Perfect minutes for meetings

Achieving perfect minutes for meetings is straightforward if you follow the rules.

If you want to take perfect minutes for meetings follow the steps below.

Preparation - Understand your role

If you want to have perfect minutes for meetings you need to be prepared before the meeting starts.

Meet the chairperson. If you don’t know them, try to have a short meeting with the chairperson to clarify:

  • The terms of reference, so you can understand the purpose of the group and it’s objectives.
  • What represents a quorum? [The minimal number of officers and members of a committee or organization, usually a majority, who must be present for valid transaction of business.]
  • What they expect of you.
  • How you will work together during the meeting.
  • How they want to handle the process of approving the draft minutes.

Why publish minutes?

Clarify with the chairperson why minutes are published. There are at least six reasons:

  • To record action points.
  • To record discussions.
  • To document why decisions were taken.
  • To provide a record for legal or contractual purposes.
  • To inform people not at the meeting of what happened.
  • To prove people attended and expressed a point of view.

Who does what and when?



Before the meeting:

  • Confirm action points from the previous meeting have been completed.
  • Clarify the purpose of this meeting.
  • Ensure an effective agenda is drafted and circulated.
  • Ensure the right people have been invited.
  • Oversee the administrative arrangements.


During the meeting:

  • Create a productive and results-focused environment.
  • Steer the discussions towards achieving the stated objectives.
  • Manage the personalities - encourage the quiet and manage the noisy.
  • Manage the time effectively, whilst still encouraging meaningful debate.
  • Summarise frequently and check understanding.
  • Ensure that participants accept personal responsibility for action points.
  • Close the meeting in a positive and motivating manner.            

After the meeting:

  • Ensure that minutes or summaries of action are circulated quickly.
  • Actively follow-up progress on action points - not just before the next meeting!
  • Keep influential people informed of progress.
  • Review how it went and identify opportunities for improvement.


Meeting secretary


Before the meeting:

  • Meet with the Chairperson and discuss what you each expect of the other.
  • Manage all the administrative arrangements for the meeting, eg book the venue, order any equipment, and plan any refreshments.
  • Read any earlier documents, eg minutes of earlier meetings, reports, etc, to understand the style required.
  • Familiarise yourself with the issues and the personalities.
  • Prepare any documentation required for the meeting. eg the agenda, position papers, etc.
  • Check the venue just before the meeting starts to ensure that all is well.   

During the meeting:

  • Provide close support for the Chairperson.
  • Have any related documents or papers readily to hand.
  • Make notes in sufficient detail to write the minutes.
  • Subtly prompt the Chairperson should the meeting stray from the agenda.
  • Be ready to provide summaries of action points or discussions.
  • Clarify anything you don’t understand.
  • Keep a list of any outstanding issues.


After the meeting:

  • Return the venue to a clean and tidy state - destroy any confidential materials.
  • Meet with the Chairperson and discuss how the follow-up should be managed.
  • Write and circulate the draft minutes or action points for the meeting.
  • Make any advance preparations for the next meeting, if required.
  • Incorporate any changes or additions into the draft minutes, and publish the final version.
  • Discuss with the Chairperson how things might be improved next time.

Taking notes for perfect minutes for meetings

How much detail is required?

  • Fully attributed or ‘verbatim’
  • Summary
  • Action points  or agreements
  • Capture ‘special’ quotes. 

Always note in precise detail:

  • Figures, eg sales forecasts or sums of money.
  • Dates.
  • Names of people, countries, companies or institutions.
  • References to relevant documents, eg Acts of Parliament or regulations.
  • Clarify anything you don’t understand.
  • Keep your notes organised.
  • Collect any supporting documents.

Use lulls in the discussion to review, clarify and expand your notes whilst the information is still fresh in your mind.


What do I look for?

1   Observe what happens – not just what people say but how they say it. You should be listening for people’s viewpoint and noting  it. For example:

Quote from Tom: ‘In my department it won’t work. To list every item in the post is a waste of my staff’s time and everyone has enough to do already’

Noted as: Tom: disagrees, waste of staff time.

Further quote from Tom, later in the discussion: ‘ I don’t think it’s necessary. I cannot remember the last time we lost any post!’ 

Later on in the discussion. Noted as: Tom: ‘don’t lose post now.’

2   Number each page

3   Start a new page for each agenda item – if the meeting jumps back to something you can still put it in the correct place.

4   Start a new section for each person…It makes it easier to follow the flow of the discussions

Evaluate - what have I got?

  • Sort your notes into Agenda order as items may have been discussed in any order.
  • The final minutes should reflect a logical sequence – why not the original agenda.
  • Start drafting as soon as possible.
  • Clarify any confused issues with the speaker.
  • Can they give you copy of their brief or report?
  • As you evaluate your notes decide what to discard:
  • Duplication of earlier comments.
  • Unhelpful or destructive comments.
  • Offensive or personal remarks.
  • Confused or misleading comments.
  • Comments unrelated to the agenda.

Hints and tips for perfect minutes for meetings.


Use a standard style for heading the minutes:

Minutes of the [name of committee or group]

Held on [date, day and time]

At [location].

Presentation and layout

Minutes should provide a factual record and be presented so they are easy to read. It’s good practice to ensure:

Clear and informative headings.

Additional sub-headings as required.

Mainly short words with clear meaning.

Mainly short sentences and paragraphs.

Careful use of bold/capitals/italic fonts to highlight key points.

Clear action points.

Individuals to be named only where necessary – eg action points.

Acronyms - put in full once, then use the acronym.

Write numbers in full. For example, the group agreed that a representative from five (not 5) departments of the organisation would be adequate for the meeting to be quorate.

Recording decisions

The committee NOTED – a point of information.

The committee RECEIVED – a report where no action was required. 

The committee AGREED – a course of action over which it has control.  

The committee APPROVED – the minutes of the last meeting as an accurate record. 

The committee APPROVED – ‘the recommendations that …’

The committee DEFERRED – ‘the matter to a later meeting…’

The committee REFERRED – ‘the matter to another body…’

Action points

Record action points in clear language:

‘The committee agreed to proceed with the project plan as outlined.’

Indirect/Report speech

Minutes are always written in the past tense, which means you use indirect or reported speech, for example:

First and second person pronouns

‘I’ and ‘you’ [singular] becomes ‘he’ or ‘she’, or ‘him’ or ‘her’.

‘we’ and ‘you’ [plural] becomes ‘they’ or ‘them’.

‘my’ becomes ‘his’ or ‘hers’.

‘yours’ [singular] becomes ‘his’ or ‘hers’.

‘yours’ [plural] becomes ‘theirs’.

Present tense becomes past tense

‘am’ becomes ‘was’.

‘are’ becomes ‘were’.

‘may’ becomes ‘might’.

‘may have been’ becomes ‘had’.

Past tense becomes pluperfect

'I  have been’ becomes ‘had been’.

‘was’ or ‘were’ becomes ‘had been’.

Future becomes conditional

‘will’ becomes ‘would’.

‘shall’ becomes ‘should’.

‘will have’ becomes ‘would have’.

Time and place change

‘now’ becomes ‘then’.

‘yesterday’ becomes ‘the previous day’.

‘tomorrow’ becomes ‘the next day’.

‘this’ becomes ‘that’.

‘here’ becomes ‘there’.

Add names to clarify meaning

The Chairperson says: ‘Mrs Patel sends her apologies. I think she will be able to attend the next meeting.’

Record this as: The Chairperson said that Mrs Patel sent her apologies. She thought that Mrs Patel would be able to attend the next meeting. 


A word about my experience with writing minutes. When I was a manager in British Telecom I was responsible for writing minutes for all sorts of meetings.

Including three years leading the secretariat for a Commonwealth organisation.

2-week meetings – 200+ pages of A4 minutes. All attributed & detailed.

7.30am to 3.3am for two weeks! So I have some experience!

Tony Bray, Aquarius International.

If you want to have perfect minutes for meetings go to our website to find out how we can help you with your training needs. We run bespoke training for management and staff development.

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