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Lightening the Load: Leading Meetings While Taking Notes

You’re sold on the value of note-taking and ready to create a consistent note-taking practice during meetings. But how do you balance note-taking with engaging in the meeting conversation, and maybe even leading the meeting itself? Each role in itself requires a certain level of concentration, and taking on more than one can be challenging.

Leading Meetings While Taking Notes

If you’ve ever been in the position of leading meetings while taking notes, you understand the balancing act that happens: you need to keep the conversation moving while capturing accurate and legible information that you can revisit later. This can happen in one-on-one meetings with a manager, in project or team meetings, and also during client meetings.

Or maybe you’re still in the process of modeling new ways of working to your team, and need to build buy-in before assigning someone else the task of note-taking.

Whatever the specific situation is, it can be difficult to keep track of these multiple priorities and to do the job well.

Strategies for Balancing the Note-Taking Load

Thankfully, there are strategies to make it easier to wear multiple hats in a meeting. Try any combination of these seven strategies to alleviate the stress in your next meeting.

1. Have a clear agenda.

A well-planned agenda makes your life easier as a meeting facilitator or a participant. You can use the agenda to guide the conversation and keep the meeting focused. When the agenda helps you lay the groundwork for a productive conversation, you’re in better shape to capture the meeting outcomes as notes. Consider pre-populating your notes with the agenda topics so it’s easier for you to capture notes under each agenda item and track your progress through the meeting.

2. Write down key words. Keep it short, for now.

Don’t attempt to write down everything everybody says. Focus on the critical information. If you write down keywords and phrases during a conversation, they will serve as reminders for you when it comes time to flesh out the notes after the meeting.

Some people capture key words on a flipchart or shared screen during a meeting so they are visible to meeting participants. Then, participants can confirm in real-time if their comments are being accurately recorded.

3. Categorize critical information as tasks, decisions, and learnings.

Take notes that fit into these three categories to make it easier for your team to know what to do with the information once the meeting ends. Designate each kind of note with abbreviations like “T,” “D,” and “L." Or use a system like Meeteor, which has built-in categorized note-taking to make it even easier for you. The visual reminders make the notes stand out and help you summarize the conversation to the team at the end of the meeting.

Meeteor categorizes notes into "Tasks," "Decisions" and "Learnings."

4. Choose the note-taking method that is right for you and your team.

Taking notes on a laptop or mobile device or jotting notes down in a notebook and typing them up after a meeting are fine if you are leading meetings while taking notes. Consider what works best for you, your team, and the type of meeting. If it’s a virtual meeting, it might make sense to type up the notes in a shared document for all the participants to follow in real-time. If it’s a smaller in-person meeting, perhaps you prefer not to divert your attention to a device and instead to jot down thoughts on paper.

5. Schedule time to clean up the notes (preferably right after the meeting ends).

Five to ten minutes of cleaning up notes immediately following a meeting saves you time and energy in the long-run, since your memory is fresh. You can type up written notes, clean up typed notes, and ensure they are actionable.

Remember that cleaning up notes does not mean fleshing them out excessively or expanding them into full sentences or paragraphs. Often, phrases and bullet style notes are just as comprehensive but much easier to read. The goal of the notes is to align team members and make next steps clear.

6. Leverage the power of the team.

Calling on your team’s collective memory can help if you are leading meetings while taking notes. It saves you time and can increase accountability because the whole group is part of the note-taking effort. You can:

  • Use a meeting recap to build the notes together. Rather than you trying to take full notes during the meeting, use the last five to ten minutes to work with your team and collectively list the tasks, decisions and learnings mentioned in the meeting. Each person can help to fill in the missing pieces.

  • Allow everyone to contribute to the notes during or after the meeting. Make the notes accessible to the meeting participants. Use a shared system like Meeteor or a Google Doc so everyone can see what’s been captured and add or edit the notes as needed. If you’re unsure about any details, ask for help.

  • Share note-taking responsibility. Ask someone to step into the role when you’re talking, or, even better, rotate the note-taking role with the team so everyone has a chance to practice taking notes and to engage fully in the meeting.

7. Only use audio-recording when necessary.

When being observed or recorded, people sometimes change their behavior. They may feel nervous to speak up due to a fear of being misinterpreted or viewed poorly for their comments. In addition, recording a meeting requires the extra work of getting the consent of the individuals in the room and the effort of listening to the recording afterwards.

If the content of a meeting is highly complex in terminology or content, recording it might help you to revisit and clarify the details later. Otherwise, recording does not add much value. If you do record, you should still take notes of high level themes throughout the meeting, and only revisit the recording if there is some question.

The Goal is Sharing Responsibility

Ideally, everyone in the meeting room shares the responsibility of note-taking and has the opportunity to practice the craft. Until then, you may be leading meetings while taking notes. Let these seven strategies move you to a place of feeling more comfortable and empowered as you assume these multiple meeting roles.

We’d love to hear from you! Are you leading meetings while taking notes? What strategies do you use to help you manage the two roles?


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