RE: Minute-taking, shorthand, speedwriting
Q. I just found out from my boss that I will be expected to take minutes at meetings. Do you have any correspondence courses and/or computer online courses for speedwriting? I took a class about 10 years ago but have used it very little. I know shorthand and speedwriting are considered obsolete. But I am finding the higher up you go in the organization, the top executive assistants know and USE shorthand/speedwriting. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
A. You’re right. Shorthand is not a skill that is much in demand any more. And part of it is that it requires three semesters of training...and even then, not every person can decipher the shorthand of another individual. Also, more managers are keying in their own text and data—a more efficient technique since it is not tying up two individuals in the process.
Check with booksellers or college campus bookstores and see what they have on abbreviated note taking skills or speedwriting.
Most college students quickly learn to develop their own symbols for often-used words or phrases and by following outlines or leaving spaces and filling them in after the sessions, they get along quite well. I think you will be able to do this too. There will be certain words or references in your office or industry that appear often enough that you can use a symbol to stand for them each time they are written.
For our board meetings, here are some things that minute-takers do that may also be helpful for you.
• Tape record the entire transaction so that if the group gets ahead of you or if you have questions on your notes or the discussion, you have a “record” you can refer back to. But don’t relisten to the entire tape and try to do your minutes from it. Use it only as a back up for questions.
• Go into the meeting with prepared pages showing the items to be discussed and having other information already filled in that you can add to...like the entire cadre of possible attendees, then mark out anyone absent rather than writing down who is there on site. Number the pages as you go—the group may take items out of order. Oftentimes, the minute-taker is responsible for providing good flow. The actual chronological order of the discussion may not work when you start to do the write up.
• Focus on action items, not the discussion. Who said what ought not to be included in the minutes. The purpose of minutes is to define decisions made and what actions are to be taken, by whom, and when. List the business transacted, not the talk around it.
• Have pre-printed motion sheets and insist that all persons making a motion fill it in and submit the motion sheet to you once it has been seconded for the minutes. That allows you to get the wording exactly as the person proposed it.
• If you need to refer to other documents, add them in an appendix, as attachments, or refer to where they may be found. Don’t rewrite their intent or try to summarize them.
• Distribute the draft of the minutes to a very small group or one individual. The more people that have access to the draft, the more input and changes they will likely have that are without substance. If the group gets the minutes at the next meeting, they will be more likely to focus on the true business of the meeting.
• Know that your job is to be objective. Write in the same tense throughout and avoid using people’s names except for motions or seconds. This is a business document, not about who said what.
• Avoid inflammatory or personal observations or words that might imply such. The less adjectives or adverbs you use, the better. “Dull” writing is the key to appropriate minutes. Leave out emotions and conjectures.
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