spelling or grammatical errors that may have arisen
- Revisit the layout and or organization of information.
- Inspect your formatting to align with your outline.
- Analyze your notes to ensure each item has context.
- Use color sparingly. Bold key phrases, but not whole paragraphs.
What are your best practices?
While there are always opportunities to improve efficiency in seemingly rote tasks, I’ve found the above techniques give me a great foundation. For me, the practice of organizing and defining my template ahead of time allows me to focus on accurately capturing the presentation without worrying about formatting.