What are meeting minutes and why are they necessary?

A 2019 Guide: How to Write Meeting Minutes Effectively

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Meetings are simply a necessity for an organization or a business. Meetings are essential to a company's growth since it fosters collaboration and creative ideation from different perspectives, and ultimately should provide direction for an organization and its constituents. Meetings bring people and ideas together so that an organization's directives are understood clearly and action steps are determined properly.

However, these meetings may prove to be ineffective if the participants are unable to retain the information that was discussed. To make sure that the information gained from these meetings isn’t lost, companies have made use of meeting minutes in order to maintain, and possibly increase, company productivity.

This guide will help you determine the importance of meeting minutes, what tools are needed, and how to effectively write them. Feel free to navigate quickly to the section most helpful to you:

What are Meeting Minutes/Meeting Summaries?

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Meeting minutes, also called meeting summaries, as the term itself implies, are the written records of a meeting or hearing. They typically summarize and describe events in the meeting, and note down important agenda discussed and agreed upon by participants. It is an indispensable tool for all types of organizations dealing in all kinds of things, from corporations looking to expand their businesses to courts hearing their many cases.

The term meeting minutes was first used in the early 18th century, and possibly came from the Latin term “minuta scripture”, meaning "small notes." In this case, the word "minute" in meeting minutes references not time, but rather something small or something condensed, (the my-newt pronunciation of minute). To summarize, meeting minutes are called such because they are small notes recording what happened in a big meeting or event.

Why Use Meeting Minutes?

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At a glance, making and having meeting minutes may seem unimportant. After all, it does take time and resources, however small, to make them, thus subtracting time that may be better spent in directly assisting an ongoing effort. However, this is a rather shallow view of meeting minutes. Meeting minutes do not hinder efforts; rather, they help make efforts go off as flawlessly as they can.

Unconvinced? Then, imagine a corporation looking to expand their business beyond their current one. Having made many meetings and interviews with shareholders, investors, and potential customers to discuss the feasibility of the undertaking and having determined that their plan has merit, they are now in the planning phase. Suppose that this organization did not have anyone write meeting minutes, and only requested transcripts of these meetings and interviews — what would then happen to the next phase?

No doubt, all decision-making that has to be done would be done at a snail’s pace – or even worse – due to the fact that all decision-makers and their teams have to read the transcripts in their entirety and listen to the audio recordings of all meetings and discussions to precisely understand the points discussed, the decisions to be made, and the steps to be taken. By the time that the corporation makes its move, their competitors would already be in a better position than them and might have even made further inroads into expansion.

In effect, precious time was lost in trying to establish that base of knowledge essential in making decisions. Time, that would have been better spent filling out all gaps in their plans and streamlining all processes so that everything would be polished and ready for implementation, was wasted.

While transcripts themselves are good and all since they contribute to faster digestion of data, they still contain thousands upon thousands of words and banter that ultimately contribute nothing to the effort being made. Having many transcripts would still inundate even the most determined of readers. After all, no one has the time to read, say, 100 pages of a transcript. Not only is it boring and tiring, it is also infeasible to do so, what with the many other tasks that one is no doubt supposed to accomplish. This is where meeting minutes come in.

Meeting minutes allow all important decision makers and their subordinates access to the most pertinent things tackled in meetings and discussions and interviews — speeding up digestion and understanding of data. Effectively-written meeting minutes go above and beyond even these effects and can essentially propel an organization further above the food chain.

One, then, can consider meeting minutes, along with transcripts, as two of the most important tools for success in any given organization or company. The two tools wonderfully augment and increase the degree of the effectiveness of each other. Due to the shorthanded way in which meeting minutes are written, it is inevitable that some data is excluded in them or only mentioned briefly or offhandedly. Having transcripts would allow people to look at these data even further and clarify what was said in meeting minutes.

What are the Tools for Creating Effective Meeting Minutes?

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The tools for the creation of good and effective meeting minutes vary from organization to organization, business to business, and corporation to corporation. After all, different organizations have different preferences and needs. What tools may work for one organization may not work for another, and vice versa.

With that said, all of the tools in use by organizations and companies today in making meeting minutes fall under two broad and differing categories: Manual and Electronic.

Pen and paper (Manual) - pen and paper (or quill and ink and paper, depending on the time frame one is talking about) has been in use for many centuries now, and for good reason. It isn’t expensive to prepare, and requires little technical know-how aside from being able to write fast and legibly. It does have a few disadvantages. After all, it is a somewhat longer process to have manually-written meeting minutes disseminated, as everything – from reviewing the contents to checking for errors and corrections – has to be done manually, and also has to be scanned and printed or faxed. All of these steps takes time to do.

Electronic device (Electronic) - the term electronic device covers a lot of ground but here, it is used to refer to any and all electronic devices that can record notes, including computers, laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. Electronic devices have the advantage of being easy to use, being highly customizable thanks to applications such as Evernote and Minute, and overall being more convenient than taking notes manually. Many applications that can be installed and used allow for faster sharing of meeting minutes than having them be scanned, printed or faxed.

The two abovementioned categories have their own advantages and disadvantages, although many organizations have now foregone making manual notes in favor of electronic ones. There are, after all, many advantages with electronic ones, one of them being the easier dissemination of pertinent data. However, what it usually comes down to in the end is preference and need. It is not important to conform to other organizations’ standards when it comes to using what tools to create meeting minutes; what matters is what works for you and your organization.

What are the Types and Formats of Meeting Minutes?

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There are many different types and formats of meeting minutes and they all vary — one organization may use a different format from what is being used by another organization. These types and formats depend on things such as their needs, preferences, and available tools and stylebooks used. There are, however, various elements of meeting minutes that are indispensable and are thus universally taken down. They include:

  • Name of the organization – this is extremely important for those who received meeting minutes so they can remember who they received it from.
  • Date – the precise time and date the meeting itself was made. Readers can easily know which meeting a meeting summary is referring to, as there can be many meetings in a single day.
  • Topic – the main reason why the meeting was held, different from agenda, in that this is broad and encompasses the overall topic/s talked about.
  • Attendees – a list of everyone who attended the meeting or discussion, whether physically or electronically. This includes not only the name but also the designation of the attendees. It is useful for distinguishing between who was able to participate and who was not able to.
  • Absentees – a list of all participants who were not able to attend the meeting or discussion. The name, role, and reason for absenteeism is often noted down in this section of the meeting minute, so as to provide a clear-at-first-glance reason for why prospective attendees were not able to attend.
  • Agenda at hand – this is the main agenda that was forwarded at the beginning of the meeting which then formed the main focus of the discussions.
  • Issues raised – the main issues raised and presented by attendees. This includes not only the issue itself, but also the "Why?" and the "How?" part of it. The name of whoever raised an issue is also written down for posterity and faster understanding of data.
  • Suggestions – suggestions made by attendees to resolve whatever issues and concerns were discussed. The name of people who made suggestions is often written down and included.
  • Decisions – this section notes down any and all decisions made during the meeting.
  • Task List – this section notes down the tasks given to specific attendees of the meeting and/or members of the organization.
  • Future Meetings – this last section notes the date and topic of the next meeting to be made by the organization and may also include prospective attendees of these next meetings and other pertinent information.

Similarly, different classifications of meeting minutes exist, thanks to the different stylebooks used by different organizations. Nevertheless, there are indeed common classifications, and these are:

A. Standard summary

Standard summaries, also called discussion minutes, are meeting minutes which are often lengthy due to one reason: they record literally all of the discussion that happened in the meeting, even those which may not be important to the agenda being discussed, hence the term "discussion minutes." They contain not only the decisions reached but also the actions needed to conform to those decisions. They are used by many companies due to the fact that they take an accurate record of all that was done in the meeting while still being short and concise, although admittedly not as concise as executive/action minutes, the other type of meeting minutes.

Standard summaries, however, do not include personal comments made by attendees, as these admittedly make no difference to the agenda/s being discussed and as such are mere filler. Standard summaries are often used for committee meetings, management meetings, staff meetings, and other similar meetings.

B. Executive summary

Executive summaries are also called action minutes for one simple reason: they get to the action quickly. What that means is that executive summaries exclude any and all discussions that led to decision-making, opting to finalize the tasks to be done and only record the decisions reached and the actions to be taken. Thus, they provide an overview of the decisions made within a meeting that is indispensable for decision-makers who would appreciate shorter summaries because of having many other tasks to look after. Executive summaries are shorter and more concise than a standard summary. Executive summaries are uniquely suited for meetings like board, council, or hearing meetings, as the shorter length allows for a more concise summary while still keeping relevant information in.

As noted, both classifications of summaries have different uses and are uniquely suited to different types of meetings and discussions, although this is not a set rule that must be followed, as some organizations prefer having only executive summaries due to its conciseness and easy-to-break-down-and-understand nature. On the other hand, others prefer using standard summaries because they are short and simple – in comparison to transcripts, that is – while still having important data. Again, as with the format, it all too often depend on the needs and preferences of a given organization.

Who Creates Meeting Minutes?

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Anyone in an organization can be tasked with creating meeting minutes, but oftentimes, this task is delegated to people who know how to summarize data points effectively. The following are some of the people who often write and create meeting minutes:

A. In-house typists/professionals/corporate secretaries/executives

The above category is a blanket category meant to include any and all personnel who are directly employed by an organization that has tasked them to create meeting minutes. These include people such as in-house typists, professionals, corporate secretaries, and even executives themselves. These people have the advantage of playing in the home field, in a sense; since these people are directly employed and work under the organization itself. They have far greater access to the data that is needed to create effective meeting minutes than, say, an outside meeting minutes service. These people are often good typists able to write fast and legibly, have good organizational and summarizing skills, and are often well-versed in the topics discussed by the organization they are directly employed by.

However, these people are expensive to maintain. Not only do they have to be regularly paid and given such things as bonuses, leaves, and whatnot, but they are also required to be given their own workstations, office space, and other such resources. In effect, they represent a constant and ever-present drain to the resources of a given organization.

B. Court Reporters

Also called court stenographers, these are people employed by courts to produce and create official transcripts of court hearings, depositions, and other official proceedings. These individuals use recorded or spoken speech to do their job.

Court reporters are often tasked not only to produce transcripts but to make minutes from these transcripts as well. Thanks to working in the legal setting, these people are well-versed in legal jargon and are experts in writing text that will be used in the legal setting.

Court reporters directly employed by courts share the same disadvantage as in-house typists and corporate secretaries as they also have to be provided with their own office space and regularly given salaries, bonuses and the like.

C. Meeting Minutes Service

As the name implies, these are services that offer to create meeting minutes for you. These types of services can be found aplenty, and many offer good rates along with features that provide the ability to customize meeting minutes to any desired format or type.

It is often far more inexpensive to outsource the work of producing meeting minutes to these kinds of services than it is to have in-house personnel do it. Since the work is outsourced to the meeting minutes services, paying the employees along with the other costs associated with building workspaces and its subsequent upkeep is no longer needed.

Meeting minutes services also employ professionals dedicated who are experts in creating such notes and will produce better, more concise and eligible meeting notes compared to minutes produced by in-house personnel.

How are Meeting Minutes Done?

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Some people find the task of writing meeting minutes to be a daunting one. This is not wholly unjustified since not everybody comes equipped with the skills needed to create concise, brief, yet perfectly understandable and usable meeting minutes. Thus, this task is usually given to those who are equipped with these skills. Anyone with the proper mindset and the willingness to learn can write effective meeting minutes with some practice. Here are some tips for a more effective meeting minutes:

  • Pre-meeting planning -
The first step to be taken in writing meeting minutes is to of course prepare everything that will be used to write the meeting minutes. This means opening any and all applications to be used ahead of time, setting aside a notebook or a pad of paper with which to write the meeting notes, and other such essentials. Confirming what type of meeting minutes should be made along with any other instructions such as whether to record all motion movers by name and the like is also essential. Lastly, preemptively preparing the template should be done.
 
  • Participant Attendance Sheet -
An attendance sheet for the participants to fill in is often given out before the meeting or discussion starts. Not only does an attendance sheet give meeting summary makers the complete names of the attendees (useful for filling out the attendees section of the template), the attendance sheet itself can also be attached to copies of the meeting minutes that will be distributed later on.
 
  • Record or note down every motion -
Any and all motions proposed, including the first motion which puts forward the agenda to be adopted in the discussion or meeting, must be noted down, and the results – whatever it is – recorded. While the name of whoever proposed a motion is often included, this is not a hard and fast rule that requires strict compliance as it can be sufficient to write only that a certain motion was forwarded, although it is far easier to simply note this down all the time so that it is properly recorded.
 
Such information as who voted to second the motion and who did not is often included as well, although sometimes it may be sufficient to include only the voting tally, depending on whatever instructions were given. Decisions reached by a roll-call vote require individual votes to be recorded by name. The names of reports and presentations given, and the name of whoever gave them, must also be taken down.
 
  • Keep a copy of all presentations -
After the meeting or discussion is adjourned, it is often best to go around the room and ask for a copy of any and all presentations made so that a copy can be included in the meeting minutes to be disseminated. This time can also be used to finish up the attendance sheet by recording the names of any latecomers to the meeting.

Conclusion

The processing of information has always been an important aspect of running a business or organization, but it is doubly more important in this day and age where the speed of processing information often decides who takes home the bacon, so to speak. Meeting minutes help organizations and companies process information quicker.

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