In the management consulting world, you go to a lot of meetings.
Because of all of those meetings, one of the most important things you can do coming into consulting (or any other career) is make sure you know how to take notes.
Working on consulting engagements, it’s not uncommon to have multiple meetings to prepare for the “real” meeting with the client. If you play your cards right, the meetings, at least, yield useful information.
There’s a huge problem with all of these meetings though – people have short-term memories. By the time the participants leave the meeting and get back to their desks, that discussion will have long faded from their memory.
And even worse, when you ask people about their commitments made in the meeting later, they act like you’re speaking in a language they’ve never heard before. (I suppose accountability could be considered a language, and I know there are some people out there who aren’t familiar with it.)
That is exactly why you’ll find the rich and powerful to be avid note takers.
When taking notes for yourself, you should consider adding structure for searchability using a tool like Evernote. When it comes to meeting notes, you’ll want to email those out and be sure to focus on capturing the six following pieces of information.
You need to know who showed up for the meeting because sometimes you need to go back in the archives to find out if a dissenting opinion today had the same point-of-view with a different audience in the room.
2. Date of the meeting
Business circumstances change fast so understanding when a meeting took place will help you assess if that information is still relevant any time you find yourself referring back to it.
3. Names and titles of people/things mentioned during the meeting
Sometimes names will be dropped as a person you need to contact to get an open question answered. Sometimes documenting this information simply helps you get a better understanding of the client environment. These may be your next
I’ve been in the position – far too many times to count – where I’m reaching out to an expert to “get smart” on a topic before going into a client discussion. I’m usually scribbling feverishly during those meetings so I don’t miss a thing.
Numbers don’t lie, so when you someone “drops” some stats or benchmarks in a meeting, you need to pick them up ASAP in your notes. Good or bad, data gives a story, presentation, blog post, etc more credibility. 9 out of 10 consultants agree…joking…kind of.
5. Key Decisions
This one is simple. What was the decision and who made the final call. Knowing those two things makes preventing revisiting the same topic again later much easier. Ignore this concept and you’ll end up like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat).
6. Action Items
Sometimes one meeting just isn’t’ enough to conclude on a given topic. Maybe you underestimated the time needed. Maybe you didn’t invite all of the right people. Or maybe you did, and some new questions were uncovered. Or maybe not everyone on the invite showed up.
In any case, additional conversations have to happen in order to close out the issue at hand. You want to make sure you – and everyone else – remembers who is on the hook for what task.
The more you focus on making taking notes second nature, the better off you’ll be. I’ll leave you with this quote from Tim Ferris, “I trust the weakest more than the strongest memory.”