If you’re the unlucky minute-taker tasked with recording a discussion for the benefit of posterity, remember that minutes are expected to contain essentially a reliable record of what transpired at the meeting, key decisions taken, and action items.
In principle, meetings exist for people to inform and decide, but, in reality, lots of what people say in meetings will be trivial, pointless, and unhelpful. Unless specifically required by the forum, you don’t have to scribble down each and every pearl of wisdom that ensues. Per Wikipedia, the term “minutes” derives from the Latin minuta scriptura (“small writing,”) meaning “rough notes.”
The BBC political satire Yes, Prime Minister (1986–88; prequel Yes Minister, 1980–84,) that masterly class on politics, manipulation, and being manipulated, has particularly handy advice on meeting minutes. From the ‘Man Overboard’ (clip) and ‘Official Secrets’ (clip) episodes,
- A minute is a note for the records and a statement of action, if any, that was agreed upon.
- It is characteristic of all discussions and decisions that every meeting member has a vivid recollection of them and that every member’s recollection of them differs violently from every other member’s recollection. Consequently, we accept the convention that the official decisions are those and only those which have officially recorded in the minutes by the officials … if a decision had been officially reached, it would have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials.
- The purpose of minutes is not to record events, it is to protect people.
- People frequently change their minds during a meeting. Therefore, what is said at a meeting merely constitutes the choice of ingredients for the minutes. The minute-taker’s task is to choose, from a jumble of ill-digested ideas, a version that represents the [powerful person’s] views as he would, on reflection, have liked them to emerge.
- Minutes do not record everything that was said at a meeting. Minutes are constructive—they are to improve what is said, to be tactful, to put in better order.
- Minutes, by virtue of the selection process, can never be a true and complete record. Minutes don’t constitute a true record.
You’ll have to maintain a Zen-like focus on why everybody disagrees with somebody and how nobody agrees to do what anybody could have done. But you don’t have to work hard to keep yourself awake either.
As soon as you’ve circulated those minutes and got them approved, you can file them away. Nobody may ever actually read them in the future.