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Note-taking tips you can implement in a snap

Mar 19, 2021

Taking notes is somewhat of an art form, but one that can boost your job performance in ways you might not expect. When you implement regular note-taking during your meetings, you’re really polishing a number of soft skills like organization, active listening, and creative thinking. 

That’s why it’s surprising how many teams forego meeting notes altogether — which also opens up for vital info to get lost in the mix. And for those groups who do take notes, most of the time, what gets recorded is irrelevant, inefficient, or not super useful in the long-run. 

On the other hand, good notes from a brainstorming session or weekly team meeting can help you remember crucial dates and details you might otherwise forget. Read on to learn more about meeting notes versus meeting minutes, and to discover the tried and true note-taking methods you can use on any call or video conference.

 

Are meeting notes and meeting minutes the same thing?

Have you ever been curious whether meeting notes and meeting minutes are actually the same thing? It can be pretty hard to distinguish between these two based on their names alone, so we’re here to break down the differences once and for all. 

While it’s true both notes and minutes are used to summarize the takeaways from your meeting, there are definitely some traits unique to each approach. For starters, meeting notes are *quick* references to the goals and objectives covered in your meeting, whereas minutes are more formal in nature. Typically, meeting minutes will include items like:

  • A list of all meeting attendees
  • A list of everyone who’s absent
  • The start/finish time for the meeting
  • Main topics or discussion points
  • Any key decisions that were made

As you can probably tell, the information collected in meeting minutes doesn’t stray far from what appears in most meeting notes — however, minutes follow a more structured format. Since minutes are viewed as legal documentation by courts and auditors, whatever’s said or whatever happens in your meeting has to be cited with additional care.

But even though minutes already touch on the most important aspects of the meeting, sometimes you still want to take separate notes of your own. Note taking might make concepts easier for you to understand, or help you stay focused as the meeting is going on. Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt taking your own set of notes is a beneficial habit.

 

7 best note taking methods for any meeting

Now that we know how notes and minutes differ, let’s shift gears and take a look at the note taking best practices you can apply to any conference call, video chat, or in-person gathering. Using these easy, yet effective note taking methods will improve your retention and give you the confidence to tackle your responsibilities once the meeting is over.

1. Get started ahead of time

This first tip might sound a little strange — getting started before the meeting kicks off? The idea of spending more time thinking about your upcoming meeting probably isn’t very alluring, but any amount of preparation you’re willing to put in is sure to have a big pay off. 

If you’re opting to go the handwritten route using pen and paper, the structure will be critical in taking better notes. That’s why arranging everything in a meeting notes template is incredibly useful (especially if you do so ahead of schedule). A basic note template can be as simple as:

  • Date of your meeting
  • Who’s there with you
  • What’s on the agenda
  • Questions and answers
  • Relevant action items
  • General thoughts/insights

When you’re writing notes by hand, using this layout can limit unnecessary clutter and make your notes much easier to read. And by having your template ready at the meeting’s start, you’ll have a better idea of what to listen for, and be able to tune in from a much clearer headspace (rather than scrambling to organize your thoughts).

2. Hone in on three specific areas

While we’ve established meeting notes aren’t quite as formal or disciplined as meeting minutes, it’s still good to reel in your notes a bit and give them a solid purpose. By honing in on a few essential elements, you can use your time wisely and create a clear, concise set of goals. 

Whether you’re using a notepad or taking notes in your meeting software, the aim is to keep things as streamlined as you can, without losing context or critical details. With that in mind, there’s really three areas for you to zero in on: 

  • Main points from your agenda: Give a brief summary of each item from your meeting agenda and the agreed upon outcomes.
  • A run down of action items: Whenever actionable items are discussed, write down what the assignment is, who’s responsible for it, and when it’s going to be due.
  • Questions to follow up on: As certain questions or ideas arise you’d like more clarity on, make a note so you can follow up after the meeting is over.

If you’ve made a template (as suggested in the previous step), each of these areas will have a designated spot to hang out. Keep these points to around three sentences or less, since anything more than that will become too crowded or complicated. Additionally, you’re wise to confirm with other attendees before you write down any official deadlines or decisions.

3. Don’t try to catch *every* word

As tempting as it can be to transcribe every word that’s said during your meeting, that strategy is rarely in your best interest. And not only that, but it’s next to impossible to achieve. When you try to take notes verbatim, you’ll likely wind up way behind in the conversation, making this a counter-productive practice you’re better to avoid. 

While some people fear writing too little, writing down the full exchange is just as ineffective. As you’re taking notes, keep sentences short, and don’t stress over misspellings or typos for the time being. Instead, concentrate on the keywords, dates, or themes you want to remember (i.e. the goal for Q4 is…, or the new marketing campaign will launch May 6th).

If your notes are for personal use, you don’t have to worry about someone else making sense of them, so write in a way you’ll be able to understand and apply later on.

4. Abbreviate wherever you can

There’s a chance you might be familiar with shorthand, but in case you’re not, it’s basically an entire system for taking notes! Shorthand is an abbreviated, symbolic style of writing that’s much quicker than longhand (which is what we typically use in everyday communications). 

But for all the advantages of the shorthand system, it can take a considerable amount of time to master and eventually put into effect. The good news is, you can still use common abbreviations to speed up your workflow and note taking process. Take these shortened words, for example:

  • b/c = because
  • b/w = between
  • min = minimum
  • max = maximum
  • qty = quantity
  • yr = year or years

It may seem trite, but saving a few seconds by writing or typing abbreviations can add up to a lot of time over the course of multiple meetings. And if you’ve naturally developed codes or symbols of your own, feel free to use those in your notes, as well. To be a skilled note-taker, the idea is to maximize your time and stay as engaged in the conversation as possible. 

5. Capture what comes next

You could argue that capturing action items is the top reason to take notes at all, seeing as these items help determine what happens after your meeting expires. As mentioned above, action items are one of the three key points you’ll want to pay attention to while you’re taking notes (along with your meeting agenda and follow up questions). That being said, be sure to sum up any action steps, decisions, or recommendations in your own words, so you have a strong grasp on group expectations and what’s supposed to happen next.

Jot down items as they come up, rather than after the meeting has come to a close; this way, you’ll have a record of the most accurate information, and you’ll be ready to implement or initiate your assigned tasks right away.

6. Collect the necessary details

While we’ve acknowledged there’s no sense in trying to record what someone says word-for-word, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain details you’ll need to have. And the most important details are often related to your calendar, like impending due dates, launch dates, or special events. 

Don’t simply rely on your colleagues or co-workers to remind you of what’s up ahead — instead, take thoughtful notes, and then add applicable info to project management or scheduling software after your meeting has wrapped. Having ownership over your role begins with detailed notes, so keep this in mind before you drift off at your next meeting and miss out on something you’ll need to reference down the road.

7. Enhance your notes with call recording

No matter what’s being discussed or decided on in your meeting, recording the call is an incredible way to supplement your note taking and share content with the rest of your team. The truth is, watching a video recording or listening to recorded audio is a lot more engaging than reading through a static meeting summary. 

Recording your meetings will help attendees really listen in and ask the right questions since some of the pressure of note taking will be alleviated. Plus, these recordings can easily be revisited during downtime, like on your morning commute or your daily walk to lunch.

More and more companies — from startups to established brands — have recognized the benefits of call recording, and have made it a standard practice for effective meetings of all kinds. Recording your meetings is an impactful way to bring about clarity and camaraderie among your group, especially when some (or all) team members are working remotely.

 

Improve your note taking (and record your calls) with Vowel

Note taking is a valuable asset in any meeting you’re attending; and the best part is, taking quality meeting notes is super attainable when you have the right tools.

With Vowel’s innovative video conferencing software, you can chat and collaborate with fellow meeting participants on shared notes, all in one convenient space. What’s more, you can mark an #idea or #decision with your own hashtag to come back to at any time, and you can set up action items in real-time so everyone leaves the meeting on the same page.

Did we mention Vowel features automatic transcription and call recording? You can view your meeting notes in line with this transcription, playback the recording from the moment a note was created, and even use clip sharing to pass along the *exact* segment you need. 

It’s never been easier to stay organized, elevate your note taking ability, and reflect on what you discussed for ultimate meeting productivity. Join Vowel’s waitlist today, and get ready to take your meetings to a whole new level!

, Head of Marketing

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