Taking meeting minutes is a tough gig.
Do a great job taking meeting minutes, and you won't be praised. People may not even notice your note-taking. At best, you’re a silent hero.
But if you do a bad job with meeting minutes, it’s a big risk.
Important information can get lost. If it does, that’s on you.
In extreme cases, poorly-written meeting minutes may violate organization bylaws or legal requirements.
The real purpose of meeting minutes is to give everyone confidence that everything important will get recorded. Knowing notes are being taken at the meeting, attendees can focus on the meeting itself—without worrying about whether they’ll be able to remember all the details.
The easiest way to nail your notes for any meeting is with a meeting minutes template.
Meeting minutes are notes that are taken during a meeting. They summarize what was discussed and decided and what the next steps are.
Generally, the meeting agenda forms the backbone of the meeting minutes. Some additional information is added based on what transpired during the meeting.
Meeting minutes often follow a formal structure, but sometimes these meeting notes are taken free-form. Most meeting minutes fall somewhere on the spectrum between totally formal and totally informal.
For some organizations, meeting minutes must follow certain standards of what information is recorded, including who is present at a meeting, what topics are discussed, and whether any votes take place.
Because “meeting minutes” is a rather formal expression to begin with, usually anything referred to as meeting minutes have at least some formal aspect, although sometimes minutes are formal on account of using a meeting minutes template that has space for all of the expected information. To be compliant, all you have to do is follow the template.
In some informal cases, “meeting minutes” amounts to little more than a fancy way of saying “meeting notes.” It may just be a matter of expression of the person you’re talking with.
In others, the meeting minutes are rather structured and detailed, just not so much that it feels like they were written by a drill sergeant.
Whether your they are simple and basic, or just generally information, the minutes or notes of a meeting should still include summaries of discussions, decisions, and next steps as they come up in the meeting. But in these less formal situations, how this information is noted is mostly up to the person taking the meeting minutes, who is sometimes called the meeting’s “scribe.”
While you might think “minutes” refers to a measurement of time, the word “minutes” actually originates from the Latin minuta scriptura, which means “small notes.”
Take note (pun intended) of the word small here. With properly taken meeting minutes, there is no need to write every word spoken at the meeting verbatim. As minuta scriptura, minutes should be a condensed version of what happened, notes that provide an adequate summary that is easy to review.
Going in order from the most formal to least formal, here are some different templates for meeting minutes:
Each template can be copied and pasted, downloaded as a Google Doc or Word document, or used in Hugo (meeting management software).
A formal meeting minutes template usually includes information like:
These practices come from Robert’s Rules of Order, a framework for running meetings that gained popularity in the late 19th century and has persisted, to some extent, even until today.
Here’s an example meeting notes template for formal meetings:
Still, many people who want to write meeting minutes aren’t looking for such a rigid framework. They always want a clear, professional-looking summary of the meeting. Their meeting isn’t being run according to Robert’s Rules or other procedures or bylaws that require such rigorous documentation.
In these cases, informal meeting minutes are much more appropriate.
Just because your meeting notes are informal doesn’t mean they should be unprofessional.
Informal meeting minutes still document all of the discussions and decisions that take place in a meeting. It’s just that they aren’t composed as if someone will get sued if the information is wrong.
For a fairly detailed informal meeting minutes template, here’s what should be included:
As you can see, a lot of this information is similar to the formal meeting minutes template.
The other difference is the way in which this information is noted. For informal minutes, it’s usually okay to use less formal language as well, formatting a lot of the minutes in terms of bullet points and simple summaries.
Here’s a sample of that informal meeting minutes template. As you can see, it leaves a lot of room for the scribe to decide where to put information:
For simpler meetings, you can remove some of the unnecessary parts of the template if that information is otherwise obvious.
For example, for small, recurring meetings, the titles of the meeting and who attends the meeting may be the same people every time. For a simple meeting minutes template, you can remove that from the template and focus mostly on the agenda and action items.
However, in this template, we add some information on what type of meeting it is (Update, Discussion, or Decision) as well as the meeting goal. This helps make sure everyone is clear about the purpose of the meeting before they show up.
The biggest difference between a simple meeting minutes template and going super basic is how much you fill in.
Both templates are about the same, but in the case of very basic meeting minutes, you don’t even need to summarize any discussions. Instead, use this template to focus purely on the outcome of the meeting.
Use this template for low-stakes meetings that still need to be documented. Say you’re having a meeting about where to have a holiday party, or what to do about a specific issue. Maybe it’s a meeting with one other person to make a decision.
In the case of very basic meeting minutes, all you need from your meeting notes is a reminder of what you discussed, and a record about what you decided.
First, depending on what kind of organization the minutes are for, an executive or Chair may need to approve the minutes for circulation. So make sure that you’ve followed any process that is in place.
As for the documents themselves, the actual way you decide to share your meeting minutes most likely depends on how tech-savvy your meeting participants are.
For older, more traditional organizations, minutes are likely to be printed or emailed as a PDF or Word document. While this method works on the surface, it makes it hard to stay organized or refer back to minutes over time.
It’s better to save all of your meeting minutes in a centralized place. Some organizations use folder-based file sharing apps like Google Docs or Google Drive, but there are some inherent issues with using folders to organize documents that should be considered before heading down this path.
If you meet frequently, or with different groups of people, consider an online sharing approach where you store minutes centrally in the cloud for better organization and access. For instance, Hugo is meeting management software that enables you to store, save, and share your meeting minutes easily. Hugo auto-organizes your notes based on your calendar so you don’t have to worry about putting your meeting minutes in the correct folder.
Comprehensive guide to taking meeting minutes. 5 free Word and Google Doc templates. Tips, tricks, and answers to all of your MoM questions.
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