The average employee attends up to eight meetings per week.
Every one of those meetings comes with key points, action items, follow-ups, etc.
And pretty soon, you can’t remember which key points, action items, and follow-ups were related to which meeting.
Does this action point need to be done for the next daily standup or the weekly check-in? What was I supposed to do after the discussion I had with my manager last Friday?
If you find yourself asking these questions a lot, what you probably need is a better way to organize meeting notes.
Meeting notes promote active thinking, improve organizational skills, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
In this guide, we’ll give you some tips for taking effective meeting notes that will lead to more productive meetings — and ultimately a more organized to-do list.
5 useful tips to keep better meeting notes
Meeting notes act as a single source of truth for past meetings. They contain all the discussion points, takeaways, and action points discussed by all attendees. Meeting notes are the thing to reference if any team member has a lingering question or doubt after the meeting is over.
Also, if anyone needs to miss a meeting, they can get up to speed quickly on their own without disrupting anyone else’s workflow.
One misconception is that meeting notes need to be a message collection of thoughts you jot down during a meeting. Instead there’s a methodical way to take meeting notes — here’s how you do it right.
1. Keep notes organized in a shared location
First, we need to tear down a common practice: private notes. Notes in private folders are where meeting notes go to die, alone and unloved.
That’s because the notes you keep haphazardly on your desktop or in scattered folders don’t encourage collaboration, since nobody (but you!) will see them.
When you’re using personal folders or pages to organize your notes, whether through Microsoft OneNote, Google Docs, Notion, or other note-taking apps, you’re inadvertently hoarding your notes.
Ideally you want to make sure everyone has access to meeting notes in one place. Every team member and stakeholder should easily be able to refresh their memory when they want to, with meeting notes that contain every takeaway, decision, and action item assigned to them.
The best way to achieve this is to keep your meeting notes in a central location that’s synced to a shared meeting calendar. With Vowel, meeting agendas become the jumping off point for meeting notes. After the meeting, all attendees have access to the same shared notes, along with a recording and time-stamped transcription for additional context.
2. Encourage smart note-taking
To take better meeting notes, you don’t have to work harder, just smarter.
One way to take effective meeting notes is the quadrant method, which breaks down the contents of any meeting into four categories:
Questions: As you move through the meeting, you’ll jot down questions. Write them down and make sure to get answers before the meeting wraps up (or assign them to someone to find out).
General notes: Focus your notes section on important insights, goals, ideas, and decisions.
Action items for you: List action items and next steps that you're responsible for delivering.
Action items for others: List action items for other people at the meeting, or items you need to pass on to others who aren't there.
We recommend using these four headings within your main agenda to easily guide you during the meeting. Or, if each agenda item/meeting topic is dense, you can add these 3-4 items as subheadings to each agenda item.
With Vowel, all meeting attendees can contribute to each section because note-taking is collaborative in the platform as the meeting is happening. You can either encourage all meeting attendees to contribute, or designate one note-taker for accountability. If you choose the latter, make sure to rotate the duty for recurring meetings so everyone has the same chance to participate.
3. Highlight important meeting moments
Not all notes are created equal. Sometimes ideas stand out that deserve highlighting, or you’ll want to bold a decision that deserves special attention. As you’re taking notes, don’t be afraid to highlight certain passages that should really be hammered home.
With Vowel, you can use bookmarks to highlight moments during your meetings in real time. If you really need to isolate the context of the bookmark, you can then create a clip to share with all attendees. This may be one of the best ways to share a big idea that pops up.
Bookmarks can help with taking meeting minutes, too. For meeting minutes, accuracy is paramount; bookmarks highlight important talking points that need to be exactly right in the case of an audit.
4. Leverage meeting agenda templates for notes
A meeting agenda can help you organize your meeting notes by headers. And even then, you don’t need to start from scratch — a meeting agenda template can serve as a guideline.
Agendas are also the place for all your action items, their owners, and due dates. They’re indispensable tools for project management for this reason.
If you need some help, Vowel has some built-in meeting agenda templates to get you started, depending on the type of meeting you’re having. Use these, or start with a blank agenda you can customize and send with your calendar invite.
5. Share meeting recaps
If a lot of people needed to miss your meeting, take a few minutes to write a meeting recap. This summary of important points, next steps, and action items is a great way to loop in any absentees.
Recaps aren’t just for absentees, though. Team members often don’t have enough time to read the entirety of the notes or meeting minutes. Full context is always better, but in a pinch, scanning the summary for the next meeting’s to-do list is better than nothing.
Pro tip: Include the meeting recap in the agenda for the next meeting, so that attendees can easily refresh their memory before the meeting begins.
What are the benefits of organizing meeting notes?
Keeping your meeting notes organized has several benefits that will help you, both during the meeting and after it:
Increased engagement: When meeting attendees need to take notes, they’re more likely to pay attention. As they take notes, attendees are making judgment calls about what’s most important to jot down, which promotes focus and deeper thinking.
More efficiency: You might feel like meeting notes are extra work, but they save time and resources in the long run. Without them, your Slack inbox would be full of people asking for clarification on this or that, or checking whether they understood their action items correctly.
Knowledge sharing: During a meeting, people often digress and repeat themselves. Meeting notes condense the most important information into a knowledge sharing repository that anyone can benefit from.
Keep better, more organized notes with the right tool
Meeting notes are an important way to keep your team aligned. The main points from your meetings over time are often a solid representation of your overall business goals.
But it’s easy for meeting notes to get lost in the shuffle, which is why you need a tool for meeting-note organization. When you use Vowel, everything that comes out of every single meeting at your organization all lives in the same place.
With Vowel, no team member is left in the dark. They’ll all have access to meeting notes, transcripts, recordings, agendas, and action points. Try it by signing up now for free.
Frequently asked questions about meeting notes
Got questions about meeting notes? We’ve got the answers.
Q1. What are meeting notes?
Meeting notes are thoughts that participants record to capture a meeting’s most important discussion points. Meeting notes typically include goals, deadlines, next steps, and action items. The objective of taking meeting notes is to give everyone a quick reference point after the meeting.
Q2. Why are meeting notes important?
No one has a perfect memory. Meeting notes are a record that answers questions or gives context. Meeting notes act as a single source of truth for everything that was discussed and decided.
Q3. What tools are used to organize meeting notes?
Teams often use apps like Microsoft OneNote, Google Drive, Notion, or other meeting minutes software (such as Vowel) to keep meeting notes. A meeting-minutes app is a tool that centralizes meeting notes for easy access after the meeting.