Chances are when you walk into a meeting, you’re not thinking too much about how to take effective meeting notes. Maybe you glanced at the agenda beforehand, but you didn’t take any time to prep.
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.
In a world where hybrid and asynchronous work have never been more prevalent, note-taking is central to keeping your team engaged, informed, and on task.
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.
Use these five tips for better note-taking to absorb ideas during meetings and make the most of your team’s time together.
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 meeting facilitator, 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.
One thing we do on the Content Team at MURAL is build asynchronous collaboration into our weekly meetings, in order to ensure that everyone has a chance to catch up on action items, write down questions, and begin each live session with focus and purpose. Since most administrative items are handled prior to the meeting, we repurpose that time with an icebreaker up front to foster stronger connection — one of the keys to collaborative intelligence.
You can also use MURAL’s pre-work template to guide your pre-meeting note-taking and preparation process. The template is especially useful for remote or hybrid teams looking to collaborate and connect on meeting expectations in advance.
2. Base your note-taking structure on the meeting agenda
There are several well established ways to structure your meeting notes, but perhaps the most common is the Outline method. Using the agenda as your guide, build a meeting document with sections that correspond to each item, leaving space for notes and suggestions.
If you’re using MURAL, you can take this a step further by leveraging a template based on the meeting type (are you conducting a SWOT analysis? Is it a brainstorming session?), or building your own structure in minutes, and using color coding and tags to help group notes by theme or topic. Not only does this make you more effective at capturing important information during the meeting, it also helps synthesize and analyze the key takeaways for your team once the session has concluded.
If you’re looking for a more general solution, MURAL’s free meeting notes template is a great solution for meeting leaders and attendees who are looking to take more effective notes to stay organized. This template can help you record meeting objectives, attendees, decisions, and action items for easy reference and follow-up. You can share it with your team to better collaborate and make progress toward goals.
While using the agenda as a guide is helpful, avoid simply recording meeting minutes. The meeting minutes are the official written record of the meeting. While you can appoint someone to take minutes if the meeting warrants it, minutes are often more formal and record things like attendance, topics of discussion, happenings, and decisions.
3. Summarize effectively by highlighting takeaways
Your own notes should include more than just a summary of what took place during the meeting. They should be written in a way that helps you record your own insights, absorb information, and reflect on ideas. With the Cornell Notes technique, 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.
4. 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, and who’s responsible for carrying it out, especially if that person is you. 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.
According to Harvard Business Review’s Paul Axtell, one of the biggest complaints he hears from people about meetings is this: “We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings.” Sound familiar? If you’re a meeting facilitator, you can avoid this feeling of repetitiveness by making sure your team is set up to progress toward goals after the meeting ends.
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.
5. 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.
The bottom line
Taking intentional meeting notes can help you be prepared, recall key takeaways, and be more effective when it’s time to accomplish the work.
Take pre-meeting notes to prepare
Base your note-taking structure on the meeting agenda
Summarize effectively by highlighting takeaways
Turn your notes into action items
Use your notes in retrospectives
These five 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 work so the insights stick, and be diligent about tackling action items so your team can keep pushing ahead.