Don’t rely on verbatim note-taking to capture meeting details.
Be intentional with how you take meeting notes so you can stay prepared, recall key takeaways, and be more effective when it’s time to accomplish the work.
What are meeting notes?
Meeting notes are written records that capture the discussions, key decisions, and action items during a meeting. They act as a reliable reference for team members who attended the meeting and a valuable resource for those who couldn't be present.
Why should you take meeting notes seriously?
You might be the type to just jot down quick bullets, or maybe you type out verbatim every word that’s spoken between your team members. By the end of the meeting, you’ll have notes to reference — but they’ll lack structure and insight, and they probably won’t help you remember important details once you close Zoom or leave the conference room.
What’s the difference between meeting notes and meeting minutes?
Meeting notes are usually more informal, capturing the essence of the meeting's content, while meeting minutes are formal and structured, documenting a legal and formal account of the meeting’s preceedings. Both serve important roles in preserving meeting outcomes and facilitating effective collaboration within teams and organizations.
Meeting minutes are commonly used in board meetings, official gatherings, and legal settings, while meeting notes are more universally appropriate for team meetings and project kickoffs.
That said, use these seven tips for better note-taking to absorb ideas during meetings and make the most of your meeting attendees’ time together.
7 tips for taking better meeting notes
1. Take pre-meeting notes to prepare
Take notes in advance of the meeting to get organized and prepare any thoughts and ideas you have. You’ll better understand what the meeting will cover and be more productive once it starts.
As the old saying goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It’s unhelpful for you to be unprepared, and it’s frustrating for others in the meeting, which limits connection and hinders progress.
If you’re the team leader or in charge of leading the meeting, you can help your team prepare by sharing an agenda beforehand, with enough time for attendees to review. Facilitators should also take pre-meeting notes to be clear on objectives and talking points.
You can base this off the meeting agenda items to provide structure, or just jot down some early ideas of the topics planned for your next meeting.
2. Agree on a standardized format with your team
Team members shouldn’t have to adjust to new formats and decode the meeting notes if they missed the daily sync. Consider using templates to standardize the format of your meeting notes to ensure that your records follow a familiar format across longer periods of time.
Try these Mural templates to standardize your meeting note-taking:
While having a dedicated note-taker can help team members focus on the meeting at hand, collaborative note-taking can be a great way to keep meeting participants engaged. Create a shared document or canvas where teams can add sticky notes and important points about the meeting that can be referenced at any time after the meeting.
This crowd-sourced approach takes the pressure off of one person to capture all the most important information, and increases the likelihood that all the most important notes are captured by the whole team.
4. Summarize effectively by highlighting takeaways
Good meeting notes should strike a balance between a basic summary of the meeting and a word-for-word, written record of what happened. They should be written in a way that helps you record your own insights, absorb information, and reflect on ideas. With the Cornell Note-taking method, for example, you divide the page into three sections and then record:
Notes from the meeting
Questions, takeaways, and insights
A summary of the meeting
This makes it easier to review and remember pertinent info after the meeting. In general, Cornell Notes is a great method to use for linear learners.
Mind-mapping is another method that can spur creativity and help you connect ideas and themes across a range of topics. It’s a visual technique that features main themes or ideas at the center, with supporting ideas branching out from them. It tends to be a good option for non-linear learners. Mind maps can be useful for collecting takeaways from multiple meetings over time to see how different topics relate and which themes pop up repeatedly—for example, facilitators might create a collaborative mind map for brainstorming sessions and plot ideas from your team.
Regardless of the specific method you take, find a way to record your takeaways and questions. Focus on what’s meaningful instead of writing down everything that’s said by a presenter or your team members, so you don’t forget the essentials once the meeting ends.
5. Include relevant context
Be sure to include context to notes, decisions, and action items so readers understand the reasoning behind them. Are there projects you can reference and link to? How about a question posed in slack that gets discussed?
Pro-tip: Similarly, be sure to clarify any abbreviations, short-hand, or acronyms so team members understand the notes without having to reach out and clarify.
Include extra information where it’s relevant or add a section dedicated to relevant resources so team members that missed the meeting don’t miss out on important information.
6. Turn your notes into action items
Effective meeting notes don’t just help you keep a record of the team’s discussions—they spur action. Without clear action items, your meetings likely won’t be productive.
End every meeting by noting clear action items and your role in accomplishing them. Be specific — write down what the next step is, how it’ll be done, who’s responsible for carrying it out, and when the desired due date is for each action item.
An action item could be as simple as following up with a colleague to get the data you need or sending out a memo to clarify something that many team members had questions about. When you’re crafting action items, think about your key takeaways from the meeting and what your team wants to accomplish.
Make sure you leave the meeting with a clear understanding of what needs to be done next and how you’re going to go about doing it, and share your notes with all the stakeholders for a record of your collaboration and a reminder of next steps.
It’s easy to forget key ideas and action items after walking out of the meeting room or closing Microsoft Teams. Be sure to share notes and action items with your team following the meeting.
Pro-tip: Don’t forget to follow up on the action items after a few days to make sure your team has the resources and support they need to accomplish their work.
7. Use your notes in retrospectives
So you’ve captured the key points, summarized and analyzed your notes, and created action items. Then what happened? How did those action items translate into real-world outcomes?
If you never look back at where you started, making sense of where you ended up will be impossible. That’s why having a shared space where every collaborator is empowered to contribute is not only powerful for real-time and asynchronous connection, but also for creating repeatable processes that scale into long-term success.
Once again, grouping your notes based on themes will make it easier for you to organize your action items, as well as better analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your approach once the results are in and it’s time to iterate. If you’re using a virtual collaboration platform or online whiteboard, you can build this into your note-taking from the beginning with sticky notes and tags, or by using the find and filter feature to quickly sort through your content.
Lead (and leave) meetings with more confidence in your teams
Taking great meeting notes is more than summarizing what happened.
Establishing a system of note-taking and documentation with your team can help you be prepared, recall key takeaways, and streamline workflows and team project management.
Take pre-meeting notes to prepare
Agree on a standardized format for meeting notes
Turn note-taking into a collaborative exercise with your team
Summarize effectively by highlighting takeaways
Include important context and resources
Turn your notes into action items
Use your notes in retrospectives
These seven tips will help you improve your meeting notes, but taking good notes has as much to do with what happens after the meeting as what you write down during the meeting. You’ve taken the time to craft insightful takeaways—now you need to set aside time to review those notes and turn ideas into action.
Apply what you learn to your daily workflows so the insights stick, and be diligent about tackling action items so your team can keep pushing ahead.