Taking notes is an essential part of successful business meetings. It's a form of communication transferable to both the meeting participants and stakeholders who couldn't attend the event. Studies have shown that notes also improve memory retention in a learning environment. The act of taking notes also improves focus and reduces the urge to multitask. The benefits of taking notes are more than just the recall associated with writing things down; notes serve as a tool to disseminate knowledge throughout the organization and align the team around a shared understanding.
Note-taking is a Multi-Step Process
Taking notes is not just about writing something down to improve recall and focus. Notes are an asset to help you review and remember. Studies have shown that great notes are a multi-step process that enhances personal memory and communication across the entire team.
After the meeting ends, the next step is to revise your notes; summarize the key points, and digitizing the quick handwritten notes will help recall and set up a shared understanding amongst the participants. If there is a desire to enhance your memory of the event, periodically reviewing the notes is proven. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered the experimental study of memory, discovering that reviewing learned information makes items easier to remember and that spaced-out repetition creates higher recall. Additional studies have shown that rewatching a recorded video of a lecture improves one's understanding of the details. This quartz article summarizes a relevant study:
"Students viewing a lesson once recorded about 38% of lesson details in notes. Those who viewed the lesson twice or three times recorded about 53% and 60% of lesson details, respectively. A fourth group viewed the lesson a single time, but they could pause, rewind, and fast-forward the lesson as they pleased, and recorded about 65% of lesson details."
The last step in note-taking is distribution. Most of us do some form of sharing already; examples include a follow-up email to a customer, new stories added to a task board, or a call summary in your CRM. The point is that these notes will serve as shared alignment with the participants and knowledge transfer and awareness to people who couldn't attend the meeting.
Well-formed notes are essential in managing client relationships since there are often weeks or months between touchpoints. Given the volume of data in the modern work environment, a complete understanding of the client requirements and their comprehensive details is an impossibility. Notes can serve as a guideline of where you left off with the client, providing a clear picture of their preferences and needs.
What Good Meeting Notes Look Like
The best meeting notes provide a clear and concise record of decision-making and actions. While note-taking strategies and methods can differ depending on the meeting type, good notes have the following common characteristics:
Participant Names: It's vital to understand who attended the event and what their perspective was. For example, Ray Dalio from Bridgewater Capital: tracked who had the best idea and built scorecards to calculate an employee's track record.
Action items: Building trust involves meeting our commitments. Effectively tracking tasks and their due dates is an essential part of good note-taking.
Decisions: Stakeholders that missed the meeting don't care about the minutiae of the events; they care about outcomes. Tracking resolutions about an issue or course of action is the key to keeping others informed.
Requirements or Specification: Capturing the client or co-workers' needs so the team can address the situation appropriately.
Minutes: Meeting events can be forgotten by employees quickly; minutes provide an efficient way to jog your memory on the meeting details and dig further into the moments that matter.
Great meeting notes help capture the key points and decisions made during the meeting so you can review and recall them without relying on your memory.
Note Taking Methods
The Cornell Method (AKA: block method):
The Cornell Method is a way to take notes based on the idea that notes should mirror the meeting structure. The method is as follows:
The first line of each note is a header for the topic discussed in the meeting portion.
The following two lines should capture critical information about the topic.
The last line is a summary of the topic.
This method is the most basic and easiest way to take notes. It can be applied to any meeting and easily modified for note-taking on paper or digital.
The Quadrant Method:
The Quadrant Method is a way to take notes to organize and summarize information and is a favorite of Bill Gates. The method is as follows:
Divide paper into four separate quadrants.
The top left section is where you write down any questions that need answers during a meeting
The top right section gives space for quick notes that are key insights.
The bottom right is used as a to-do list for projects or deadlines.
The bottom left is for the information you need to alert others who couldn't attend the meeting.
Mind Mapping Method:
The Mind Mapping Method is a great tool to use when the discussion is exploratory and non-linear. The Mind Mapping Method is most beneficial to see how all the information ties together visually.
The mind mapping method is a way to make the information more structured by using a diagram with a central idea and different branches that lead from the main idea.
The Sentence Method is a step-by-step approach to writing notes in sentence form. This method works exceptionally well in meetings that follow a particular logical order. The Sentence method works well for capturing the key decisions and actions made during the session.
The first part of this method is to capture the key facts about the topic discussed. Then, write down possible decisions based on the fact you just wrote down from the speaker. Finally, write down what action items need to happen to complete those decisions.
The Journalistic Method takes advantage of the effective writing style of a journalist. You must begin your notes with a list of questions you intend to ask.
Journalists can write with the audience in mind. A journalist's writing style is concise and to the point. While there are no complex rules for using this method, try to avoid repeating yourself. Use the present tense as much as possible instead of using the past tense.
This method can be used in any paper or digital medium and allows for multiple points on one page. This method is suitable for meetings where you take notes for yourself or have a lot of time before the next meeting to work through your notes.
Note Taking Strategies for Meeting Types
Team Review Meetings
When you need to take notes in a team review meeting, it's best to keep the notes brief and use the Cornell Method. The Cornell Method allows you to capture everyone's input and maintain a proper understanding of your role. This approach helps remember the details of a meeting and the decisions made by the team for action steps.
In a brainstorming session, the note-taking strategy is a little different. Instead of taking notes of each idea separately, you want to record all thoughts on a large piece of paper. Since the idea is to capture all the ideas on one page, it's best to use the Mind Mapping Method because it allows you to see all the key points from the session at once.
In a client review meeting, it's essential to keep the client informed of the progress being made on their project. If the client is not there in person, you can use a follow-up email to send your notes to them. Use the Sentence Method to write a summary of the meeting and include a link to a digital version of your notes.
One on Ones
When taking notes for one on one, use the Quadrant Method to focus on the most critical issues. Since this is an opportunity to go over action items, it's important to remember the due dates.
When you are taking notes for an interview, the focus should be on the person being interviewed. Use the Journalistic Method to have the ability to share since you are sharing what the person said. If it's not an in-person interview, then use the Sentence Method to write a summary of what they said.
The Harsh Reality of Meeting Notes
The reality of the work environment is that people are busy, calendars are full, and there are often multiple distractions during meetings. This results in incomplete notes and the loss of critical data that could be used to benefit the company. While taking notes, rewriting, and reviewing them are applicable in a classroom environment, it's untenable in a business context where many other demands are pulling employees in various directions. Overall, the cognitive load of taking notes can pull people away from participating in meaningful conversations.
Reducing Note-taking Friction with AI Notetakers
AI is changing the way we communicate in the workplace. AI notetakers can help reduce time and effort associated with taking notes and provide a tool to bridge the communication gap between those who were at the meeting and those who couldn't attend. Here are several ways AI notetakers can benefit business:
They can join the meeting and capture verbatim notes automatically, reducing the cognitive load and split-attention effect of taking notes manually. This is especially helpful in meetings where people may be multitasking.
AI notetakers improve the review process with a searchable recording of the event. Handwritten and typed notes are subject to interpretation and lose the expression of the primary source.
They can automatically highlight, clip, and extract the action items, decisions, and critical events that occurred during the event.
They can be used to generate meeting minutes and summaries that people can read.
They provide tools for in-context collaboration.
Notes taken in meetings can provide a framework for helping employees remember what they need to know to do their job well. Note-taking is more than just writing notes down or saving them to your phone, tablet, or computer. Taking good notes in meetings improves the quality of your recall and retention, but reviewing notes takes time away from work. This is where AI notetakers can help bridge the communication gap between those at the meeting and those who weren't able to attend. Notetakers that automatically capture and take notes can speed up meeting time by eliminating manual note-taking. Reviewing these notes will help bridge the communication gap between the company's different stakeholders while also providing a clear picture of meeting outcomes.