Take a minute

MinutesAs Secretary of a conservation charity, I‘m used to taking the minutes at committee meetings. It’s a job many people hate as you need to type at the same time as listen. I like to contribute to the meeting as well, so it’s an exercise in multi-tasking.

When I first took on the role, I used to document every last detail, afraid of missing out something significant. (Remember Frank Pickle in The Vicar of Dibley?) What seemed trivial to me could be perceived as relevant by other committee members.

Of course, now I realise no one actually reads the minutes. They scan them. A quick look at the main points and a skim through to check if there are any actions against their name.

I bored myself rigid having to proofread them, wading through the minutiae of much waffling. That’s when I knew I needed to cut down on my note-taking and only document the main points and decisions made.

Minute-taking is a practical writing exercise for the following reasons

It prompts you to prepare for a meeting. Do you know who'll be present? What’s on the agenda? Do you have additional documents to hand, previous minutes or other information that may be called upon during the course of the meeting?

Minute-taking also reminds you to swot up on the issues you’ll be discussing. Every organisation has its own jargon and specialisations. I remember having to ask what the word ‘hoggin’ means (it’s gravel, we use it to repair footpaths). If you’re unfamiliar with a word, or don’t understand exactly what’s being said, stop and ask the question there and then. It’s sometimes difficult to raise the matter later when the context of the conversation has been forgotten.

It’s important to type up your notes from a meeting while everything is still fresh in your mind. A delay in circulating minutes can cause a hold-up in people taking action.

(I'm imagining the laughter from fellow committee members at that last paragraph. Fitting in voluntary work around a busy job means it sometimes takes me weeks or months to circulate the minutes. Therefore, do as I say not as I do on that one!)

In theory, the minute-taker shouldn’t take part in the discussions. Their role is to record truthfully the debate that takes place. They should remain impartial and not have a personal interest in the outcome of the meeting.

That’s all very well in large corporations with secretaries and PAs to fulfil the role. In the world of parish councils, local charities and other volunteer organisations, the minute-taker is anyone who raises their hand and offers to do the job. Frequently, that person only volunteers for the task because they care about the work a group is doing, and they know minutes help to keep things on track. And often, like me, they want to take part in discussions as they're personally concerned with the issues involved.

But are you then writing down what actually took place or your version of events? Each person has their own preconceived ideas and bias. These have to be set aside in order to write an accurate and objective record of the discussion.

In summary, whatever your function at a meeting, minute-taking is a valuable skill in business and one that's worth practising.