Minute taking what PAs really want to know

10 insider insights from Heather.

As an inexperienced secretary, I hated taking notes and writing minutes — I’d rather have thrown myself downstairs! However, as I progressed to more senior roles, I eventually got the hang of it and have,since 2000, been helping other PAs and administrators to resolve their concerns.

Here are some hints on the skills you need:

Have a notetaking system
You should have your own prepared system for taking quick notes. Remember you don’t need to write perfect English in the meeting. Prepare your abbreviations in advance of the meeting. If you haven’t already got a system, think about learning speedwriting or shorthand.

Excellent language skills
This is very important so that people can understand your minutes and to reflect a good image of you, your department and organisation.

Varied vocabulary
You’ll need a good general vocabulary and an understanding of the technical terms, jargon and abbreviations that may be used in the meeting. Get yourself informed before the meeting so you’ll understand what’s being said.

Word processing skills
A set of well presented minutes reflects well on you. If you are regularly minuting the same type of meeting then use a template. You can then use a laptop and type your notes straight onto your template – but remember you are not writing your minutes in the meeting, you are simply taking notes.

Summarising skills
This is after the meeting; you need to write a summary based on the notes you have taken. Minute taking is NOT dictation…. don’t “go through the process”.

Listening skills
Always the first skill that people think of as the most difficult. Understanding the subject is one of the main ways to make life easier.

Proofreading skills
It’s important to check your minutes after they have been typed. One tip is to print off the minutes and check them again.

Knowledge of how to use reported speech
You may occasionally have to report what people say in minutes and, if so, reported speech should be used. However, by using excellent summarising skills you can avoid the “he said, she said” scenarios (see above).

An effective relationship with the Chairperson
A very important part of minute taking. A chairperson and minute taker should always have time together to prepare for their meetings.

What to record
A sense of what you should and shouldn’t record is a skill that takes time to develop. It helps to understand your readership and the use of the minutes after they have been written. Most important – always include any actions.