How to take effective notes during a meeting

By Nicole Tinkham


Office meetings are probably not the highlight of your day and we totally get that. Sometimes it feels like they drag on forever meanwhile work is piling up on your desk. But on the flip side, very important and innovative discussions can come from meetings. This is why you should be there, be alert, and take excellent notes. If you struggle with getting everything written down as it’s being said or if you find yourself zoning out, listen up! We’ve got some effective note-taking tips that can make you love meetings and taking notes. Well, we can’t actually promise that but at least your notes will be legible and effective. Let’s begin with why you should be taking notes in the first place.

Why take notes?

•    Helps you remember- Not only are you listening and talking about a certain topic but you’re also writing everything down. This will help you remember what was discussed in the meeting.

•    Keeps you focused- By taking notes, you’re actively listening to what’s being said and are more focused on the topic of discussion.

•    Points out any issues- Things come up in meetings and often times issues are pointed out. If these types of things weren’t documented there would be no way to improve on them when they’re forgotten.

•    Provides proof- If there’s ever a future debate on what was discussed in a meeting, you now have proof!

Be prepared

By now you know to bring a notebook and pen with you into every single meeting, right? Great, that’s the most important part! But there are also a few ways to prepare for the meeting. Think about speaking points you’d like to make, arrive early to get a good seat, and wake yourself up. Sometimes those afternoon meetings can be a drag so be sure to grab your coffee ahead of time.

Remember the 5 W’s: Who, What, Why, Where, and When

Taking notes based on the 5 W’s will ensure that you have all the important information and tasks written down. Keep in mind that you won’t always need all 5 W’s. Too much unnecessary detail will only clutter your notes.

Practice shorthand

Abbreviating can speed up the note taking process so you can easily get everything written down. It also saves room on your pad of paper so you don’t run out of space. There are certain shorthand systems that can be used (Gregg Pre-Anniversary, Gregg Anniversary, and New Era Pitman) or you can do your own thing. Be careful when making up your own abbreviations though as they can be super easy to forget what you meant when you read back over your notes!

Have structure

The structure of your notes depends on what type of notes you’re taking and your personal style. If notes are action steps, bullet points will probably be the way to go. Visual note taking is another option where you doodle or sketch your notes. Just remember to pay attention and jot down the important stuff. It can be easy to get carried away especially if you’re the creative type! Also consider an app on your smartphone to help organize your meeting notes. You’ll probably have to try a few out to determine the one that works best for you. No matter the structure, be sure to include some key info at the top of the page: Date, name of meeting, topic, etc.

Be selective

There’s no way you’ll be able to write down every single thing discussed in the meeting. This is where you’ll have to use your judgment and jot down only the most important information. This would include tasks, decisions, questions, key facts, and follow up.

Type your notes

Since you’re writing down notes quickly, you’ll often leave out some information. You must type your notes immediately after the meeting while it’s still fresh in your mind so you can fill in the blanks. You may even want to email your notes to those who were not able to attend the meeting so this is your opportunity to clean up and organize them. Tip: Take your list of action notes and throw them in your calendar right away so you don’t forget about important tasks.

TIP: While we live in a technology-driven world, taking notes on a computer may not be the best option when in a meeting. Your keystrokes could irritate others and your screen can block you from what’s going on in the meeting. The paper and pen option keeps you alert and involved.

While we can’t make your meetings any more exciting than they already are, at least we can help make the most out of note-taking. It’s actually pretty simple when you think about it. Jot down the most important notes as clear and organized as you can. Ever zone out during a meeting? Even when you’re totally focused on the discussion, it’s easy to just forget about taking notes altogether. Start making it a habit. At first you might find yourself writing every single thing down but with practice you’ll get it just right.

What’s your best note-taking tip? Comment below to share your secret strategy!

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