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#961: Taking Good Meeting Notes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 09, 2009
During engagements, I take extensive notes of meetings, interviews and discussions with staff. However, since these notes are not required as project documentation, it is unclear it is worth the effort.

The ability to capture information by taking notes is an important part of a consultant's toolkit. Whether you are capturing information from a meeting, interviews, focus groups, or research, your notes are a way of structuring relevant information for later evaluation, reduction and transformation. Thomas Edison was a prodigious note taker, amassing over 5 million pages of notes in his years of research and development work. His notes were so effective that they served as a thorough archive of his activities and basis of staff doing their own derivative research years later.

Good note taking has several important features. First, be prepared to take notes. Don't just show up for an interview or meeting with a blank sheet of paper and start writing down what is said. Create an interview script with space for capturing responses or a list of key "ask its" for a meeting.

Second, create a consistent system of notes so you can understand them long after they are taken. One way to do this is to create for your use a standard set of symbols and formats. for example, use one symbol to indicate items that are your opinion vs. something another person said, or for items that require you to follow up.

Finally, set aside time immediately after taking notes to confirm the clarity and accuracy of your notes, evaluate their significance, verify any questionable data, reduce them to a vital core of information, and interpret any aspects requiring it. Don't take notes and wait several days to look at them, lest you find you can't read your handwriting, recall important facts, or are overwhelmed by dozens of pages of notes you transcribe or interpret.

Tip: Treat note taking as a deliberate, intentional business process to be planned, evaluated and improved.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  meetings  planning 

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