I found myself this week taking minutes at the first meeting of a Board of Directors for a newly formed charitable foundation. The charity is a subsidiary of the Association I work for, so the folks involved all knew each other and taking minutes is not a new task for me as I am the staff liaison for three other committees. But as it was the FIRST meeting and I suppose I was a bit more anxious than usual. So in preparation, I reviewed some best practices. This is how I take minutes.
Model the agenda: Minutes are a record of actions taken on agenda items so have a copy of the agenda with gobs of extra white space on which to take notes.
Capture the essential elements: Be sure to include information such the organization’s name, committee name, date, beginning and ending times, venue, chair or facilitator, those in attendance, those excused and whether a quorum was met.
Have a sign in sheet: or a check-off sheet so that the minute taker is not spending time writing down attendee names, especially with larger meetings.
Map the room: If your organization’s culture is to include the names of individuals making and seconding motions or if roll-call votes are held, have a seating chart so that you can ensure accuracy of those names. It also helps to assign seating in this case.
Keep it simple: I’ve heard several lawyers over the years tell me to stick to the basics. That is, to not include detailed notes on discussions but just the resulting action taken. The logic behind this is that minutes are discoverable and as the plethora of television shows have taught us “anything you say can and will be used against you”. My minutes are quite austere for that matter and I don’t record meetings.
Be quick: I schedule my day so that I have an hour the same day after each meeting to type up minutes. I also send minutes via email attachment to the appropriate committee members for their review within 24 hours of each meeting. I want the Members to be able to review the minutes while their memory of the meeting is fresh. Formal approval of course waits until the next meeting, a month or two later usually.
Destroy the notes: Once the minutes of a past meeting have been approved by the committee, shred your notes. Again, notes are a corporate document subject to discovery. If the minutes are carefully and thoughtfully prepared, the approved minutes without accompanying notes should satisfy any need to review past actions.
Above all, stay calm and do not be intimidated into long-winded note taking. Taking minutes of a meeting can be an enjoyable experience and finding the right balance between brevity and completeness is a hallmark of professionalism.