Jul 30 2015
How to improve your note-taking in meetings

By Jakki Bendell

What do you look at when you’re taking notes in a meeting? Chances are, unless you’re trained in shorthand or speed writing, it’s your notepaper.

The trouble is, looking at our notes makes it difficult for us to listen effectively. We all know that words alone only convey a small fraction of meaning – Professor Albert Mehrabian’s famous study put it at just 7%. How we say the words – our voice – accounts for 38%. So when we focus our eyes on our notes, we’re losing over half (55%) of what each speaker is communicating through their body language.

Looking up at the speaker, listening and writing notes at the same time is not easy and needs practice. The good news is you can do that outside of the meeting by following these simple tips and exercises.

Develop your own shorthand

You don’t have to learn a new language. If you possess a mobile phone, you’re probably already using texting abbreviations and emoticons like LOL and : ). Just extend this personal dictionary to include words that come up a lot in your meetings: w/o for ‘without’, or mktg for ‘marketing’ for example. You can also look up and use standard maths and note taking symbols such as > for ‘more than’.

Remember that you’re aiming for notes that you can understand. Don’t worry whether anyone else can. That’s what the minutes are for.

Practise taking notes with videos

Do a search on YouTube for short minutes and meeting exercises, and practise listening and summarising the main points. Two good examples are:

If you run out of exercises, try videos of talk shows such as BBC’s Newsnight, or even Graham Norton for a bit of light relief! Again, segments are available on YouTube.

Remember, your objective is to summarise what people say, not to transcribe every word.

Work on your listening skills for five minutes a day

Check out sound consultant Julian Treasure’s TED video ‘5 Ways to Listen Better’ on YouTube. He outlines five simple daily exercises to improve your listening skills, including spending three minutes a day in silence – or at least quiet.

Taking effective notes does require practice but it’s well worth the investment – it makes the whole process of writing minutes so much easier.

Jakki Bendell delivers a portfolio of writing and communication courses. She is passionate about helping talented employees express themselves in clear, concise and persuasive writing. As a writer herself, she is interested in both the practical skills, techniques and tools that help people write to tight deadlines, and the strategies that transform ideas into action.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.