Writing good notes during meetings
19 May 2015, by Chris Arnott
Have you ever come away from a meeting with the feeling that you’ve missed or forgotten some important information? Below are some tips to help you write better notes: if you apply them (and practice) you will find that your notes are much more useful and you retain the ideas and information that come out of your meetings for longer.
If you know before the meeting what you’re hoping to get out of it, then during the meeting it will be much more apparent, which information is important. The best way to do this is to write down (on the same piece of paper you are taking notes on), what questions you want to ask, and what you hope to find out. You can then treat this as a check-list during the meeting so that you don’t forget to ask something important. These pre meeting notes will also help you write shorter notes, as there’s already somewhere on the page with some context that you can add a note to.
Try to understand the other person
If you don’t know what the other person is talking about, ask them. Then ask a follow up question, re-phrasing their thoughts to make sure that you’re on the same wavelength. As well as helping you cement your understanding of the other person’s viewpoint, you might actually end up getting more useful information from them, as getting people to summarise can help them remember points they had forgotten to mention.
If you understand someone, you’ll learn something. Write this down!
The other people in the meeting know something you don’t. Some of this will be important (what they want you to work on), some might not be important (what they had for lunch). The facts they know are what you should be writing down. If you’re not sure if something they said is important, then write it down anyway. It’s better to have too many notes and discard some later than realise you have forgotten something important.
Only write down facts
Facts are the reason you are in the meeting. Some of these facts might be opinions e.g. the customer is happy with the new product. But you shouldn’t need to take notes on your opinion. You can form this later when you’ve got a bit more time.
Take notes from the start of the meeting
If you don’t make any notes during the meeting, you’ll remember less. The best way to make sure you take lots of notes is to start right from the beginning, it helps you get in the mindset, and taking lots of small notes will be less disruptive to the conversation than taking few large notes. If you did your preparation properly, you’ll already have writing on the page. This should help you realise that you are adding to a train of thought rather than starting a new one and make the process less daunting.
Don’t be afraid of silences
People taking notes in meetings show themselves to be attentive and it is re-assuring for everyone else to know that you’re not going to forget your actions (because you’ve just written them down), so they won’t mind waiting for you to jot down an important piece of information. Don’t take this too far though! You should still be an active part in the conversation. If you find that you’re not getting a chance to put your ideas across, you are probably making too many notes.
Write up your notes soon after the meeting
In order to get the most out of the notes you have just taken, write them up as soon as possible. This will immediately give you a chance to re-order your thoughts at your own pace, but while also still having the ideas in your head. This is the best time to have an overview of all the ideas and make new and creative connections. The notes at this stage are a prompt to help you remember everything that was said in the meeting. The notes you are writing have a different focus. They are there to help you remember the main themes of the meeting if you need to remember later, and also to help you decide upon answers and form your opinions. In order to get the most out of this end process, group related themes from the meeting together as you write them up. Doing this will help your brain order your thoughts.