Common Challenges in Writing Meeting Minutes

October 31, 2019

Common Challenges in Writing Meeting Minutes

Writing meeting minutes is generally an easy process - by which I mean there are the general guidelines and whatnot of writing them, and one simply has to follow those - except when it is not because of some challenges that sometimes seem to come out without warning from the woodwork. 

Here are some of the most common challenges that can be found in writing meeting minutes:

1. Too much information is given by participants

Most conversations follow a straightforward and linear pattern: Person A talks and Person B listens, then Person B talks and Person B listens. Granted, this path can diverge from time to time, for maybe Person B may interject while Person A is talking and thus move the conversation towards another topic, or maybe Person A suddenly switches topics midpoint in his sentence so Person B has no choice but to follow along with it.

Put one or two more people in the conversation, and the discussion becomes even more convoluted because now you have several people with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking all trying to one-up, if you will, the other participants in the conversation.

Meetings are the same as the latter situation, except even worse because now you have a veritable legion of people all raising different issues that they feel is important, all the while getting farther and farther away from the main points of the meeting. That is all well and good, but not when it derails the discussion and moves it away from the main topic. It becomes then a question for the minute taker of what to write down, given the fact that the issues being raised might be legitimate ones. Should he note them all down and hope for the best? Should he religiously expunge all discussions irrelevant to the main topic from the minutes? Or should he just give up and have someone else transcribe the whole meeting verbatim for him?

2. Participating in the call versus minute-taking

A unique quandary can face the minute taker, especially when he or she is also deeply involved in the subject matter - say it is his or her project, or he or she has a task that is closely related to the subject - and has more than passing knowledge of the many layers involved in it: should he focus on the minute-taking or put the pen down and the figurative pointer up? There is no easy answer to this little challenge here, but there are indeed some workarounds to this. A simple and rather obvious one is to have someone else in the meeting - preferably someone in the same room as the minute taker is - take over minute-taking duties while the original one makes his or her presentation and does a little bit of contribution in the process. Another is to simply give the information to a trusted colleague so that colleagues could make the presentation on the minute taker's behalf.

3. Having to take minutes of a meeting that is badly-chaired

The chair - also called the moderator or facilitator - of a meeting wields great power in his or her hands. That power is the power to steer the meeting towards a certain direction. And as a certain superhero says, with great power comes great responsibility. The great responsibility of a chair is making sure that the meeting tackles all the important points that must be tackled according to the agenda.

It is, however, rather easy to forget this responsibility as the chair.

That is why cooperation between the minute taker and the chair is extremely important in any meeting. The minute-taker must remind - and keep on reminding, if need be - the chair to do his job of chairing the whole thing, which means telling everybody to not talk over one another, not start side conversations in the background, have their speakerphones or whatever they’re using to dial in on mute whenever they don't have anything to say to prevent unnecessary background noise, and otherwise stop doing all the things that can ruin an otherwise good meeting.

4. Running out of paper (or juice) and having nothing at hand to replace it

Different minutes takers use different tools to get the job done. Some go with the old-fashioned and time-tested method of minute taking with pen and paper, while others swear by the wonder of technology that is known as a laptop or mobile device and meeting minutes services such as InSummary

Whatever the tool used, whether digital or analog, there is always the risk of not having sufficient supply for the tool paper for analog, battery life for digital). Extra care must thus be taken to ensure that the minute taker is prepared for this kind of eventuality.

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