The only thing worse than a long, boring meeting is a long, boring meeting that yields no results. After all those presentations, debates, and brainstorming on action plans, weeks pass…and nobody does what they promised to do.
The problem? 1) People often leave meetings with no clue about what’s expected of them. Or, 2) they get sucked into the rest of their duties and forget. The best way to avoid this is to email clear, adequate notes right after the meeting. Here are tips for organizing and condensing your discussion in such a way that people read your notes, understand them, and act on them.
1. Think beyond “minutes.”
When most people think of meeting notes, they imagine the transcripts usually called “minutes of the meetings.” However, minutes are formal, structured, and usually reserved for those big huddles that involve the boss’ secretary (who else would have the patience to type those up?). Minutes also serve the purpose of documentation, rather than action.
Right now, we’re talking about your regular, every day meeting notes—when you’re brainstorming with your staff, or meeting with your suppliers. Your goal, obviously, isn’t to produce a permanent record but to produce a particular action.
2. Come to the meeting prepared.
Many notes are disorganized because the meeting itself was disorganized. You had no idea what the agenda was, so you wrote down every random thing you heard with no structure or sense of priority. So, enter the meeting with a clear agenda. If you’re calling the meeting, tell the people what you’ll discuss and what they need to prepare. If you were just invited to the meeting, ask who organized it and then find out what it’s about. (This is actually one of the most important secrets to an effective meeting).
3. Format your notebook
One way to guarantee organize your notes is to follow a simple “template” each time you sit down for a meeting. At the top of the page, write down the date and a title (ex: “Brainstorming with Sales Team”). Right below it, write the agenda (ex: “Come up with ways to increase sales revenue in the last quarter.”) If you’ll be presenting at the meeting, or would like to raise concerns, jot down what you want to say so you don’t forget anything important.
Then, use the Cornell system of note-taking. Divide your notes into two columns: one wide one, and one thin one. The wide one is for notes (example: possible sales leads/accounts that can be tapped). The thinner one is for your action points and reflections, which you’ll add after the meeting (example: who to assign to each account, or contact information for each account).
4. Create an action list.
At the meeting, write down who attended and who was invited but couldn’t make it. This will help you remember who to email later on.Also write down any proposed actions and agreements, and make sure that the meeting doesn’t end without identifying who is responsible for those actions. Set a deadline, or at least a date when you’ll be expecting an update.
5. Don’t transcribe; summarize.
You don’t have to write down every single word—you’re bound to fall behind or miss something important. Instead, select the key points and summarize. If you want, you can write additional notes in the second column (see tip # 3) right after the meeting, to fill in details that you’re afraid you’ll forget.
You can also create a simple system of symbols. For example, you can place to-do items in bracket, ex. [call Sales head]. You can also mark any assigns with parenthesis, ex. (summarize last year’s sales list, Joe). An asterisk (*) can also flag important facts, while a question mark (?) can indicate that you need to do further research on an item, ex. “budget for sales conference?”
6. Organize your electronic files.
You will need to send the meeting notes and actions plans via email, which means typing it up. Organize your files efficiently, so you can have a good electronic record. Create a folder on your desktop just for these documents, and give a file name that’s descriptive and easy to sort (ex. Sales Meeting July 18 2010). That way, if you ever need to find all your documents for sales, you don’t have to go through all your files. It’s clearly sorted from your meetings with clients, marketing, or your staff.
7. Email right away.
It’s best to send out your notes within 24 hours of the meeting, while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. This also gives them a chance to work on their tasks immediately.