Instructor-led training - taking minutes

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Below are some extracts from our Taking Minutes manual.

Taking Minutes

The Role of a Minute Taker

What is a Minute Taker?

Being a minute taker can:

·         Give you access to other members of the group

·         Keep you up to date on what is going on in the organisation

·         Enable you to help the chair accomplish the goals of the organisation

·         Keep you more focused on what is being said, so your comments are relevant and your interpretation of what happened is accurate

The minute taker plays a vital role within the meeting structure. The minute taker has legitimate, easy access to other members of the meeting, including those in key positions.

The minute-taker has many names: recording secretary, secretary, note taker, recorder. In many meetings, the chair may act as recorder, but this is not recommended because it prevents the chair from devoting his/her full attention to the discussion and may result in incomplete minutes.

Minutes should be written to provide all the members with the following information:

·         How issues were discussed and finally resolved

·         Any motions or resolutions passed

·         Any actions or tasks to be completed

·         Names of the individuals who were assigned specific tasks and the dates these are to be completed


The Skills of a Minute Taker

Key Skills

Below are some tips to help you convey confidence about yourself and your abilities:

Learn to develop a poker face during the meeting itself, to show no emotion about motions or member comments

Learn to relax and enjoy your role

Dress like everyone else in the group but stay on the conservative side

Greet members as they come in and say a cheerful goodbye when the meeting is over

Always shake hands, as it is the universal opening ritual of any business transaction. Your grip should be firm but not overpowering, and remember to make eye contact

To function properly as a minute taker, you must also be alert, highly organised, and focused on the group discussion, to restate the positions and the discussions of others accurately and objectively. Not everyone is suited to this job.


A minute taker must be a good listener, a sound critical thinker and an excellent organiser.

To be a good minute taker, you should also:

Understand company jargon

Have a background knowledge of the topics being discussed

Know meeting participants or at least the spelling of their names

Be familiar with past minutes

Have good communication skills


 Listening Skills

The ability to really listen is an important skill for anyone to have. Listening allows you to understand where the other person is coming from and shows you’re interested in what he/she is saying.

Unfortunately, we all experience common listening problems.

We let our attention wander

We miss the real point

We let our emotions interfere

We step on the statements of others

We think ahead and miss what’s being said right now

To improve your listening skills, use these tips for better active listening:

Non-verbal messages: Eye contact, an alert expression, head nodding, and a forward lean to the body expresses listening

Cues or invitations: These are the phrases like “uh-huh, O.K., Yes, go on, etc. that signal our attention and invite an individual to continue talking

Clarification of what has been said: We can do this in one of several ways: by asking questions, summarizing what has been said, or paraphrasing the message in your own words


Critical Thinking Skills

To take accurate minutes, you must be able to think critically and quickly. Minutes should be a record of the facts of the meeting, they must not be tainted by biases or judgements.

Imagine a computer that gives or records the facts and figures for which it is asked. The computer is neutral and objective, it does not offer interpretations or opinions. When writing minutes, the thinker imitates a computer.

The person requesting the information should use focusing questions to obtain information or information gaps. This type of thinking provides discipline and direction. The thinker strives to be more neutral and more objective in the presentation of information.

Organisation Skills

There are many ways to organise your minute notes. Whatever method you choose, it must work for you, and it must be consistent and help you create accurate notes.

One method is to develop a template beforehand, depending on the style of the meeting and the minutes you will be preparing.

 

Minutes Styles

Choosing a Style

Minutes are a permanent, formal record of what went on in a meeting. When approved, minutes are considered legal documents and can be used in legal proceedings.

Minutes may be written in a variety of styles, including formal, informal, or action. The choice of style is based on the nature of the meetings and the bylaws of the members themselves.

Formal minutes support a meeting which is governed by a chair according to a parliamentary code or procedure. There are many reference guides to parliamentary procedure, such as Robert’s Rules of Order or Procedures for Meetings and Organisations.

Informal or action minutes are used by small groups who do not have a clearly defined operating structure.

Minutes don’t have to be verbatim to be proper, except for motions, which should be recorded word for word. Word for word documents are too time-consuming to prepare and to read. However, groups differ as to how much detail they require. Some groups want minutes to be an outline of everything that was discussed so they have justification for decisions. Others feel that background information is not essential, providing members understand the remarks. It is important that you, as minute taker, know what type of minutes the group expects to receive and can deliver them consistently.

Informal Minutes

Small groups, perhaps because of their size, sometimes prefer to operate more informally. However, minutes are still a vital component of the meetings. They report what occurred at the meeting for the people who were absent, and for future reference. They summarise the action taken, the action planned, the people responsible, and the deadlines.

Informal minutes are written in a narrative format, in complete sentences. They include some background information, keeping in mind they are written solely for the benefit of people already familiar with the group and its activities.

Action Minutes

Action minutes are best suited for meetings that operate in a purely conversational manner. They can be written in point form. You need to identify the person or people responsible for future actions and set time limits.

In many informal meetings the minute taker is encouraged to participate in discussions, or the chair may also act as minute taker. In some groups, members share the responsibility of minute taker with a different person appointed for this task at each meeting. In such situations, action minutes are usually easiest to use. They allow you to make notes as well as participate, and the straightforward format keeps the minutes consistent despite the different people involved.


Taking Minutes in an Interactive Meeting

The traditional style of meetings discussed so far is not particularly suited to informal problem solving, collaboration, or for working out complex, interdependent issues. Often, progressive organisations will cut meeting times of this nature with interactive meetings.

In conventional meetings, the chair normally has the most authority. The chair controls how the meeting proceeds, talks more than anyone else, and is responsible for the final decisions. This can affect group participation and morale and can result in poor decision making.

The Role of the Facilitator

In the interaction style meeting, the chair separates procedural and decision-making responsibilities and appoints someone to handle a new role: that of the facilitator. This enables the chair to sit and listen fully to the opinions of the group.

The facilitator’s job is to accomplish a specific set of tasks. The facilitator must solicit opinions from the entire group, ensure that everyone feels comfortable with the process, and keep the meeting on target.

The facilitator is assisted by the recorder, who ensures that all the members’ main points are written on large sheets of paper taped to the wall in front of the group. In this way, everyone has a clear and immediate understanding of what is being said and can see that all statements are accurate. All ideas are considered to come collectively from the group, not from individuals, so the names of the originators of suggestions are not recorded.

Both the facilitator and the recorder must remain neutral and refrain from voicing their opinions. If either one feels the need to make a personal statement, he or she must ask the group’s permission to temporarily step out of the assigned role.

Interactive meetings are highly creative and productive. Members feel less intimidated and have equal opportunity to participate in brainstorming and problem-solving sessions. They leave feeling heard, validated, and energised.

The Role of the Recorder

If you are appointed recorder at an interaction meeting, remember that your role is always to support the facilitator and the group.

It is important that you, as recorder, not put words in the mouth of a slow-thinking participant. Talk as little as possible and defer your questions to the facilitator.

When listing the group’s comments, make the letters about 1 inch to 1½ inches high. Don’t worry about your spelling. You can use abbreviations, circle key words, or use arrows and signs. Use coloured markers to highlight ideas. Remember to number and title all pages. Get the members to restate any points you have missed or misrepresented. The meeting members share the responsibility for accurate recording.

After the meeting, remove the pages from the wall, label and store them, or have them typed. The recorder is also responsible for preparing a summary sheet or action minutes.

 

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