The why of meeting minutes

When I started out working as a fresh faced happy go lucky scamp (a description that has literally never been used for me) I was untrained in many things. I couldn’t hold a pipette properly and my spreadsheets involved vague headings like “time” because I was very sure I’d totally remember what the units were later.

The other thing I was totally sure I’d remember later was meetings.

Meetings happen. Often there are too many meetings, but sadly they are the kind of thing where too many is better than not enough because not enough tends to lead to “Oohh sorry I didn’t know that you were keeping the flammable experiments there… shall I call the fire brigade?” or “You’ve not been getting your pay packet? Well yes we fired you months ago… did we not talk about that?”

Over the years I’ve slowly learned to accept that very occasionally things said in meetings are important. The exact percentage of important content varies highly from meeting to meeting, but most have at least SOMETHING worth remembering. Even if it’s only something you realise 3 weeks later is worth remembering, or that one particular meeting has the best biscuits.

And that’s where my young naivety started to go wrong. Not having either a lot of meetings and them still being a bit of a novelty I thought I didn’t need to take lots of detailed notes. I’d just scribble down a few things as memory prompts. I mean what could do wrong.

“…thanks for that, sales team. Now Matthew, I believe we said at the last meeting you were going to present on the data you’ve been collecting.”

*sound of panicking crickets*

So very quickly I learnt about the marvel of good meeting minutes.


Minutes or as I call them about 50% of the time ‘minuets’ are a very simple concept for anyone that’s never heard of them. You know the things in your meeting that you talk about, you write those down. Not “talked about gas stuff” but actual notes saying “MP showed data on the gas line leakage. MP will order new parts for the gas line and order new canary”.

This sounds easy enough to prepare but writing meeting minutes is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Brilliantly, if you are a junior member of the the team, then you’ll get lots of opportunity to do this as despite being something that’s quiet important it’s a task always given to whoever has the least power to say no. Which in some meetings I’ve attended is great because as the newest person in the team I rarely know names so they tend to end up as “Soviet tie guy will run the laser tonight…”.

But it’s okay because this also gives you great power to make sure the meeting is remembered correctly and succinctly. If for example your boss has given you a big stack of annoying work to do then obviously he’ll keep notes on that and there’s no reason to minuet it and accidentally remind someone next time. This way you can make sure the meeting minutes really just focus on the important stuff… that you agree with.

Of course, once you’ve mastered writing meeting minutes the trick is to write them before the meeting. That way there’s less of the arguing and time wasting discussion and you get to just skip to the important parts. You should be able to get the meeting times down, keep things focused AND save yourself all that writing up afterwards. To be honest, there’s a good argument for writing the meeting minutes and then skipping the meeting all together.

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