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Acting as a secretary in meetings / committees

(35 Posts)
BeBe32 Fri 26-Feb-16 20:16:55

Hi all

Just wondered if anyone here has a job that involves acting as a secretary in meetings? I have recently started a new job and it seems that I will be expected to do this at numerous committees and meetings. I have never done this before (it was on the desirable criteria for the job so they obviously didn't think it was a problem that I had never done it before). I am feeling really nervous as these meetings are very important and having never taken minutes before I worry that I will miss something or not be able to keep up with very fast moving discussions.

I'd be very grateful if anyone who has experience of this can offer any advice or tips.

Thank you


poocatcherchampion Fri 26-Feb-16 20:25:12

I do this.

If you are a reasonable typist then type notes rather than scrawl and write up. I normally type and edit as I go these days and forward a draft to the chair before I leave the meeting room. 2-3 pages is about anyone's concentration level.

Don't worry about capturing all the detail. If they aren't formal board/council notes then basically everyone wants to know what is agreed to be done, who is going to do it and by when. Hang people on the minutes and don't be afraid to chase them for progress on their actions. It will reflect well on you.

Be helpful. If future meetings will be eg monthly. Then offer to propose dates etc. Only takes a minute and waiting for everyone to get diaries out makes me want to slit my throat.

If you don't know everyone there send a sheet of paper around asking for name, job title/org, email. It means you can count along the list to identify the name of the guy in the green jumper who just said he'd do it. And/or draw a pic of the table and write names as intros happen.

I aim to circulate papers a week before and agreed minutes a week after. Any longer and people start to forget.

Is that the sort of thing you mean?

tribpot Fri 26-Feb-16 20:32:36

Agreed - getting the actions documented is the main thing, along with a brief summary of the discussion point (you can draft some rough notes and have the speaker correct any inaccuracies afterwards for this). I would speak to the chairman and say you're worried about getting all the actions down as you're new and unfamiliar with the discussions, will he/she help by making sure the actions are clearly spelt out and agreed in the meeting? (This is helpful to him/her as well). If you know anyone else who attends the meetings, ask them if they wouldn't mind taking notes throughout for your first couple of times just to help out.

Ginmakesitallok Fri 26-Feb-16 20:34:19

V impressed with poo catcher getting a draft ready for the end of the meeting!

A well chaired meeting is easy to minute, and generally the more formal the meeting the better chaired it is. When I used to do Board minutes I could have virtually written them before the meeting!

Don't panic, the chair is there to help you. You won't want to capture conversations, just decisions and actions.

Believeitornot Fri 26-Feb-16 20:34:38

Do active listening. So basically concentrate on what is being said and don't let your mind wander and just write stuff down.
Also make sure you know who is who before the meeting starts.

The best minutes are those which aren't verbatim but just have summarise of who said what with actions laid out separately.

tribpot Sat 27-Feb-16 06:20:08

I think if you're expected to minute a number of different meetings, getting the minutes out pronto is going to be essential before the meetings all blur in your mind. I like poocatcher's approach but it may take you a few meetings before you understand enough of what's being said to be able to pick out just the key bits reliably. In the meantime, I might be tempted to do a brain dump straight after the meeting, on audio if it helps (lots of voice recording apps for your phone/laptop) and just list out everything you can remember straight away. Then you can come back to it.

BeaufortBelle Sat 27-Feb-16 06:29:00

Read the minutes of previous meetings to see what and how things are captured.

Brief summary and action points.

The committee discussed the item at length paying careful attention to the following key issues .........

The committee agreed the following ....

BikeRunSki Sat 27-Feb-16 06:48:14

Attendants and Apologies
The main aims of the mtg
Anything with technical/contractual/programme/time/legal implications.
Actions, aho is doing them
Date of next mtg

NoahVale Sat 27-Feb-16 07:17:44

make sure you know everyone's names

FinallyHere Sat 27-Feb-16 07:29:14

Agree with everything so far, especially if whoever is chairing is doing their job, write up attendees, apologies and the decisions and actions agreed: brief description, by when, by who will be straightforward. I tend to be doing this in more chaotic situations.....where these tops might help

If you are having trouble working out what the actions are, don't be afraid to stop them when the discussion seems to finish on a topic and ask, so, what is the action we have agreed? Good people will have repeated what they are going to do when accepting or agreeing the action.

I like to run through the actions agreed at the end of the meeting, to make sure everyone agrees the same thing. Thus has been known to spark more discussion as everyone thinks something different was agreed, thus highlighting how useful the exercise is.

Write up as quickly as possible and get someone to review before sending them out. I also tend to refer to my write up ad my notes on the meeting, and include if anyone remembers anything differently to contact me by return.

All the best.

BeBe32 Sat 27-Feb-16 10:42:47

Thank you so much for all your helpful replies!! I'm on my way out but I will read through all your replies in detail later but I didn't want to read and run without saying thank you for your help. The meetings/committees I will be attending are generally quite long and complex (related to higher education) and I think that I am mainly worried that I won't be able to keep up and when you are new and don't know who everyone is and the exact details of what is being discussed it feels really daunting. I'm not sure about whether to take a laptop or to hand write. I can see the advantages of typing and I'm an ok typist but I worry that I might hit the wrong button in my rush, lose stuff and while sorting that out miss even more! I'll give it some thought though.

Thanks again and any further tips much appreciated.


BeaufortBelle Sat 27-Feb-16 10:50:38

Preparation. Look at matters arising to see what will come up again.

The agenda is the template and you can prepare the skeleton minutes in advance using the agenda items. I try to request an advance note of this bringing matters arising. Papers will often set out the meat of the debate. Separate list of action points to circulate within 24 hours. I attach that now as an appendix to the minutes too. I take a list of attendees and annotate at the meeting.

Make yourself an advance list of acronyms.

PuppyMonkey Sat 27-Feb-16 10:55:02

I had to do this in a previous job (also higher education) and they sent me off on a really useful one-day training course on minute-taking. I'd ask for something like that as well as taking on board all the great tips on this thread.

murasaki Sun 28-Feb-16 12:27:26

What Puppy said, re going on a course. I do it for the more senior/confidential meetings in my department (also HE), and my team do the others. I take hand written notes, but they like to use a recorder (with consent, obviously), and then write up from that.

The skill is in extracting the important info as you go, rather than noting everything, and that takes time and knowing the individual committees.

Nydj Mon 29-Feb-16 16:08:47

If you are anywhere near as bad as I am in remembering names and faces then make sure there are name plates for everyone and ask The Chair to ask everyone to place them in front of where they are sitting but also so that they are facing you and you can read each person's name. Other than that agree with everyone else re check previous minutes - if they are very detailed then ask if ok to move to list of bullet points of main points made rather than quote each comment etc. Well done on getting the job!

BeBe32 Sat 05-Mar-16 09:07:36

Thank you for all the great tips and thank you for the congratulations on the job. To be honest I have been wondering if I have made a mistake. Everyone I work with is so clever, capable and confident. I am just out of my depth and finding things so tough.

Thanks again


AnotherNewUserName Sat 05-Mar-16 19:10:11

What you describe is very common, feeling out of your depth, much more widespread than anyone ever mentions. You might find it useful to read up on Imposter Syndrome. All the best.

BeBe32 Sun 06-Mar-16 08:28:51

AnotherNewUserName thank you for your kind post. I have suffered with anxiety for most of my life. It was at it's worst when I was badly bullied by a previous boss, it was the worst time of my life. I then moved to a lovely job in which I was so much happier and my anxiety was much improved. Now that I have started this job it is the worst it has been in a long time. I keep thinking I've made a mistake, that this job is going to be like the one that made me so unhappy before and I am panicking. I'm so tired and just want to relax today but I'm so anxious about work tomorrow I can't switch off.

fabulousathome Sun 06-Mar-16 13:38:18

Years ago when I was at secretarial college I was taught how to do this by taking down minutes from a film of a meeting. Maybe there is a meeting on YouTube that you can use to practice on? You can then repeat the film and check if you recorded the details correctly. This might give you confidence. BTW, you could call a member of the meeting afterwards just to confirm that you noted their thoughts accurately at the time. It will only take a second and you are new!

BeBe32 Sun 06-Mar-16 18:09:16

Thank you, that's a good tip about watching a video. I think I would feel better if for the first couple there was someone else there doing the minutes - these meetings and the information that comes out of them is really important and I feel like if I mess it up it will cause huge problems!

tribpot Sun 06-Mar-16 18:25:14

I think that's a very valid concern to take to your boss. Can someone else shadow (or they lead and you shadow) for the first two? The meetings aren't recorded, are they? I know NHS England, for example, now live streams its board meetings which has the massive advantage for the minute-taker that you can watch it again.

Easier said than done but try not to get too anxious about it. It is perfectly valid to say you are brand new and have a big learning curve, no-one should expect you to be on your A-game straight away.

FinallyHere Sun 06-Mar-16 18:31:37

Especially since you are new, there would be nothing wrong with ringing round everyone, asking them to confirm that you have accurately captured their thoughts. Or send out your first draft as a draft copy, asking everyone to confirm by <a day or so late> that you have accurately captured the actions. And/or could you pick one or two people to review the minutes before you issue them, to check that you have accurately captured the sense of the meeting? Its in everybody's interest to make sure they are accurate.

You could also, when you have what might be an action, repeat it back to the meeting to ask that you have captured it accurately and at same time, ask them to confirm by when and by whom it will be completed. I do this, i find it really helps the meeting to all share the same understand of what will happen next. It's not all that unusual for the discussion to break out again, and an entirely different action to be finally agreed. You are adding value to the meeting, not wasting their time.

Even with these reviews, I would always include a sentence at the end of the notes, asking anyone who remembers anything differently, to contact me in the first instance. Noone ever has, but it puts the onus on them to update you, and removes any excuse to say 'but i said.... Not ....'

It's all about putting the onus on the people attending the meeting to make sure they have been clear.

All the best.

BeBe32 Sun 06-Mar-16 18:57:42

Thank you, what lovely replies. Sadly they are nor recorded - I wish they were! I hope that it will be taken into account that I am new but in all ways it seems that I am being dropped in at the deep end and I just feel so overwhelmed.

underrugsswept Sun 06-Mar-16 19:03:48

Can you record the meetings? I sometimes take minutes and usually type most of them while I'm in the meeting then edit afterwards but having a recording as backup means it doesn't matter if you miss bits.

WipsGlitter Sun 06-Mar-16 19:10:03

Record the meetings yourself?

I agree the most important thing is to look at the minutes of previous meetings as you will be able to see from them if you're expected to do verbatim minutes, summary and action points or just action points.

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