Best Practices

Meeting Notes: How to Take Better Notes in a Meeting

Jonathan Friedman
May 5, 2021
Meeting Notes: How to Take Better Notes in a Meeting

Imagine this: you're sitting in a meeting. You're hearing coworkers and higher-ups cover everything your team needs to accomplish this week. You nod your head and take meeting notes to make sure that you have a clear idea of what to do.

But, at the end of the meeting, you can't make out anything you wrote.

Many employees deal with this problem. They get so caught up in the meeting that they don't realize that they won't be able to comprehend the notes later that they put down. They think that they'll remember all of the acronyms and shorthand words that they put down.

However, that's rarely the case. That's why you need to learn how to take meeting notes.

Below is everything we will cover. Feel free to skip ahead.

What are meeting notes?

Meeting notes are exactly what the term implies: notes taken during a meeting. These notes give team members a quick reference guide to review important topics after the meeting. These critical topics could include successes, failures, goals, tasks, deadlines, motions, and more.

Taking meeting notes does not mean writing down everything word for word. This isn't a transcript.

Instead, it's a summarized guide that contains key points that every meeting attendee could benefit from reviewing. The goal with meeting notes is to make sure that you're keeping things simple while not missing out on essential details.

You want to make sure that other people can follow the notes that you're taking. So, keep the format simple and don't try to squeeze too much in the document.

What is the difference between meeting notes and meeting minutes?

Meeting notes and meeting minutes are similar, but they are not the same. Meeting minutes are much more formal.

On the other hand, meeting notes are for office reference. You, your coworkers, and company leadership are going to be reviewing the document as needed for information regarding expectations and news.

If you were composing meeting minutes, you would need to include information such as the following:

While some of this overlaps with meeting notes, much of it is unique to meeting minutes.

What to include in meeting notes

Whether you're the designated person taking meeting notes or you're taking notes for your own gain, you need to understand what kind of material you need to be looking for in a meeting. As we said, you don't want to write everything down. So, what should you write down?

We recommend focusing on the following topics as you're taking notes:

As you're writing your notes, make sure that you include everything that you need to know. If you have an assignment, write it loud and proud.

If you're writing meeting notes for your entire team, you should make sure to get down everybody's tasks and expectations. You can type everything up into a document or an email later. It doesn't have to be perfect now, but you should make sure that you're caught up on everyone's status if you're the designated recorder.

How to take notes in a meeting

Now that you understand what meeting notes are and what kind of content you should include in them, you should think about how you will tackle the next meeting you take notes at. Preparation is key.

If you're preparing to take notes at your next meeting, we recommend following these steps:

  1. Take notes before the meeting
  2. Don't write every word down
  3. Don't linger
  4. Focus on the actions
  5. Consider shorthand
  6. Use audio recordings
  7. Sum it up and send it out

Let's walk through your new note-taking process step-by-step.

1. Prepare before the meeting

If you know what the main topics of a meeting are before the meeting, take the time to write them down. At the very least, you can make a column or section for each topic and list what you already know.

Even if you don't have dates or assignments yet, it's helpful to get large ideas down. This will also help focus the meeting as your team goes down the list of items to cover.

The easiest way to get prepared before the meeting is by creating a meeting notes template for you to use at every meeting. It doesn't have to be anything extensive, but you should make a category for all of the things that you like to write in your meeting notes.

As you use the template, you can customize it to the categories and sections that you need.

Overall, you shouldn't worry too much. You're going to organize the information before you send it off to everyone else. It would be best if you were organized enough for you to understand while typing up the email.

2. Skip the unimportant stuff

Skip all of the unnecessary opinions, adjectives, and discussions.

If it's not relevant to the meeting, skip it. If it's a discussion about a topic, skip it.

Focus on the actions: assignments, deadlines, motions, votes, and the like. If someone is giving their opinion during a discussion, you don't need to write it down. However, you should write down if that individual casts a vote (although many teams document votes anonymously).

If you're ever in doubt, you should write it down. However, you may find that some things are worth omitting from the meeting summary that you send out to the group later.

If you wrote the information down, all you need to do is ignore it. But, if you end up needing the information and you didn't write it, you're at a loss. Write it down if you're ever unsure.

3. Be ready for the next topic

When you're in the meeting taking notes, you should always be waiting in anticipation for the next thing. If you're too busy writing details from the last topic, you may miss an important action. Your ears should always be ready to jump to the next thing.

If you happen to know what the meeting agenda is, this is a lot easier. If you don't see the meeting agenda, you should always be ready to divide up another new section for another new topic.

This is why we recommend creating sections beforehand. Jumping to a different part of the paper is easier than creating an entirely new section while trying to remember what you need to write down.

If you don't have the meeting agenda, you should section off your paper beforehand. Even if you divide the piece of paper into four squares and title them as you go, this helps separate content. It's better than scrambling to create a section that you weren't ready for.

4. Write down actions

As we said, you need to focus on actions. Decisions that the team makes together matter and your team members will want to look back on these decisions.

As you're focusing on actions, you can't simply write down what happened. You have to give detail.

For example, you don't want to write "we voted." Instead, you want to include these details:

Adding these details is not extraneous. All of these details are action items. They tell your team what happened, why it happened, who decided it should happen, and what should happen in the future because of it.

Please don't cut your notes so short that your team can't decide whether or not they voted for something. They should know all of the details about every action.

5. Handwrite if you can

To prevent formatting hassle and other computer woes, stick to old-fashioned paper and pencil. You'll be able to take notes anywhere on the page without having to remember how to format a comment or note onto a document on your computer.

Handwriting is especially useful when the meeting draws back to a previous topic. You won't have to skip around on a document. Instead, you just flip back in your notes to wherever that topic was and add the new details in.

6. Use shorthand

We highly encourage you to use shorthand when you write your notes. It may seem crazy, but using shorthand to write your meeting notes can allow you to write up to 225 words per minute.

Additionally, a meeting could take a turn to a different topic at any point, and you want to be ready for whenever that is. If you try to write every single word down, you're going to get lost quickly.

7. Record meetings

Some companies allow this and some don't. But it's worth asking if you can audio record meetings.

These audio recordings are great for keeping a legal record as well as referring back to if there are ever any questions about meeting topics and discussions.

Meeting recordings may seem unnecessary, but they can be useful. This is especially in larger meetings where several people are talking. But, it's also great when there is confusion about a note or detail.

If a team is unsure what they decided in a meeting, there's a recording to listen back to.

8. Share your notes

If your team is going to operate efficiently, everyone needs to be on the same page. This is why many companies have a designated note-taker during meetings. This person takes notes for everyone and then sends those notes off to the rest of the meeting attendees.

These notes serve as the official record of the meeting. Therefore, the individual taking the notes has to pay attention and somewhat multitask throughout the meeting.

Most companies share their meeting notes through email, but we recommend choosing reliable software that can help you organize your thoughts and documents. Having a platform where everyone can connect is better than relying on people to read their email.

We also recommend running the notes that you have taken by the leadership team. They may want you to add or omit something before sending them off.

Note taking tips

Finally, we're going to cover some effective note-taking tips. These will help you take the best meeting notes. In turn, these will improve communication within your organization and take your planning processes to the next level:

As you take more and more notes, you'll learn to make the process work for you. All you have to do right now is get started and give it your all.

Post-meeting communication

If your team needs to organize meeting notes and improve overall communication, you need high-quality project management software. Our software here at TrueNxus can help your team manage all of your projects and tasks.

If you're tired of discussions and notes getting lost in a crowd of emails, you need software that can keep up. That's why we made TrueNxus.

Try it for free today and see how it can transform your team's efficiency and boost communication.