Ever sat down at your desk following a long, complicated meeting and looked at either a messy, incomprehensible scrawl of notes or a worryingly blank page where today’s meeting notes should have been? Fear not – many of us struggle for ways to take accurate notes in meetings that both enable us to follow up on our actions afterwards and make sure we and our team are up to speed before the next meeting. So what are some ways we can make sure our note-taking skills get better?
Before the meeting…
Establish the objective
This will, as a result, allow you to make sure your notes accurately capture it, helping structure your note-taking and give it focus. You could even start your notes with a series of questions, including ones that you want answered out of the meeting, to make sure that you cover them off in your notes.
Set a reference system
When it comes to writing your actions at the end of the meeting, you’ll often find that you’ll need to refer back to different places in your notes. Pick a reference system that works for you, be it coloured pens, asterisks or something else, and add a key at the top of your notes.
Use simple abbreviations
Long words, parts of the business, even names…often writing them out in full takes time and takes up needless space. If you can create an abbreviation (like ‘deadline EOP’ or ‘action with JS’) that you can remember, do so. If you can see a need for them, create a code at the start of the meeting allowing you to use abbreviations and refer back to them at the end (‘JS = John Smith’).
Check your supplies
Remember that awful feeling you get when you give someone a pen to sign something and there’s no ink left? There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at a meeting to discover either your pen doesn’t work or, worse, you’ve forgotten a notebook. Make sure you’ve got the kit you need in advance. Taking notes on a laptop or tablet? Check that it’s fully charged.
Laptop or notepad?
For some, taking a laptop into a meeting seems as natural as taking in a phone, which in turn seems as natural as…you get the idea. The lure of the WiFi code and subsequently the constant eye on your inbox, however, will inevitably distract your focus that’s already split by both listening and taking notes. If you prefer to type, disconnect your WiFi and turn on your out-of-office. One answered email is rarely worth an unfocused contribution and unintelligible meeting notes!
Recording the meeting?
Online meetings readily come with options to record them for later playback, but should you use it? If the meeting is likely to involve lots of in-depth team discussion and you will likely be more inclined to participate than observe, setting up a recording function will allow you to capture the events for later note-taking. If you still want to take notes, a recording of the meeting to cross-reference with later might also be useful, and if a certain key stakeholder isn’t there, having a recording available for them to listen back to will probably be appreciated.
During the meeting…
Listen, then write
Many of us struggle with the urge to just write everything down, not actually absorbing what’s being said. Instead of simply trying to capture as many words as possible, listen to what’s being said in full before attempting to write it down. You’ll likely find you can convey exactly the same meaning with just a few words, and you’re more likely to be able to latch on to what’s been said and respond with a smart contribution of your own.
Prioritise fewer words
This will have two benefits – you’ll be able to write faster and take more in while also not missing the end of the previous sentence. Spelling and grammar can come secondary to accurately capturing the point, as long as you think you’ll be able to understand what you meant when you review your notes the next day.
Make notes of who else is making notes
Miss a crucial point but spotted someone on the other side of the table furiously scribbling? Note their name down and consolidate notes with them afterwards!
After the meeting…
Review sooner rather than later
If you’re in charge of circulating the notes, get to the task sooner rather than later. If you don’t have time to formalise the notes right away, drafting a quick summary of the meeting’s outcome (referring back to the agenda you set yourself at the start) to get all your crucial learnings and thoughts down on paper will help get you in the same mindset to review the next day.