Heather Baker lists the top skills you need to employ when taking minutes
As an inexperienced secretary, I hated taking notes and writing minutes – I’d rather have thrown myself downstairs! However, as I progressed to more senior roles, I eventually got the hang of it and have, since 2000, been helping other PAs and administrators to resolve their concerns. Here are some hints on the skills you need.
Being Good at Taking Notes
You should have your own prepared system for taking quick notes and it should include a set of abbreviations. Remember you don’t need to write perfect English in the meeting. Prepare your abbreviations in advance of the meeting. If you haven’t already got a system, think about learning speedwriting or shorthand. Make sure you work out how you will differentiate between people with the same initials before you go into the meeting.
Good Mastery of English
This is very important so that people can understand your minutes and to reflect a good image of you, your department and organisation. The internet is an excellent source of information on grammar.
You’ll need a good general vocabulary and an understanding of the technical terms, jargon and abbreviations that may be used in the meeting. Get yourself informed before the meeting so you’ll understand what’s being said; reading the previous minutes is just one way to do this. Use a thesaurus to vary the words you use.
Always the first skill that people think of as the most difficult. Understanding the subject is one of the main ways to make life easier.
A Good Relationship With the Chairperson
A very important part of minute taking. A chairperson and minute taker should always have time together to prepare for their meetings.
What to Record
A sense of what you should and shouldn’t record is a skill that takes time to develop. It helps to understand your readership and the use of the minutes after they have been written. Most important – always include any actions.
This is after the meeting; you need to write a summary based on the notes you have taken. Minute taking is NOT dictation…don’t “go through the process”. For example:
“The Chairperson said she needed a volunteer to get estimates for the new furniture in the office. She asked the secretary to do this. The secretary said she would do this. The Chairperson said she needed these for the next meeting. The Secretary said she would arrange this.”
This would be better written as:
“The Secretary agreed to arrange estimates for the new furniture to be discussed at the next meeting.”
Knowledge of How to Use Reported Speech
You may occasionally have to report what people say in minutes and, if so, reported speech should be used. However, by using excellent summarising skills you can avoid the “he said, she said” scenarios (see above).
Word Processing Skills
A set of well-presented minutes reflects well on you. If you are regularly minuting the same type of meeting then use a template. You can then use a laptop and type your notes straight onto your template – but remember you are not writing your minutes in the meeting, you are just taking notes.
It’s important to check your minutes after they have been typed. One tip is to print off the minutes and check them again; don’t just rely on reading from the screen.