How to: Efficiently Take Notes on Meetings

Meetings are about learning, and a crucial element of learning is retention. To retain all the valuable advice and information presented at a meeting, you must take notes, either long hand or digitally. Doing this efficiently requires listening skills that allow you to capture the important parts of what is being discussed, while rejecting the filler that accompanies any meeting you attend. Regardless of the brilliance of an orator, meeting leader or colleague, there’s always something that can be left out of your final takeaways.

Examples of Filler:

  • The speaker’s introductory joke
  • Many audience questions. While some might help your understanding of the material, the answer to others might have already been presented, noted, and understood by you. The person posing the question just didn’t get it.
  • Metaphors – Speakers often explain concepts through metaphors or examples from everyday life. While the initial introduction of these examples helps you understand the concept presented, once understood you needn’t capture this material again. All you’ll need on “paper” now is the concept, not its explanation.
  • Articles – No need to type the “a” “an” and “the”s, or to spell out words whose abbreviations you’ll surely understand at read back. The speaker’s “this organization was founded in Utica NY in 1912” could become “org founded Utica NY 1912” or even “founded Utica 1912” depended on your familiarity with where Utica is located.
  • Though rushing to record what is being said, try to retain some aesthetic appeal to your notes – paragraphs, bullets, etc. If in your rush, you fail to do this well, take a bit of time after the meeting to make distinctions. You’ll find it will help you organize your thoughts and thus retain the information as you organize your material later in the day.

Eliminate Distractions

We’ve seen it time and again in meetings – people flock to the back row, and then speakers cajole them into moving closer to their speaking position in the front. Don’t be one of these folks! Grab that front-row seat. You’ll want to do this for three reasons:

  • You’ll be able to hear better
  • You won’t see the people behind you, which means you won’t be distracted by other colleagues and their potentially bad meeting habits.
  • Managers and speakers notice who sits up front. If you’re attending a meeting with folks you’d like to impress, this will be positively noted.

Move your mobile phone out of sight and silence it, including its vibration. Even if the speaker starts the presentation by providing the meeting’s hashtag and urging everyone to text – DON’T. You’re there to learn, not to help the speaker market. Posting to any social media during a meeting distracts you from your note taking. You’re liable to miss the next key point of the speaker’s message while you’re texting the first point.

Once you’ve left the meeting and you have your notes in front of you, you can text or post, if you wish.

In summation, your most efficient note taking involves pruning your notes to the important elements recorded as succinctly as possible for clarity, in as distraction-free an environment as you can manage. How you hear and what you focus on will determine the quality and clarity of your takeaways. Setting yourself up to succeed will also help you dictate your follow-up. How you respond to new initiatives and come up with ideas based on what you learned while effectively taking notes at the corresponding meeting.


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