Key Thought: Before implementing the changes and flexing your new minute-taking skills, inform the decision-makers of outcomes; specifically on changes in agenda and minute templates. With their blessings your changes are deemed ‘legitimate’ and will not be contested by the meeting participants and all other stakeholders who have an interest in the minutes. Decisions and action plans that emanate from meetings impact personalities who may not have attended the said meeting/s so make sure your summary does not exclude what is essential and that you resolve ambiguities while memory is fresh…preferably before you step out of the venue!
Listen to or Download Audio Track 15:
Modules 1 & 2 established you in the firm role of ‘meeting manager’ but unless that is a recognized and accepted job description, participants especially the Big Boss may not adapt quickly to the changes and may even protect the established status quo. Take a good look at the picture above – it shows quite clearly what you are up against during meetings. While you have carefully put together a purposeful agenda, some of the attendees may not share your single-mindedness. It may not be deliberate but:
- Lack of concentration
- Coming ill-prepared (not enough data or knowledge to commit to a decision or draw up an action plan).
- Inactivity (like wallflowers)/indecisiveness can make the meeting and the subsequent minutes useless.
The more of the above you encounter during meetings, the more important it becomes to inject structure and logic into the Agenda and conduct of the meeting. If you expect to deal with a powerhouse cast, it helps to keep management or at the very least the meeting chair on your side to validate the changes in procedure and documentation. Otherwise, you might find yourself in hot water. Keep in mind that ‘what is good for the gander may not be for the goose’ so see to it that significant personae agree to give your new method a try. This way, they will not be looking for all those boring and useless minutiae that you’ve wisely eliminated from the final minutes.
It may take a meeting or two to establish the changes but be patient. The AHA moment will eventually come and participants will appreciate the organic flow of intent, action, results and plans embedded in your agenda, meetings, minutes and subsequent action plans.
Changes are often ignored or challenged and your route from informing, gaining acceptance/approval, implementing and full support may be rocky. You may even be blamed for other people’s lapses but if management is truly keen with creating a more efficient system, they will be patient or at the very least non-judgmental during the initial adjustment phase.
If you are tasked with creating the Agenda for the meeting, take the opportunity to show your more professional status by using the template. This is the time for you to review how the minutes for the previous meeting were written and re-write your own version in a new light. Your new skills and better understanding of the raison d’ etre for meetings and minutes will be put to its first test. Ask someone knowledgeable in the content of the meeting (even the Chair or one of the participants) to honestly critique what you wrote and make the necessary adjustments. Remember that other people will read your document – it is not a letter for yourself and at the end of the day should contain what are of interest and significance to the participants. Remove the fluff and retain the substance.
Answering the following FAQs will shed more light into your role and expectations especially if you are not sure whether it is best to ‘shut up and put up’ or to be more proactive in the interest of creating a short, concise and useful document. Some of these FAQs review what had been discussed in Modules 1 &2 while other relevant FAQs appear in later sections.
1. Should the minute taker and the chair meet before the meeting?
Absolutely. The best chairs always have a “pre-meeting meeting” with the minute taker. It is usually just before the agenda goes out and it is at that meeting that the agenda priorities are set by the chair so they can be sent out by the minute taker.
2. How long before the meeting should the agenda be sent out?
Most agendas are sent out far too soon so that the real meeting bears little resemblance to the agenda. You need to balance the time needed to prepare with the currency of the agenda – in other words, how up to date is it. For weekly meetings, the agenda should go out about three quarters of a working day ahead of the meeting. For a meeting held every two weeks, the agenda should go out about a day to a day and a half ahead of the meeting.
Remember, you should be chasing action items all the time. Not wait for the agenda for people to realize they have some action to take.
3. What preparation should the minute taker do prior to the meeting?
Well as you now know, most of the minute takers work actually happens before the meeting. The most important thing is to get the agenda well structured. There’s plenty of information about that in the manual. Check the room is ready for the meeting – you should be the first to arrive. Organise papers, name tags, refreshments etc if they are part of the meeting. In essence get yourself organised to 11 out of 10!
4. Where is the best place to sit at the table.
There is only one place – next to the person chairing the meeting. A good chair won’t let you sit anywhere else because they know how valuable you are to them. It is virtually impossible to take minutes when you are not at the table at all. (I had a client who worked for a Police Department in Australia and had to take the minutes for the senior officers’ meetings. She was not permitted to sit at the same table even though there was room, but in a corner of the room and was still expected to hear and see everything that was said. Not only was it impossible – it was (pun intended) criminal!!!)
5. My chairman is hopeless. What can I do?
Sit next to him/her and keep asking questions that bring him/her back on track. A good agenda will help. Ask things like “Which agenda item are we on now?” and “What was the decision on item 5?” The other people in the meeting will assist you because if you think they are bad, so will everyone else.
Finally, suggest they get me in to run a “How to Chair a Meeting” workshop for everyone who chairs meetings. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk to your training people. You don’t need to do the organising. If you want to just email me with the name of your training person and suggest we speak to them about meetings training, we’ll take it from there. We also have a CD called “How to Chair a Meeting” and it is available from our website: www.davidprice.com
6. How do you identify each person if you don’t know who they are?
Prepare a sheet asking for their names and pass it around. There’s a sample on the website.
7. How do you deal with people who mumble or people who cannot be heard?
You have to be assertive and ask them to speak up or tell the person in the chair that you cannot hear a particular person. If you still cannot hear, ask again. If you have to go to them afterwards and ask them what they said, YOU are the one who looks silly.
8. What do I do if I don’t understand the content of the meeting?
Leave it blank. Yes, you read it correctly. Leave it blank. It happens all the time to minute takers in hospitals, scientific organisations, I.T. meetings and other technical meetings. You see, if you literally do not understand the content of the meeting then there is no way you can intelligently write anything down. If you do, when the “experts” read it, they will think you are incompetent. In other words by trying to do the right thing , you actually end up with a worse result.
The best way is to leave it blank with these words:
“Note for Chair. Didn’t understand this section, please complete it.”
The chair will fill in the gaps without even thinking and will think you are very competent to have pointed it out.
9. Can I interrupt the meeting if I don’t hear or understand something?
Logic says of course. If you are sitting next to the chair (as you should be) then you just ask them but otherwise remember, you have a job to do – if you don’t hear something or understand something, then you must ask for clarification.
10. When do you use names or stay anonymous?
Names are used for all motions, seconding of motions, actions, reporting who gave a report etc. For general discussion names are not necessary in most meetings. Three exceptions however are some safety meetings, some industrial relations meetings, some contractual meetings.
Also, if a person wants it specifically recorded that they were for or against something, then they have a right to have it recorded – but only if they ask.
Listen to or download Audio Track 8:
This track includes exceptions (safety meetings, industry relations meetings, contractual meetings). Some companies observe the protocol that discussions (hence the personalities/names) are excluded from the minutes.
11. Is there any difference with company board meetings or other board meetings and normal workplace meetings?
In general no – everything in this manual applies but you need to check for specifics. Specifically the Corporations Act does have some special requirements. Other Acts of parliament may also impose some special requirements on other boards. You should check with the Company Secretary or the Chair to see if you have special requirements you need to be aware of.
12. What is the best way to capture the discussion in a meeting?
Use dot points. Listen as the discussion progresses and every time there is a major point made – you can tell by reading the body language of the people – write it down as a bullet point – do not use sentences – they will be more open to misinterpretation because people will say “I didn’t say that”. People rarely argue with dot points. When the meeting concludes or later in the meeting, go over the points and edit out the ones that in retrospect are not major.
13. How do you know what to record when several people are speaking at once or there is more than one conversation?
Write nothing. Wait and then ask the chair what he or she wants you to record.
14. Whose responsibility is it to “discipline” a meeting when they are all talking over one another?
It is the chair’s responsibility to do that but if they don’t and you can without getting fired – then go for it. By the way, if you do, you’ll never have anyone query your minutes ever again!
15. Can the minute taker participate in the meeting?
If you are in a meeting of peers, then of course. If however you are the person brought in to take the minutes for a group of people of which you are not normally a part, then only communicate with the chair during the meeting about the content of the minutes – don’t “add in your two bobs worth”. You can of course ask for repeats of things you don’t hear or clarification.
16. Some of my meetings use formal meeting procedure. Do I need to understand it?
If you go to meetings that use formal procedure, then it is smart for you to understand it. I have written a book which explains it simply. Meeting Procedure Made Easy. Meeting procedure is like a game of chess. You need to know the rules! The book is available at our website www.davidprice.com
Module 3 B: Worksheet:
Recall a recent meeting that gave you problems in terms of taking the minutes.
- Were you conscious of your role as a ‘modifier’ to the Chair?
- Were there occasions during that particular meeting when you could have pre-empted some problems but felt you were too low in the pecking order to matter?
- Did you approach the chair after the meeting to shed some light on items that you did not understand for clarity?
- Did you take it upon yourself to meet with the chair prior to a meeting to discuss the agenda, the participants, requirements and anything else that might have ensured a smoother meeting?
- With your newfound perspective, create for yourself your ‘job description’
as a meeting manager. Make this as detailed as possible. You can then compare this with management’s own perception of your role.