How to Take Meeting Notes: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Take Good Meeting Notes: Everything You Need to Know

Did you find your last meeting worthwhile? If not, you have much in common with millions of workers worldwide.

Instead of meetings forming an opportunity to plan and scheme, approximately 65% of senior managers said meetings were a barrier to completing their work. Approach your next meeting differently and make it more worthwhile through effective note-taking.

Recording information you and your team can refer back to is vital for increasing the value of every meeting. This article will discuss the most effective ways to take meeting notes and why it’s so important.

The Importance of Effective Note-Taking

Staying organized and staying accountable are the twin pillars of why you should be taking meeting notes.

Regardless of your preferred method, ensure your team knows the distinction between meeting notes and meeting minutes.

Minutes are official documents that can form part of an audit. Taking minutes is designed for formal occasions, such as public hearings or board meetings. For most scenarios, ordinary, informal meeting notes will suffice.

With that in mind, why should you learn how to take good meeting notes?

Create a Single Source of Truth (SSOT)

Some people have sharp memories allowing them to file everything in their brains without missing a beat. Others forget many of the things they’ve heard without meeting notes to reference.

Asking a colleague for a reminder only works when they’ve recalled everything perfectly, but this is rarely the case. Creating an SSOT avoids getting into a game of Telephone, whereby cumulative error decreases recall accuracy.

Documenting landmark decisions and important points forms an SSOT that your team can refer back to so that everyone is on the same page.

Offer Asynchronous Participation

Collaboration is one of the most critical aspects of all teams, improving how they work together, problem-solve, and effectively communicate. However, 39% of employees claim their colleagues don’t collaborate enough.

Meeting note-taking enhances collaboration through asynchronous participation. If someone cannot attend a meeting due to a scheduling conflict, holiday, or leave of absence, sharing detailed notes can quickly bring them up to speed.

Improve Natural Recall

Scientists have been studying memory and recall for over a century to understand how well humans can remember the things they’ve seen, heard, read, and experienced. The German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus created the Forgetting Curve, showing how quickly information is lost.

According to his model, the average human forgets 50% of information within one hour of learning it. After 24 hours, this number rises to 70%.

Taking notes at meetings quickens your recall, helping teams to retain information better. It prevents unnecessarily resorting to further follow-up meetings to repeat the same content over and over.

Alongside boosting recall, reducing the need for follow-up gatherings increases your team’s productivity.

Increase Meeting Engagement

Daydreaming is a common blight within meetings. According to one study, 9 out of 10 employees admitted to zoning out in the middle of a meeting. The average human struggles to maintain total focus and concentration for extended periods. Taking action can prevent individuals in meetings from zoning out and improve engagement.

Knowing how to take meeting notes is an activity that engages the mind and forces it to focus on the concepts being presented. 

If you’re struggling to avoid distractions, getting into the habit of taking down notes could help.

Take Accountability for Decisions

Accountability empowers employees to take pride in their work, improve morale, and increase satisfaction. Unfortunately, 82% of managers admitted they have limited to no ability to hold others accountable.

Detailed meeting notes provide an SSOT for accountability, revealing who is responsible for an idea, who raised an important point, and which employees have met specific performance goals.

It helps to recognize valuable team members. It also provides a consistent thread that runs through entire projects.

How to Take Meeting Notes

Note-taking in meetings is an underrated practice that many dismiss as an outdated practice. Even in today’s fast-paced work environments, this tried-and-tested technique still delivers impressive benefits.

But what’s the secret to taking valuable meeting notes? Here’s what you need to know.

Choose a Model

There’s no single way to take meeting notes. Different models align better with company needs, roles, settings, and learning styles. Some employees may consistently stick to a specific model, whereas others might develop their own.

As a leader, what matters is that you give your team the flexibility and freedom to choose the model that works for them. Obviously, if you’re taking formal minutes, you must settle on a consistent format.

Here are four of the most popular models.

1. Cornell Method

The Cornell method divides a page into two columns: a smaller column on the left and a larger one on the right.

The left column is reserved for highlighting key ideas and concepts raised at a meeting. It defines the subject. On the right is where you’ll include details of those key ideas.

With conversation topics shifting throughout meetings, catching the key ideas and the inner workings of those ideas can help you to stay focused.

2. Outline Method

The outline method is best served for meetings where you’ve already received an agenda in advance.

Pre-meeting agendas are usually designed for landmark meetings, such as strategic planning sessions or quarterly reviews. With the outline method, you’ll copy the agenda and leave space to take notes underneath each item.

3. Quadrant Method

The quadrant note-taking method relies on dividing your notes into four categories. Create four quadrants on the page and label them as:

  1. General notes
  2. Action items for self
  3. Action items for other team members
  4. Questions

Insert critical points and important details in the first quadrant, with anything else placed in any of the other three relevant quadrants.

4. Slide Method

With the slide method, you can add any notes directly to your copy of the slides, whether it’s questions or the finer details.

Note-taking directly onto slides provides an instant structure and context for any thoughts you have for later.

If you’re preparing for a presentation, ask the presenter to share their slides with you before the meeting.

Make Sure Everyone Takes Notes

Notes are not like minutes. Everyone should be taking notes during the meeting. Your notes aren’t just designed to record what was said and done in a meeting. They’re simply the foundation for adding your own thoughts.

The key to effective collaboration is to bring in a broad set of viewpoints. Fresh thoughts and innovation arise from everyone providing their input to the meeting.

Team leaders must ensure everyone takes notes so everyone is clear on what’s being covered and they can harness the full potential of their teams.

Highlight Key Concepts and Expand

Note-taking novices often think they must write everything in the meeting down verbatim. Recording every line doesn’t get to the heart of the matter and just offers a transcript.

While transcription is easy to take down notes, you still need to extract the points that matter manually.

Once the meeting starts, practice taking down key concepts and expanding upon them. Unlike minutes, notes are designed for you, so you must expand on them with your thoughts.

Record Action Items

In theory, meetings are designed to spur action. However, an average of 31 hours per month are wasted on unproductive meetings. 

Your notes provide a golden opportunity to spur action and turn unproductive meetings into fruitful ones.

Set aside space to record action items. Does a question need to be asked? Is further clarification needed? Are there any holes in the product presentation you just watched?

Taking down better notes should be done with the idea that you want to cultivate action.

Create a Retrospective for Notes

Capturing the key points, adding your thoughts, and turning your notes into action items are great, but what happens afterward?

The value of meeting notes is that they act as a launchpad for tangible real-world outcomes. If you’re not reflecting on your notes, it’s challenging to make sense of the meeting and the points that were made.

Developing a shared space for collaborators to contribute and build upon the meeting’s subject matter is critical to extracting long-term value from the meetings you hold.

Again, grouping notes based on a theme and noting how that theme should lead to improved performance is vital for making your notes more powerful assets to your teams.

Additional Note-Taking Tips

Learning how to take meeting notes is just the first step to getting the greatest value out of your meetings. Taking notes in the best possible way could be the starting point for generating transformative ideas.

According to Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, “Some of Virgin’s most successful companies have been born from random moments – if we hadn’t opened our notebooks, they would never have happened.”

With that in mind, here are some expert-backed tips on taking down effective notes.

Record Non-Verbal Language

Non-verbal behavior can tell you a lot about meeting participants.

For example, if an ordinarily confident colleague appears nervous or worried when communicating, it likely shows they don’t have much confidence in their presentation.

Paying attention to non-verbal cues can aid your interpretations and serve as a marker for further dialogue.

Highlight Contact Points

If there’s something you need to follow up on later, write down the person’s name. By noting contact points, you know whom to synchronize with. During meetings, it’s easy to lose track of who’s responsible for what, so highlighting these points is critical. 

Screen Share

Video conferencing with virtual teams can present its own challenges. Offering to share your screen while taking notes can benefit other team members.

If you’ve missed anything, it lets others jump in and suggest things to add in real time.

Be Unorderly (If it Suits You) 

Concentrate less on templates and structure and more on getting the important points down on paper or your screen.

Feel free to use abbreviations and symbols if it helps you take notes while remaining an active listener. Remember that you can always clean up your notes after the meeting.

Write a Meeting Recap

Completing a quick meeting recap while everything is fresh in your mind enables you and your team to reinforce the most important points and prepare a task list for the meetings ahead.

Recaps are easy to reflect on and are a shortened highlight package of everything that happened.

Bring Everything Together

To create your SSOT, set up a location to share your recap and notes. You may even hold a smaller meeting to discuss the key concepts and points with your immediate colleagues.

Adopting it is also a great practice if you’re worried about inadvertently siloing your coworkers.

Using Transcription to Take Meeting Notes

Knowing how to take notes for a meeting by hand is helpful, but as humans, we are prone to mistakes, errors, and misinterpretations.

Leveraging next-generation transcription technology like Sonix can make your meetings more effective and ensure everything is noted. 

Transcription can be used in many ways to boost efficiency and collaboration and gain deeper insights. Let’s discuss how you can harness the potential of meeting notes transcription.

Verbatim Recordings and Transcriptions

Some meetings may call for verbatim recordings. Capturing everything can allow teams to ensure that nothing is missed. Taking a recording and transcribing everything onto a single standardized template can make it easier to facilitate smaller meetings to discuss what was said.

Verbatim note-taking may be inappropriate for meeting minutes, but for other forms of note-taking, it enables you to understand context and conversation flow. 

Focus on the Meeting

Knowing how to write notes for a meeting is an essential skill, but it’s easy to get wrapped up in taking notes when you should be actively participating.

It’s also easy to get distracted trying to keep up while noting everything down. The average human speaks at four to five syllables a second. In an intense creative discussion, it can be challenging to listen while taking notes actively.  

Using transcription to record notes is a simple way of shifting the burden and empowering you to participate fully in the conversation.

Create a Standardized Data Source to Avoid Confusion

Most experts recommend writing down your notes by hand instead of taking them down on your computer. There’s a science behind it because it avoids distractions through multitasking and improves recall.

However, notes are designed for future collaboration. Without leveraging those notes, it’s a pointless action. The reality is that most people create meticulous notes and never look back at them.

The problem with this is that many people cannot read their own handwriting, let alone someone else’s. Different note-taking styles and structures can make it challenging for teams to review each other’s notes.

Intelligent AI-powered transcriptions offer value by offering a clean template everyone can refer to and understand. Standardizing your recordings with transcription can improve efficiency and productivity. It’s a win-win for the entire team. 

Make Your Meetings More Effective with Sonix

Transcription is a powerful tool to get more from your meetings. Sonix makes it simple to generate transcripts from audio recordings quickly. We offer audio translation options in over 39 languages and features like automated diarization, speaker labeling, and word-by-word timestamps.

We help millions of individuals better organize, transcribe, and translate audio and video files from their meetings. Choose the fast, accurate, and affordable automatic transcription software solution for effective meeting note-taking.Are you ready to make your meetings more valuable? Discover why businesses worldwide are turning to Sonix by signing up for a free trial of our transcription software today!

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