Skills of the minute-taker

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The Skills of a Minute-Taker
Knowing what is expected of you as minute-taker will help you to maintain boundaries within the meeting. If the room is out of coffee and you’re supposed to get the refill, you may miss something important.
In this lesson, we’ll review the key skills and abilities of a minute-taker, including listening, critical thinking, and organization.
 
Key Skills
 
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
Appearances count for a large part of people’s impression of you. This includes your body language as well as your clothes. Here are some tips to help you convey confidence about yourself and your abilities.

  • Learn to develop a poker face during the meeting itself so that you do not show your personal feelings about motions or member comments.
  • Learn to relax and enjoy your role.
  • Dress like everyone else in the group but stay on the conservative side.
  • Greet members as they come in and say a cheerful goodbye when the meeting is over.
  • Always shake hands if you can, as that is a welcoming ritual of a business transaction in many places. Your grip should be firm but not overpowering, and remember to make eye contact.
  • The minute-taker should not be asked to double as a clerk during the meeting. This means the chair (or anyone else) should not ask you to make coffee, run for photocopies, or anything else that could mean you miss something for the minutes. Assert yourself so that someone else performs those tasks during the meeting.

 
Key Skills
To function properly as a minute-taker, you must also be alert, highly organized, and focused on the group discussion. You will need to be able to restate the positions and the discussions of others accurately and objectively. Not everyone is suited to this job.
 
A minute-taker must be:

  • A good listener
  • A sound critical thinker
  • An excellent organizer

 
Listening Skills
Take a moment to think about your particular role at work. How much of your day do you spend communicating (listening, speaking, reading, or writing)? Each job is different, and the time we spend communicating can also vary from day to day.
In conjunction with our ability to actively listen, we also have an active forgetting process, where we let go of things we have heard. As a minute-taker it will be important to listen well, and we can probably all learn to listen better.
 
Listening for Answers
The ability to really listen is an important skill for anyone to have. Listening allows you to understand where the other person is coming from. It shows that you’re interested in what the other person has to say.
Unfortunately, we all experience common listening problems.

  • We let our attention wander.
  • We miss the real point.
  • We let our emotions interfere.
  • We step on the statements of others.
  • We think ahead and miss what’s being said right now.

Responding to Feelings
The content (the words spoken) is one thing, but the way that people feel really gives full value to the message. Responding to the speaker’s feelings adds an extra dimension of listening. Are they disgusted and angry, or in love and excited? Perhaps they are ambivalent! These are all feelings that you can reply to in your part of the conversation.
Reading Cues
Really listening means that we are also very conscious of the non-verbal aspects of the conversation.

  • What are the speaker’s facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture telling us?
  • Is their voice loud or shaky?
  • Are they stressing certain points?
  • Are they mumbling or having difficulty finding the words they want to say?

 
Demonstration Cues
When you are listening to someone, these techniques will show a speaker that you are paying attention, providing you are not acting them out.
Physical indicators include making eye contact, nodding your head from time to time, and leaning into the conversation.
You can also give verbal cues or use phrases such as “Uh-huh,” “Go on,” “Really!” and “Then what?”
You can use questions for clarification or summarizing statements. Examples:

  • “Do you mean they were charging $4.00 for just a cup of coffee?”
  • “So after you got a cab, got to the store, and found the right sales clerk, what happened then?”

 
Tips for Becoming a Better Listener
Make a decision to listen. Close your mind to clutter and noise and look at the person speaking with you. Give them your undivided attention.
Don’t interrupt people. Make it a habit to let them finish what they are saying. Respect that they have thoughts they are processing and speaking about, and wait to ask questions or make comments when they have finished.
Keep your eyes focused on the speaker and your ears tuned to their voice. Don’t let your eyes wander around the room, just in case your attention does too.
Carry a notebook or start a conversation file on your computer. Write down all the discussions that you have in a day. Capture the subject, who spoke more (were you listening or doing a lot of the talking?), what you learned in the discussion, as well as the who, what, when, where, why, and how aspects of it. Once you have conducted this exercise 8-10 times, you will be able to see what level your listening skills are currently at.
Ask a few questions throughout the conversation. When you ask, people will know that you are listening to then, and that you are interested in what they have to say. Your ability to summarize and paraphrase will also demonstrate that you heard them.
When you demonstrate good listening skills, they tend to be infectious. If you want people to communicate well at work, you have to set a high example.
 
Critical Thinking Skills
To take accurate minutes, you must be able to think critically and quickly. Minutes should be a record of the facts of the meeting; they must not be tainted by biases or judgments. We could spend a whole day talking about critical thinking, but here are some basics.
According to the 21st Century Lexicon, critical thinking is, “the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.” In other words, it’s about using a specific set of systems and tools to look at a problem, find several alternatives, and choose the best one. In order to understand critical thinking, let’s compare it to non-critical thinking:

Non-Critical Thinking … Critical Thinking…
Sees the world as black and white Accounts for shades of gray
Is uninformed and indifferent Is informed and curious
Is passive or aggressive Is assertive
Is lazy Is active
Looks at only the superficial aspects of a problem Looks deeply at a problem and its surrounding issues
Is reactive Is proactive
Is stubborn and rigid Is flexible
Is closed-minded Is open-minded

 
Let’s look at a simple example. You’re working on a project with a team of co-workers. You are at lunch one day when one of them comes up to you in a complete panic and says, “I’ve heard that the CEO isn’t happy about our approach! If we don’t change course, we’ll all be fired soon!”
A non-critical thinker might accept this statement at face value and react. A critical thinker would look at the different parts of their co-worker’s statement and evaluate it objectively, considering both the statement’s correctness and relevance.
One of the key ideas behind critical thinking is logic. If your argument is logical, a reasonable person should be able to follow your line of thinking and reach the same conclusion – or at least see how you got there.
Let’s take an example. Suppose that I give you these two statements:
All fruit is good for you.
Apples are fruit.
What conclusion would you come to? Apples are good for you. Even if you disagree, you should be able to see how I arrived at my conclusion. (A good critical thinker, however, would want to see some proof for those two statements!)
 
Organization Skills
There are many different ways to organize your notes. Whatever method you choose, it must work for you, and it must be consistent and help you create accurate notes.
One method is to develop a template beforehand, depending on the style of the meeting and the minutes you will be preparing. We will look at some different styles later on today, but here’s a sample template. (You would, of course, need more white space than is provided here – this is just a sample.)

Meeting Date Meeting Location
Attendees Absent or Regrets
Topics Discussed
Decisions Reached
Action Items

Another method is to color code your notes or to use the margins of a page to note what part of the meeting you’re recording. Typing notes during the meeting will save you a lot of time later, and it will make organizing things a snap.
Many people choose to record the proceedings. You’ll need to advise the meeting attendees that the meeting is being recorded for the purpose of the minutes. You’ll also still need to take notes so that you do not miss anything and so that you know who was saying what. The recording will help you to verify things like the exact wording of a motion.