For four years I served as the executive secretary for GYC
. The title sounds fancy, but really it meant that I was administrative support for the organization’s Executive Committee. While my responsibilities varied, one of my most important tasks was a mundane one: taking minutes.
I’ve heard from more than one person that they have hesitated taking a secretary position for an organization, board, or committee because of the dreaded task of taking minutes. I won’t lie–minutes were not my favorite responsibility in the world, and leaving them behind was one of the areas that I found most relieving when I moved into a different department at the end of those first four years. But taking minutes weren’t that bad either. And I think it is because I developed some habits along the way.
Maybe you are a secretary for an organization or committee, are considering accepting a similar position, or know someone who falls into either of these categories. I hope these tips are of use to you. Even if the title secretary will never follow your name, hopefully some of these ideas will aid you in other areas of life where note-taking is still essential. At the end of the day, we all have something we will want to remember at the end of the day. Notes are a helpful way to do this!
Purpose of Minutes
Minutes of committee meetings should be short, quick and easy to read, and a good record of what transpired during the meeting to refresh the memories of those in attendance and inform those who were unable to attend. Length ideally should not exceed one page (doable for an hour teleconference, never happened during multi-day meetings).
- Action Items
- Recommendations, counsel, “hey, let’s do this” stuff, etc.
- Things to do and not to do
- Delegated Tasks
- Preferably highlighted or bolded
These should have an exact recording of the wording of motion made at the meeting. Secretary/recorder should ask for clarification if not able to get the exact wording down when the motion is first made.
At GYC, the last name of the person making the first and second for the motion must be recorded.
Note whether the motion passed, passed unanimously, or did not pass (you may include the number of those who voted against the motion or who abstained from voting, but this really is not necessary).
Short Summary of Discussion
Should be kept as brief as possible (as short as a sentence, no more than a short paragraph, unless absolutely necessary to go longer).
- Members of committee present, and those absent.
- Time meeting was called to order, adjourned, as well as location (if in person, the physical/geographical location, otherwise state “via teleconference”).
- Should be approved by the secretary/recorder and committee chair.
- Secretary/recorder should keep a (digital) archive of all past meeting minutes, and should pass the archive on to their successor. This helps preserve the record of decision making and maintains organizational transparency.
Don’t Even Think About It
It’s really impossible to mess up minutes, but that said, there are a few things to avoid. Minutes should not:
- Read like a transcript of who said what, nor a play by play account of heated discussions of contested issues.
- Record how each member voted for/against or abstained from a motion as theseminutes are not Supreme Court opinions.
- Detail sensitive information/discussions regarding individuals, organizations, etc. Issues can be summarized without including this information.
If it’s not in the minutes, it didn’t happen. This is why all motions must be recorded, and sensitive information should be left out as much as possible.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Feel free to contact me
with any specific question you may have on minute taking, or leave your own suggestions for effective recording below!