How To Take Better Notes In Meetings

Taking notes in meetings while staying fully engaged with the discussion is a tricky one.

Arguing your point can distract you from noting down important information. But taking extensive notes is sure to distract you from thinking about what’s being said.

It’s a real Catch 22!

We need to take effective notes throughout our lives, right from our school days. But note taking is not something we are ever taught. It’s something we figure out ourselves, with varying degrees of success...

Truth be told, many of us aren’t even sure what we want to achieve with our meeting notes. How many times have you walked out of an important meeting with a blank notepad and a brain full of jumbled thoughts?

So if you’re wondering how to take effective notes AND wow your colleagues in your business meetings… this post is for you.

Here are 5 simple ways to take better notes in meetings
1) Take some time to do a little preparation.

You have a better chance of taking useful meeting notes if you do a little preparation in advance. Reading up on what will be covered in a meeting gives you an opportunity to think about what you want to get from the discussion, and what points you want to raise. This structured approach is bound to make the actual process of taking notes less of a challenge.

So, try to get your hands on a copy of the Agenda before the meeting begins. From this you can draw up a skeleton structure for your notes, including headings for the topics that will be covered. You might also want to jot down some of the questions that you will want to pose when those topics are touched upon.

If you are feeling particularly organised, you could also review the minutes from the previous meeting to refresh your mind on the status of ongoing projects. Are there any updates that you’ll need to provide? Being prepared for your meeting will let you focus on getting involved in the discussion and minimise the volume of notes that you will need to make.

2) Don’t worry about capturing everything.

In the first year of university we knew a chap whose process of taking notes was to try and write down every word that he heard or read. It seemed highly illogical to us at the time. But he was firmly wedded to his ‘method’. Three years later, he graduated having scraped a third.

This sad little story just goes to show that your intention when taking notes should be to capture only the essential information. You will find these short summaries far more useful after your meeting than a lengthy list of ‘he said she said’. And, because of how our brains work, they will be the triggers that spark off larger associations.

3) Try not to drift off or get lost in note-taking.

Whether it’s typing, handwriting or recording, we all favour different forms of note taking. Choose the one that works best for you. Maybe using colourful pens, bold underlining and drawing useful symbols creates a more memorable and visual set of notes. Perhaps you like the tidy formatting options available with Microsoft Word documents.

In this day and age many of us are faster typers than writers. However this can result in becoming detached from discussion as we mindlessly transcribe everything we hear. It’s important not to get lost in the flow of typing and try to filter out the unnecessary details. Try using bullet points to keep your notes short and sweet.

In thinking about what you need to note down you are engaging with what you are hearing. Memory experts deem this essential if we are to remember anything for any length of time.

It goes without saying that there are many potential distractions when we use laptops and tablets or tablets to take notes. There’s a whole world of memes and emails out there poised to divert our attention away from the task in hand. Did you see that photo of a woodpecker with a weasel on its back the other day...

Anyway, try to control the urge to check your calendar or Google recipes for tonight’s dinner (even if a colleague is droning on interminably) and focus on the discussion around you.

TIP: Position your laptop slightly to your side, so that it doesn’t create a barrier between you and your colleagues.


4) Consider recording your meetings.

Recording your meeting can alleviate the pressure of typing or writing information. Our software Sonocent Audio Notetaker is widely used as a note taking tool and many professionals are employing  it in a boardroom setting.

We use it ourselves in our weekly meetings. ‘Of course you do!’ we hear you cry; we remind you of the age old adage, ‘never trust a skinny chef!’

Using Audio Notetaker you can record everything that is said, leaving you free to engage with other members of your team. You can type short notes in the software’s text pane if needed and create different audio ‘paragraphs' for each topic covered just by using the the return key. You could use colour coding to highlight different speakers, or information that is directly related to your role; perhaps a deadline or a particular action you need to take.

Now you have a visual map of the audio you have captured from your meeting, you can listen back and create your own audio or typed summaries of the information, outlining any tasks you have been set and organising any important details. Create yourself a folder to store all of this information, a chronological timeline of essential data.

What’s particularly handy is that you can set your recording preferences to capture audio from your speakers as well as audio from your microphone. This is especially useful if your meeting combines physical attendees and Skype participants.

Recording your meeting leaves you free to be present in a discussion, safe in the knowledge that you are capturing everything that is being said.

TIP: Record your meetings in high-quality with our free companion app.

5) Don’t let all your hard work go to waste.

There’s no point in taking notes if we aren’t going to do something with them.

After your meeting, spend some time reviewing the information you have captured and summarise it. You may want to create different sections, i.e ‘marketing updates’ or ‘my tasks’. Try to keep these sections the same for all of your meetings, so that when you file your summaries you can easily trace the progress in each division.

Some people find it useful to visualise their workload. After your meeting you may wish to use your notes to add updates to your calendar or create little post-it notes around your workspace to prompt you to target certain tasks.

Be sure to file your completed notes carefully. These can be a map of events and important conversations.

Do you have any other tips for taking better meeting notes? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

Jan 14

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