Virtual minute-taking basics

Let’s spare a thought for those unsung meeting heroes, the minute-takers. Everyone’s so focused on the difficulties of remote working, dispersed teamwork, and running virtual meetings (we’re in the middle of a Zoom revolution!) that it’s easy to lose sight of this essential role.

The minute-taker faces the same challenges as everyone else: the technical difficulties, the transmissions delays (not all broadband is London-fast), poor audio quality, and so on. But the role is in a unique position. The minute-taker can’t zone out for five minutes during someone else’s agenda item. They can’t doodle their shopping list while Bob from Accounts is doing the ‘boring budget stuff’. And yet, as the ‘invisible attendee’ it can be more difficult for the minute-taker to interrupt and ask for clarification.

This becomes a critical issue if we’re talking board meetings or certain committees. For some meetings, minutes are more than just a helpful reminder of discussions and action points, they’re a legal requirement; part of showing that directors are fulfilling their legal and fiduciary role.

So, for anyone organising a virtual meeting, bear the minute-taker in mind…

Technology

An obvious point maybe, but use a video app or platform. By now, we’ve probably all accepted Skype, Zoom or Google Meet into our lives but if anyone does suggest a phone meeting you may need to point out that video makes it much easier to know who is saying what and when.

Know the attendees

Know beforehand who to expect and, if necessary, ‘take the register’ when the meeting starts to check everybody’s there (again, much easier with video – you can just look around the ‘room’). Be on the lookout for anyone dropping out partway through the meeting; it’s not as obvious as someone shuffling their papers, standing up from the conference table and walking out of the room. With a remote meeting, they’re just suddenly not there.

Work closely with the chair

A good rule for any type of meeting, it’s even more important for virtual get-togethers. Make sure you’re both clear on your roles. Maybe have a quick practice call the first time so you’re both familiar with the environment. Ask the chair (or facilitator if you have one) to especially focus on managing discussion, one contribution at a time, minimising interruptions and people talking over each other. And it’s good practice in any kind of meeting for the chair to summarise key points and actions at the end of each agenda item.

Read the meeting papers beforehand

Again, obvious maybe, but if you’re an experienced minute-taker, you know you can probably just busk it. but in a virtual meeting, with all verbal and visual cues reduced or more difficult to pick up, it really helps to be prepared with the context of what’s being discussed.

Minutes of the previous meeting and AOB

Keep it simple, keep it streamlined. Do the traditional agenda items still need to be on the agenda? Confirmation that everyone is happy with the previous meeting’s minutes can be done via email when those meetings are distributed – no need to risk an additional discussion. Likewise, how necessary is “Any Other Business”? Assuming it’s not hot off the press, urgent news, if the person raising an issue under AOB knew about it beforehand, why isn’t it on the agenda? AOB is amorphous, ambiguous and you never know whether it’s 30 seconds or 30 minutes. That’s extra stress you don’t need in a virtual meeting.

Interrupt

Some people speak softly. Some people’s home office has a really dodgy microphone. Some people just seem to like talking over other people. It’s crucial you know what’s being said. If the attendees are entitled to expect you to produce accurate minutes (they are) then you’re entitled to ask for clarity.

Finally, it’s hardly uncommon for the minute-taker to traditionally be saddled with the admin and preparation for the meeting. For virtual meetings, that’s more complicated; if only due to the technology element, and all the cat-herding needed to organise the attendees.

That might be fine beforehand but during the meeting, you’re focused on keeping track of the discussion and taking accurate notes. Someone else needs to be responsible for in-meeting tech and logistics support.

 

Minute-taking is a role that is under extra pressure in a remote or virtual meeting. If you want to know more about this topic, check out our new 90-minute online session, Minuting virtual meetings; or give us a call on 01582 463463; we’re here to help.

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