How to take meeting notes (template provided)
While for most things we get immediate feedback, that's not the case with meeting notes. If we do it poorly, we don't notice it right away. We will see it in the future, though, when we go back to these notes and not realise what we are supposed to do.
Why Take Meeting Notes?
When I first started working, I stood out among my colleagues because I would often take notes. Whether it was an official meeting (e.g., meeting with a prospective client or an existing one) or an informal one (e.g., gathering with my superior or a co-worker to decide next steps or new procedures), you would see me putting pen to paper.
Seeing me with my trusty notebook always at my side, a colleague once said: "Alessia is creating the company's Bible".
To an extent, he was right. I note things down because I do not trust my memory to remember the essential things said in the medium-long term. Writing is the medium to accomplish learning and research, to generate new ideas; it facilitates thinking and improves our understanding.
In meetings, the objective is to share knowledge to take action later and implement the decisions made, whether it is a new product or a new idea.
If you cannot remember what has been said, what you are supposed to do after the meeting or who is responsible for what, you just attended a 60 to 90 minutes meeting to then walk out of it with nothing.
How I Take Meeting Notes
To improve your meeting note-taking, I suggest you use a template. By creating an external structure in which we can think in, you will help our brain think better as you will not have to keep an account of everything that was said or who said it. Picture it as not having to fear writer’s block by staring an intimidating blank page.
When I take notes during a meeting, I tend to use pen and paper to create less of a barrier between me and whoever I am interacting. Even though our world has gone mostly digital and now have many tools at our disposal, going the analogue route will make you seem more engaged as you are not hiding behind a screen. Moreover, many people are much faster at writing than at typing, and in a meeting, you don’t have the luxury to ask someone to stop and repeat what they said because you did not manage to take it down. Regardless, my note-taking method is platform-agnostic so that it will work just as well with a digital tool.
When you are organising a meeting, one of the first things you do is send a calendar invitation. When sharing the invitation, it is good practice to share a meeting agenda. The best part of using a plan is to reduce your meeting note workload later on, as this will act as the skeleton of your notes.
Having a schedule will allow you to prepare questions in advance and be prepared for the meeting before it takes place.
Keep a record of the attendees
Noting down attendees is essential as it will allow you to refer to people, know what they are responsible for and, in the following meetings, you will be able to remember who gave you what information.
I take this a step further and include where everyone was sitting (or in case of a video call, which screen quadrant they occupied). As my visual memory is better than remembering people’s names, it helps me remember who said what. For this reason, I include a rectangle in my template, which represents either the table distribution or the call screen.
Note decisions, outcomes and action items
We schedule meetings to make decisions. So these should be recorded in your notes. To do so, I divide my page into three different sub-sections: Notes, Takeaways, Questions and To-Dos.
Here I record any context worth remembering for future me when working on the client’s project. These should be general remarks to provide you with a good enough picture of the situation. Let’s say that if this were a movie, it would be an establishing shot when, in the beginning, the director shows the audience where the story takes place.
Takeaways are the significant points of the meeting. These are the main objectives and can often be extrapolated and planned for by thoroughly reading the meeting agenda, set in advance.
In the example provided, it was a meeting for the firm I work for to obtain feedback. Therefore, I had already prepared a Positives and Negatives section within the Takeaways portion of the meeting, which helped me then inform our CEO of what was working well and what needed improvements in our product.
Moreover, here is where you should note down ideas that mentioned or that you came up with. Thoughts are often a great starting point for future projects or actions that should take place.
Finally, you should also note down major conclusions discussed as it will summarise essential topics.
The questions section of my page is a mixture of pre-preparation and real-time thought gathering.
Thanks to the meeting agenda, you already know the addressed topic. Therefore, you can note down any relevant question you would like answered. If the client autonomously provides you with an answer, you can cross it out, but you will not have to rely on your memory if she doesn’t.
When the client is recounting their story, you can also use this space to note further questions you have to see them at a glance and not interrupt them, preventing you from getting all the information you need.
The bottom sections are for two different lists of actionable items. In the first column, you will note down what you (as in you and your team) have committed to, in the second you note down what the Client should provide you.
This section comes in extremely useful at the end of meetings, where you can recap what the next steps are and what everyone is responsible for. Moreover, it will be essential when following up.
Don't capture everything
Please, give up the impossible task of noting down everything that was said. First, it is unrealistic; second, you don’t need it. The crucial things in one or two hour meetings are few, and you should be focusing on the significant points.
If you are taking notes the digital way it will push you towards noting down everything word for word, that’s another point in favour of pen and paper.
Often, after a meeting, you are expected to send a follow-up. Thanks to well-done meeting notes, this task will be straightforward as you already have the significant takeaways noted down as well as the next steps. Therefore, the only thing you will have to do is copy them in an email, cc everyone present in the meeting and press send.
To make your life more comfortable, I am sharing my meeting notes template; you are free to print it out and use it directly as is or make a copy of it in digital format to re-use every time you need.