Potential Problems When Taking Minutes

For the person taking the meeting minutes, all meetings present the same basic problems.

They can be summarized as:

• Deciphering what is an important fact from all the noise.
• Difficulty in making a contribution to the meeting.
• Anticipating potential issues or problems that could arise.

Minutes are not a transcript of the discussions that took place at a meeting; they are a summation of the key and important facts that need to be communicated to all necessary parties. But as with any group discussion the conversation does not follow a simple path and it is difficult to know exactly what has been agreed.

Problems minute takers face

Many participants do not stick to the main point of discussion. They will introduce issues of their own that they feel should also be talked about, thereby distracting the focus of the meeting away from the main discussion point.

Often you will find several discussions going on at the same time and you have no idea which one is the one you should be following, or the discussion jumps from one item to another before any of them are finished.

The likely result is that many suggested solutions are being put forward but no agreement is being attained for any of them.

Your active listening skills will be put to the test fully when you are trying to identify the key facts during a long, confusing discussion. There is so much being introduced to the conversation that it is difficult to know what is pertinent to note down.

Many of the solutions to these types of distractions are outside your remit, as controlling the meeting is the responsibility of the meeting chair. This is why as minute taker your relationship with the Chair is extremely important. If a meeting is well run it makes taking minutes much easier.
Minimizing disruptions in a meeting

It's the Chair's job to keep the meeting in order - but they can only do this if the rules governing behavior in the meeting are clearly stated and the Chair gains the cooperation of everyone at the meeting. Discussing and agreeing some guidelines between you will help run your meetings effectively and allow key facts to be clearly minuted.

Examples of guidelines might be:

  1. Not allowing speakers to be interrupted.
  2. Participants clearly indicating that they want to speak to the chair, by raising a pen or hand.
  3. Keeping to the agenda item under discussion.
  4. The Chair summarizing the main decision points to gain agreement from all participants.

If the situation is such that you feel unclear as to how best to summarize a discussion that is getting out of control or diverting from the agenda you can ask for clarity in a number of ways. Ask the Chair to clarify the final decision.

You may ask the meeting to agree to what you are proposing to write in the minutes. For example; 'So the meeting wants it minuted that ….' This is a useful technique to use especially if it is a particularly important or controversial decision.

If the arguments are contradictory or confusing you may want to ask the Chair if you can use a flip chart or electronic white board to visually gain consensus for and assist in making a decision. You can then use this material to support you when writing up your notes.

Often the use of visual or electronic aids can help to focus all participants' attention on the salient points of each argument and hasten the decision-making process. You may find that your Chair asks you to take on this role to assist in the smooth and timely running of the meeting.

Your other potential problem if you are minute taking is how to change your role to a participant when you have something of worth to contribute to the discussion. This is especially true when you have been very involved in a particular issue and have a valid contribution to make, but find yourself drawn into the discussion rather than thinking of what facts need to be minuted.

As the minute taker you are limited as to how much you can participate in the meeting - it goes with the job. If there is an item in which you have been centrally involved and about which you have a lot to say, think about asking someone else experienced to take minutes just for that item. Or you could choose to use a flip chart or electronic white board to make notes whilst you are involved with the discussion.

Contributing to a meeting as minute taker

Prior to the meeting ensure that you have read through the previous minutes and have highlighted any key areas where issues could arise. Try to identify any problem areas that remain unresolved and make sure that your concerns are brought to the attention of the Chair. Discuss the meeting agenda with the Chair before the meeting - the clearer you are about the nature and content of the meeting, the easier it is to minute it.

This Meeting Minutes Tasks Checklist covers those tasks you need to complete before, during and after the meeting if you are taking the minutes. This Meeting Minutes Template provides a structured means to record all essential discussion details and findings.

Finally, where possible agree with the Chair that they will read through your minutes as a finally check before you circulate them, or that they will spare you a few minutes immediately following the meeting to verify your notes. It can be helpful to check through what you've written with someone else.

You may also be interested in:
Taking Meeting Minutes | Elements of Meeting Minutes | Responsibilities of the Minute Taker | How to Take Meeting Minutes | Meeting Minutes Checklist.

Key Points

  • The main things to remember when you are taking minutes are:
    1. Actively listen to the discussion.
    2. Don't try to write everything down.
    3. Concentrate on writing down what has been decided and who is responsible for getting it done.
    4. Give each item a separate heading.
    5. Write your rough notes up as soon as possible after the meeting.
    6. Liaise with the Chair to ensure the meeting achieves it's objectives.
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