Getting the right people "in the room" is only half of making a meeting worthwhile. The notes you take and share are the other half.
They capture the most important aspects of every meeting — the decisions made, who attended, the context, and everything meeting attendees (and remote teams!) need to stay in the loop and execute on what was discussed.
But most meeting notes are gobbledygook, disconnected thoughts and ideas that, after the meeting, become pretty useless in 90% of cases.
Let's explore each aspect of great meeting notes (traditionally called "meeting minutes") and techniques for capturing them so that they actually make a difference for your team.
Why meeting notes are usually ineffective
After meetings, it's like notes sail into the Bermuda Triangle, never to be heard from again. If this is happening after your meetings, those dutifully-taken notes are pretty pointless.
Marie Poulin is a digital strategist and designer who helps businesses create systems for their work. Sometimes, she has up to 18 meetings a week — from internal team syncs to consultations with clients. With so many meetings, Marie's always looking out for inefficiencies in her meeting and meeting notes process.
Here are some common mistakes she has identified:
Not using custom templates — each meeting has its own needs. Depending on the meeting type, Marie can quickly spin up a template instead of worrying about what she needs to cover. Everything's already in the template. Weekly wins and kudos in the team sync template. Goals, needs and timeline in the client consultation template. Not only does this streamline everything, it creates a process she and her growing team can follow for every meeting.
Meeting notes aren't connected to other deliverables — most meetings are related to some kind of deliverable. But usually, notes only point you to the work. A link here, a screenshot there. Software that connects the work at hand with your discussions about it makes those conversations more meaningful.
There's no follow up — participants leaving the meeting should know what next steps are. "What do you do with the information you've collected?" asks Marie. "It should be actionable." She's right. And making sure attendees know who's responsible for what is key. Whether it's by tagging them in your meeting notes software or communicating via Slack, what's next for everyone involved should be clear. To further make these actionable, you can set reminders so you get notifications that prompt you to revisit notes or act on certain things.
Our goal with this piece is to tackle these inefficients by recommending new, better practices.
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Components of excellent meeting notes
The best meeting notes have three phases. By ensuring that everyone is prepared before the meeting, big ideas are captured throughout it, and everyone knows what they should be doing after, good notes make the most of your meetings.
How many times have your meetings started like this: "OK, so what are we talking about again?" Or even more likely, "So, what's everyone up to?"
Marie suggests all meeting materials be shared ahead of time so everyone's primed.
Make sure these things are all included in your meeting notes template — that way, they'll serve as your checklist when getting ready.
Create a meeting agenda — agenda items should spec the points you need to cover. For a weekly standup, it could be the projects your team is working on that week. If it's a launch post-mortem, touch on where it went well and where it could be better.
Tag the participants — it may seem obvious to make sure your meeting participants know they're involved in the meeting, but these things slip through the cracks. Even better if you have a software that allows you to tag participants in the meeting notes. Maybe the people you're meeting with are part of a team. Depending on what platform you're using for meeting notes, you may even be able to tag that entire team at once.
Share prep materials — in addition to an agenda, be sure to provide the meeting participants with any materials that need review ahead of time. Whether it's relevant user interviews or a product spec, having these beforehand is important context flagged. Instead of hemming and hawing, your team comes prepared.
Do this all about 24 hours ahead of the meeting so everyone has appropriate time to collect their thoughts and ideas, arriving at the meeting ready to share.
Link your team goals at the top of recurring meetings
Meetings can be frenetic matches of verbal pingpong.
You're not going to capture everything. These don't have to be formal meeting minutes. But by having goals, blockers, and action items in your meeting notes template, your notes will have a purpose. If something is said that's related to these three areas, be sure to write it down.
Goal of the meeting — this can be included in pre-meeting prep, but it should be clear at the onset of every meeting because it keeps the meeting on track. And try to make it as concrete and measurable as possible. For an informal meeting, like a brainstorm, it could be "come up with three ideas for email campaigns." For a more formal business meeting, it might be "identify new lead targets." Whatever it is, the goal will give the meeting a true north.
Recap — if your meeting is recurring, it might be advantageous to cover what's been accomplished since your previous meeting. What's been done? What hasn't ... and why?
Blockers — if a meeting is about a specific project, understanding blockers and dependencies is key to progress. Include a section in your meeting notes to surface these, so you can figure out the best way to unblock them by the next meeting.
Action items — arguably the most important part of any meeting, action items give everyone a sense of executional clarity when the meeting's over. Make these big, bold, and visible to everyone. You can even tag team members to double-click on what they know they're responsible for. You'll also want to set a reminder for following up on action items. Did they get done? If not, what are the blockers?
Something else you can add? Kudos. Marie likes to create space in her internal team meetings by including a "Kudos" section in her meeting template. This is a nice way to recognize everyone's hard work.
How to take good meeting notes
Your job isn't done once everyone's left the Zoom call and you're awkwardly starting at yourself in the camera.
In fact, the most important part of the meeting comes after it — you'll want to clean up all the notes and assign action items to turn conversation into concrete deliverables.
Make your notes legible — much like handwritten notes, it can be hard to understand shorthand from meeting notes. The note-taker should take on polishing the notes for better usability. Different headers, gathering links if someone mentions outside resources, completing fragmented ideas, adding visuals or personality with emojis. All these things help make notes more readable, and thus, more useable after the fact.
Send action items to the right people — this should be the number one thing to come out of a meeting. Whether it's a team or an individual, those involved need to know what they're responsible for post-meeting. That can be easily missed in a Google doc. Find software that allows you to clearly communicate action items, deadlines and more. You'll also want to follow up a few days after the meeting to check on the status of these items.
Bonus: Connect your meeting notes to the right projects
Using Notion, you can easily connect all your meeting notes to the projects you discussed. This can happen both in the page or as part of the system.
Inside meeting notes — using Notion's slash command, type
/to see all the embeds your team can use, from PDFs to Miro boards. If your meeting is to review a design draft, you can embed the Figma file by typing
/figmaand linking to the file. If it's to review code with your engineering team, you can type
/codeand paste the code right into the code box for a real-time workshop.
Creating a database of all meeting notes — if your team is using Notion for project management, you can link your meeting notes to these relevant projects.
Let's say your engineering team is working on improving mobile startup time. Every time you meet about it, you can connect those meeting notes to the project using a relation property. That way, everything related to the project is in one place so teams have a full field of vision.
Meeting note templates
In Notion, you can create a framework for all your meeting notes — that way, you can easily centralize them so all cross-functional teams (or people who missed a day) can quickly access notes to stay in the loop. At the same time, you're creating institutional knowledge for everyone to reference in perpetuity.
Here's a meeting notes template for your entire team or company to get you started.
It's a system for all meetings notes that tracks the meeting date, what type of meeting it was, and who attended. It also includes templates for individual meetings, which you can customize to your needs.
If you'd like more specific templates for your team, check these out.
They're completely customizable — think of these templates as starting points to help you unlock your meeting's true potential.