How to Take Notes in Meetings Like The Rich and Powerful

Do you ever feel like your day has so many meetings they all start to blend together?

So many details to capture. And sometimes not even knowing anything about the meeting topic.

It’s a real struggle. And because of this, one of the most important things you can do in your career (especially management consulting) is make sure you know how to take notes in meetings.

Working on consulting engagements, it’s not uncommon to have multiple meetings to prepare for the “real” meeting with the client. If you’re lucky, the meetings will yield some 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, they remember minimal pieces of the discussion.

And even worse, when you ask people later about their commitments made in the meeting, they act like you’re speaking in a language they’ve never heard before. (Maybe accountability could be considered a language and that’s why they’re not familiar with it.)

That’s exactly why you’ll find the rich and powerful to be avid note takers.

When it comes to meeting notes, you’ll want to email those out to all invitees and be sure to focus on capturing the 6 following pieces of information.

Don’t worry if you’re having trouble following along in meetings. I’ll show you what to do in that situation too.

How to take notes in meetings: the 6 key elements to capture

1. Attendees

You need to know who showed up (and who didn’t) 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.

4. Statistics/Benchmarks

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.

If you’re having trouble with following the content of the meeting because you don’t know the content, fear not, I’ve some tips to help you with that too.

Meeting notes best practices: what to do when you’re completely lost

Sometimes you’ll find yourself responsible for taking notes in a meeting where you don’t have a clue what’s going on. And sense you weren’t trained as a court stenographer, you may have a moment of panic.

If you find yourself in that scenario, here are some meeting note strategies that can help:

1.Find out the meeting objectives before the meeting

The clearer you are on the purpose of the meeting, the more you know what you’re looking for in the meeting in terms of content and potential follow-ups. A bonus is you can help keep the meeting singularly focused (which it should be) when people go on tangents.

2.Write down everything by hand

I go back and forth on this because of the inefficiency of writing something and then either losing it, switching notebooks, or having to type later BUT I always remember things better when handwritten. So if you’re new, just write things down by hand. There’s no point in arguing with science on this one.

3. Come up with shorthand for things you frequently need to note

When you’re in the business of taking notes, there are things that will come up over and over again (see the first section above) and you may want to have shorthand for identifying them in your notes. For example, I flag action items with a big asterisk when writing by hand. Key decisions get circled, This is especially helpful if you’re going to be distributing the notes to a group where you may want to separate the elements I noted above, which most likely will not come up in sequential order in the meeting.

4.Type it up and organize later (right after the meeting while its fresh)

In the digital age we live in, it’s based to type up and organize your notes after the fact using a tool like Evernote or Google docs for searchability if you need to find them quickly. Do not do this in the meeting. It’s the same thing as trying to write a paper or article and edit at the same time. It just doesn’t work. And you’ll probably miss something important because you were making your notes pretty instead of paying attention.

5. Ask follow-up questions

Once you have all of your notes written down, there’s a good chance you have some clarifying questions. Having your notes typed also makes it easier to update when you ask your questions. Time is of the essence here, so you either want to schedule a debrief or grab someone right after the meeting to explain if you questions are quick.

Knowing how to take notes in meetings isn’t a natural skill, but the more you focus on making this skill second nature, the better off you’ll be. So the next thing you to do is take a look at your calendar, and figure out which of these techniques you’re going to use. You’ll feel the difference immediately.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Tim Ferris, “I trust the weakest pen more than the strongest memory.”

For more practical tips, go here to download the 12 habits of highly successful consultants!