Monday, November 14, 2005

A Tip for Writing Minutes

In my 2001 article, “Meeting of the Minutes: Writing Meeting Minutes,” I mentioned a major obstacle to writing effective meeting summaries: The writer ranks among the lowest of those attending. Often the staff members assigned to writing the meeting summaries do so because no one else wants to write them; therefore, if they see the meeting straying from the agenda item, their deference to the speakers would preclude them from insisting that the speakers stick to the topic. On the other hand, if the highest ranking person were to take notes for the minutes, he or she would likely keep discussions as focused and brief as possible—thereby making the composing job as easy as possible.

I can vouch for the reality of either situation, having sat in both seats. I remember as a junior manager having to write minutes for an executive meeting that I had thought would cover three agenda items and run one-half hour. It ended after three hours, covering only one of the three items at a level far too technical and politically charged for me to fully comprehend. I spent hours on the phone and in executives’ offices the next day deciding how to best write the minutes. But I also remember taking great pleasure as a marketing director leading a meeting of staff who reported to me, and as a trustee in which the executive director served at my pleasure. In both of these cases, I never hesitated to say, “Since that’s not an agenda item, let’s talk about it after the meeting.” The result: short meetings and brief minutes.

So why not have the meeting leader write the minutes? What a sure way to protect people’s time and ensure a smooth composing process. This is the standard practice at Carlisle Syntec, a leading manufacturer of roofing systems and products in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, according to Brandon Fuller, a Technical Specialist for the company. As a participant in a three-day technical writing class I delivered in Washington, D.C., last week, Mr. Fuller discussed the procedure: “The meeting leader is responsible for writing both the meeting agenda and the summary.” When asked how well the leader runs the meetings he has attended, Mr. Fuller replied, “They’re pretty efficient.”

If you’re thinking, “I wish more meetings ran like that at my job,” then consider the best practice employed at Carlisle Syntec!

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