Minute Taking

by Clare Forrest

Who does what?

The good news is that you don’t have accountability for the minutes. That belongs first to the meeting chair and finally to the members of the meeting. So, if you don’t have to worry about being held accountable, what should concern you?

Time management

The first thing to remember is that your measureable outcome is to produce an appropriate set of minutes. So it’s important to make sure that, at the same time as you put the meeting appointment in your calendar, you also make a note to write up the minutes after the meeting.

The meeting management team

Think of the chair as the manager of the meeting. Like many managers s/he needs someone to help them – a secretary. This is your role as the minute taker. Together you are a team, working to ensure the meeting’s objectives are achieved for its members.

The chair retains ultimate accountability, but may delegate many responsibilities to you to ensure everything is in place. At every stage there are tasks for you to do.

Even if you are also a contributing member of the meeting, you and the chair still need to work together as a ‘meeting management’ team.


Spend a few moments jotting down what you think your responsibilities are before, during and after a meeting. While you’re at it, make a note of what you think the chair should be doing at the same time. When you’re happy you have everything down, check your answers here.

Liaising with the chair before the meeting

Co-operation between the minute taker and the chair is crucial to the success of a meeting. Both of you will benefit from having a short discussion before the meeting starts, particularly if either of you is new to the role. Things that you both need to be clear on are

  • The purpose of the meeting, who attends, timing, likely topics and so on
  • Who will be using the minutes
  • The purpose of the minutes
  • Domestic issues – seating arrangements, equipment needed, refreshments etc
  • Any of the jargon/abbreviations/technical terms and so on likely to be used by members
  • How the chair prefers to run the meeting
  • How much detail is to be included in the minutes
  • Whether the chair will summarise during an item or only at its end.

Being assertive

Many chairs are poor at their job. It’s often not their fault. They’ve had bad role models, never understood the rules of meetings and have picked up unhelpful habits. It’s not unusual for skilled minute takers to gently ‘guide’ their chairs to run a meeting more effectively. Whether or not you do this, it is important that you speak up when a decision is unclear so that it can be properly recorded.

Two particular issues to be aware of are

  • An agreed action not being assigned to someone
  • Dates not being agreed for when an action has to be done.
Key tip

If you’re worried about speaking up in the meeting, have a piece of paper in front of you on which you’ve written down this phrase: ‘Before we move on, chair, could I just clarify...’

Then all you need to do is glance at your script when things are unclear and let the words flow.

There’s more about assertiveness here.

Where to sit

You and the chair are a team. You need to sit next to her/him so you can work together. In fact, the two of you really need to be separate from the other members, preferably at the head of the table if there is one. Why? This isn’t about power, but about process. If you’re stuck in the middle of the group, you won’t be able to see and hear all the members easily, which means you could both end up missing something. See here for a typical seating plan.

Before the meeting

  Responsibilities Notes and explanations
  1. Agree the draft agenda with minute taker
  2. Ensure domestic arrangements are made
    Liaise with the minute taker to ensure all is in place
  3. Ensure you’re familiar with any paperwork
  1. Even though the minute taker may draft this, the chair must approve it before it can be sent out.
  2. Domestics include equipment, seating, attendees, refreshments and so on.
    It is bad practice to wait until the meeting to appoint a minute taker.
  3. The chair needs to be in control, so being clear on what will be discussed is important.
Minute taker
  1. Prepare from previous minutes or new sources
  2. Draft and agree agenda with the chair
  3. Organise domestics
  4. Liaise with chair
  1. Whether it’s your first time or your hundredth, the clearer you are on what will be discussed, the easier it will be to take notes. This doesn’t mean you need to be a topic expert – it’s just about having a sense of what the meeting is all about.
  2. Make sure this is done in plenty of time so it can be sent out to meeting members.
  3. It’s a good idea to have a checklist you use for every meeting to ensure you don’t forget anything.
  4. The chair is in charge of the meeting, so you need to be clear on what they want.

During the meeting

  Responsibilities Notes and explanations
  1. Get there early, start on time and keep to time
  2. Keep control – people, agenda and time
  4. Generally direct note taking
  1. The chair should be there to meet and greet and check all is in place.
  2. Meetings which are poorly chaired cause problems for the minute taker, for the members and for the business of the meeting. It’s the chair’s job to ensure that s/he exercises control of these three elements.
  3. Summarising is vital for the minute taker. Summaries tell you what you should be recording. You’re not a subject matter expert.
  4. It’s the job of the chair to give you, the minute taker, proper direction (summarise) so you know what must be noted. 
Minute taker
  1. Get there early
  2. Listen and take notes
  3. Clarify
  1. Give yourself time to organise your paperwork and to take note of who is present.
  2. Your main jobs are firstly, to listen, secondly, to decide if a note is necessary and then, if it is, to take a note.
  3. Meetings are often messy. People talk over each other and decisions are often unclear. Don’t let this pass. Make sure you ask the chair for clarification if something is unclear. While note taking is a key skill, so is being assertive.

After the meeting

  Responsibilities Notes and explanations
  1. Verify draft minutes
  2. Monitor actions
  1. Verify is the key word here. It’s not the chair’s role to nitpick or edit the minutes. If you’ve done your job well, then the minutes will be a correctly structured and grammatically correct document. It is the chair’s role to ensure that the minutes are truthful and accurate – and to make changes if they are not. This is because, once the chair has verified the minutes, s/he takes accountability for them as a ‘true and correct record’.
  2. Between the end of the meeting and before the next one, it’s the chair’s role to ensure that the meeting members carry out their actions.
Minute taker
  1. Collate your notes
  2. Draft the minutes, have them verified and then distributed
  1. Don’t try to type up your minutes without first collating your notes. This will save you time and ensure you choose the right things to put in and leave out.
  2. Other than for AGMs, where it is usual to send minutes out with the next agenda, you should ideally get the minutes out to members within two days. After all, that’s why you were at the meeting.


A thought

Sounds like a lot to do? It is and it needs continuity and teamwork. That’s why you should avoid the practice of ‘rotating’ chairs and minute takers; that is, people taking it in turns to take on the roles.

The argument is usually that it helps to develop people’s skills. It doesn’t. You can’t develop a skill through doing something once every six months or so. It needs sustained practice.

If you really must rotate, then let people get embedded in the role by giving them responsibility for at least four meetings. This will build skill and confidence.