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How to take meeting notes (barehands.substack.com)
229 points by flreln on Sept 21, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 126 comments



A long time ago, my boss at the time taught me a valuable lesson: every meeting needs an official record(/log/minutes/whatever) documenting all noteworthy decisions (D), tasks (T, with deadline and responsible person), and information communicated (I), with that record being sent to all participants by end-of-day.

The reasoning being simple:

If anything of consequence was discussed in the meeting, then the official record is a valuable documentation (and the basis for the next meeting).

If nothing of consequence was discussed in the meeting, then the meeting was a waste of time and should never have taken place in the first place. Somebody wasn't prepared for the meeting they scheduled.

Like a good commit message, an official record as described above is cheap (doesn't take more than 2-3 minutes to write) and often delivers a fantastic ROI.


Roberts Rules indicates that the secretary (the one who records the meeting) is one of the most important roles.

To the point: according to Roberts Rules, the #1 most important item in all meetings is finalizing the meeting notes from the previous meeting (ie: Everyone agrees that the stated meeting notes are correct).

Every meeting, according to Roberts Rules, starts with an understanding that everyone at the new meeting agrees upon the summary of the previous meeting. If you cannot agree to this, then the current meeting cannot progress (because the current meeting is almost inevitably "based upon" the previous meeting). Fixing the errors in documentation is incredibly important.


Personally, I prefer to pre-empt this situation by an explicit agreement on Action Items (Who does What by When) during the meeting itself. I have a dedicated note taker who has been coached to ensure this takes place.


Ideally, no one makes mistakes and everything is well understood the first time around.

But in my experience: humans have errors (Ex: Notetaker writes down 1/2/2021 instead of 2/1/2021). Having a formal "last call" for record-changes is useful for catching these mistakes.


The aim of the prevention measure is to minimise mistakes or errors. I am not against a "last call", I don't want to get to the last call. Generally, we write a clear Action Item live on the screen - "Who does hat by When". The Action Items are locked during the meeting itself. If there are syntactic errors, these are corrected without a follow-up meeting as the intent during the meeting was clear.

In my entire management experience over multiple years, the "not well understood" part has never happened. If I were to guess, it could be due to the goal setting exercise at the beginning of a project. I, as a lead, sit down with the team and clearly outline "Roles and Responsibilities" and "Decision Making Processes". In addition, "Success Criteria" are set beforehand and are strongly linked to organisational goals (business or otherwise). Just to let you know, I work with domain experts across different unrelated industries including technology.


Can you say more about your dedicated note taker? Is this someone who personally attends meetings? Someone who gets a recording? Is this their full time position, or are they a EA?


Sure! This person attends the meeting and has the full responsibility to document Decisions and Action Items (Who does What by When). The person is the moderator of the meeting but not an individual contributor. The person has the full right to ask "Who is the Action Item for? By When will you finish the Action Item? What is the Decision we took?". All meetings are driven towards decision making and action items, no matter how small.

The role and responsibility of this person is clearly communicated to the team before the project. The person is aggressively coached before the project. In one case, live examples of note taking were provided with the note taker as a reticent participant of the meeting.


Which is exactly why you send the notes by end-of-day. People get the chance to object ASAP, and are otherwise bound to the record going forward.


Roberts Rules recognizes that if there's a conflict in two stakeholder's view of the notes, the only resolution is to call a new meeting.

(Ex: Person A thought that 3-weeks was the agreed upon delivery date. Person B thought that "3 weeks after next Tuesday" was the agreed upon delivery date.)

Who is correct? Person A or Person B? Maybe PersonC or PersonD have insight into the issue. Regardless: the solution is to call a new meeting to clarify and finalize this "meta-issue".

-------

Since you're calling a meeting "anyway" to finalize the record, the time to finalize the notes and resolve any conflicts is during the "next meeting", whenever that is.

Bringing up those conflicts as soon as possible is important (and should be in email-form under the modern business). But determining the solution to these conflicts is the very decision-making framework that meetings are designed for.

-------

If the current record is on Person A's side "Three Weeks delivery date". Then the imperious is on Person B to bring up the misunderstanding no later than "the next meeting", wherein it is assumed that the previous record is finalized.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter "what was said" at the previous meeting. All that matters moving forward is the record of what was said.

> People get the chance to object ASAP, and are otherwise bound to the record going forward.

Agreed: the sooner objections are raised, the better. Though it is important to note when the record is finalized officially. "The next meeting" is the most logical time to finalize the record.

EDIT: I should note that I've upvoted you. I feel like you and I are on the same page, I'm just elaborating a bit.


> (Ex: Person A thought that 3-weeks was the agreed upon delivery date. Person B thought that "3 weeks after next Tuesday" was the agreed upon delivery date.)

You should surely call a meeting to clear up the conflict as soon as possible.

Another interesting angle would be, "What can we do to make the situation doesn't happen again?". One way would be to document delivery dates in the dd/mm/yyyy format. Therefore, the action item in the meeting note should be "X does Y by 13.10.2020".

This Action Item is put in real-time on the screen during the meeting itself. So, yes I agree with you that sooner is better. In my world, the sooner happens in the meeting. Therefore, I have dedicated note takers during meetings who are coached to run meetings. Most of these note takers do not even need to be individual contributors.


tangent / "rant" about date formats: they have an actual standard^1 that is chrono-sortable:

YYYY-MM-DD

it's only ambiguous to the degree that people adopt other "conflicting" conventions.

I wish v much for its adoption. It was established over 30 years ago.

1. ISO-8601 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601


I am with you on this. In addition to keeping all the own dates under my own control in this format, I make it a habit to routinely use this date format in non-consequential handwritten forms (guestbooks, permission slips, checks, receipts), to build awareness of this date format and help it "win".

My rule of thumb is if the input area is free text, and the benefit of my filling in the date is to the benefit of the form-owner, I'll use ISO-8601 dates and incentivise them to learn the standard. Join me!


So much this! For all my notes, communications, and such I use YYYY-MM-DD. Only when dealing with the public (or non-technical family members) do I use more colloquial date formats, and then whenever possible I use something like Jan 2 2021 when written.


imperious -> impetus


I once worked somewhere that had an employee who took notes during every meeting, to what seemed like an annoying level. After every meeting, he emailed everyone who attended the meeting a copy of his notes.

A couple jobs later, we were discussing changing where some images were hosted. It seemed very strange to have them in their current location, and the process that copied new images to that location was clunky.

My manager at the time said, "Well, that's what we decided what the best way to do it was."

I responded with, "Well, what were the reasons for doing it that way, and what were the other options considered?"

He said, "I don't remember."

At this point, I mentioned it might be a good idea to keep notes of any meeting we have, as it would be useful to go back and have a record of that.

His answer was, "I don't think it's a good use of someone's time to record meeting notes."

This was a meeting that involved about 12 people, 9 of which had no real say in the matter (field techs, etc).


I find taking notes helps me to stay focused on what is being discussed especially if it's not a topic I have a particular personal interest or "stake" in. I have found this doubly important in remote meetings as it's easier for your mind to wander slightly when you're physically distant from those who are doing most of the talking.

It's less easy to do if it's a meeting you're deeply involved with yourself as it's hard to note and talk at the same time.


If I'm calling a meeting, I'm sending out the agenda and meeting notes and expect the same of meetings I attend (and decline if there's no agenda sent beforehand).

Plus side is it really cuts down on pointless meetings since many times people just want to call meetings to avoid doing actual work, and with documentation responsibilities falling on the meeting caller, they have to do more work, not less.

Downside is the strong correlation between people who suck at meetings and people who suck at taking notes. Which can be pretty frustrating because you know who the pointless poorly run meeting people are, but you also can't rely on the notes if you skip.


> I once worked somewhere that had an employee who took notes during every meeting, to what seemed like an annoying level. After every meeting, he emailed everyone who attended the meeting a copy of his notes.

Can you share what company was that? If not the company name, at least the industry?


Not the person you responded to, but when I worked at State Farm they had 'Organizational Support Specialists' who did this and other clerical odd jobs. Unfortunately they were pretty high turnover, it was rare to have one at the start of the project and still have the same person at the end.


I used to do that.

Hmm... I probably should pickup the habit again. When you move around projects, sometimes you forget about the "good habits" from previous projects...


Small manufacturing company. This guy was a controller/CFO


> A long time ago, my boss at the time taught me a valuable lesson: every meeting needs an official record(/log/minutes/whatever) documenting all noteworthy decisions (D), tasks (T, with deadline and responsible person), and information communicated (I), with that record being sent to all participants by end-of-day.

"Who does What by When" is the overarching management philosophy of such meeting notes. In projects which I lead, I have a dedicated person every meeting to document these notes. Totally worth it and it's now a must for all of my projects.


Something I'm a big fan of for wfh meetings is inline comments in quip.

1. Everyone read and leave comments on a doc

2. Overall comments

3. Go through each comment/discussion in the doc, put a final comment on each with the discussion results


Found the Amazonian :P


The semantic tagging is nice, I might start incorporating that into my notes.

On the overall topic of meeting notes, I picked this up as a new skill in the past year and it's been immensely valuable for myself and the people I meet with.

Specifically, I learned how to take realtime notes during the meeting while also listening and paying attention. It took practice but was achievable.

One key to success here is to explicitly ask for a helper to take notes while I speak. I've found this helps make the note taking seem like a whole team effort.

Colleagues have noticed and valued the notes and they do seem to lead to better meetings.


Some related advice on meetings, stolen from Getting Things Done: every point discussed in a meeting should result in one or more agreed and recorded next actions. This helps keep things clear, focused, and concrete.


I think detailed notes aren't as critical as just documenting decisions. Anything not written down is forgotten. This is why I prefer having critical conversations over slack. Every word is preserved in context.


> I think detailed notes aren't as critical as just documenting decisions.

Decisions and Action Items. A decision leads to an action items. The action items are usually topics for decisions next meeting OR a deliverable at the get go. In case of the former, the action item is to put the topic on the meeting agenda by the deadline. In case of the latter, the person is assigned right there in the meeting with a timeline for the deliverable.


Curious—your abbreviations D,T,I—do you formally incorporate these into the record?


Fantastic rules, I 100% agree with your advice (and your boss').


Me during a meeting: I don't need to write this down, I'll remember it.

Me after meeting: Arg! I wish I had written that down!

Me during meeting: I'm going to write this down even if it doesn't seem important.

Me after meeting: Why do I have notes on only meaningless stuff!?!

Clearly I have some work to do, but the advice to listen and then write notes after is good, but I would suggest doing so towards the end with everyone involved. Something like "hey let's all review and make tasks lists "


I've taken to just writing simple notes in OneNote during meetings. I've found, especially, when I've told people something.. it's really helpful for me to know that I've told them.

I can also say that.. done properly, when people know that you have strong notes for meetings, they tend to take their take-aways more.

Even in Zooms, sometimes I'll share my notes at the end of a meeting, and I'll copy-and-paste them into an email out to them.. Action items get taken more seriously.

I don't take really verbose notes -- just enough that cover: X said something, Y asked something, I requested something, we reviewed something.


Actionable items list + ownership. Even if it is simply to have one person (or very small team) spearhead the item, it gives accountability and makes it clear to everyone that the issue isn't just up in the air.


A framework which has helped me to write meeting notes- <Topic, Key Arguments from Discussions, Decisions and Action Items>.

Decisions and Action Items are the most important parts here. Action Items should be the form "Who does What by When". Agreement on the Action Items should be taken during the meeting itself.


The premise here is that meetings are chock-full of valuable and dense information. This is not true. Most meetings are, in fact, a waste of time.

There are also various linguistic theories that argue that actual information density (in spoken/written language) is significantly less than 95%. So the corollary here is that remembering 95% of a meeting is a waste of cognitive capacity. The better strategy would be to bullet-point and solely remember the most salient and important information. The author's efforts seem like an interesting "memory game," but there are better methods[1] for learning how to remember stuff, if, for whatever reason, that's your end goal.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akira_Haraguchi


> Most meetings are, in fact, a waste of time.

Exactly why notes should be taken and disseminated.

Without going to the lengths tchalla describes, simply stating meeting duration and number of people in attendance, and listing decisions made and expectations raised for deliverables will over time reduce the frequency and duration of meetings and make them more focused and effective.

Simply seeing repeated examples of "the meeting took 1 hour 30 min with 7 people attending. We decided: - to use mid gray instead of slate gray for menu bar sub-elements" will eventually cause people to wonder, "why did that take so long?", while serving as a written record of decisions for those whose memories are shaky at 9AM Friday, and new team members.

If you want to be a hard-ass, just multiply out the duration and number attending: "the meeting took 10.5 person-hours".


> If you want to be a hard-ass, just multiply out the duration and number attending: "the meeting took 10.5 person-hours".

Then multiply by the average compensation to get the cost of the meeting

But keeping a note of the decision(s) taken is useful, especially in case of later disagreement.


I think there is a big difference between a meeting with one other person - as the author describes - and a corporate meeting of 3 project managers, 2 business analysts, an enterprise architect and 3 engineers who didn't think to reject the meeting they absolutely didn't need to be at.

Meeting 1:1 you range all over, I often have meetings with people that go from work, to our kids, to the weekend, to work, back to the kids and then to the pub. All of it is valuable, but not all of it is valuable for work. But a year later when I remember it was that person's eldest's birthday I've made a solid connection.

Equally important is that not every brain works the same way, I'd be completely screwed trying to use Vasili's method as I have aphantasia. But that doesn't mean others wouldn't find it useful.


> But a year later when I remember it was that person's eldest's birthday I've made a solid connection.

Everyone is different, and I applaud you for the effort involved, but I have to confess:

This sort of thing mostly creeps me out. There's no way you remembered it organically, which means that you spent the conversation with me trying to identify items of personal interest that you could record and replay for some kind of social benefit/bonding.

My advice, and this might be what you do already, is to make sure a) the _thing_ is important enough to remember on its own, and b) your "memory" is vague enough that I don't think you're CRMing me.

E.g.:

BAD: Hey it's your wife's birthday on Thursday isn't it? Wish her a happy 34th from us!

OK: Hey your wife has an autumn birthday, doesn't she? I remember we talked about it last year around this time. Wish her a happy one!

GOOD: Oh that's right, we talked about that last year. My wife has an autumn birthday too. Wish her a happy one!


That's certainly one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that the above OP was just being thoughtful.


Recording and replaying opportunities to appear thoughtful, is not thoughtful.

It's merely artifice for the purpose of appearing thoughtful, which I find creepy.

But as I note in my initial comment: everyone is different.


Paper, and now computers, are one of the best ways we have learned to augment the human mind.

Is it creepy for someone to (with their brain alone) remember a personal detail like a birthday? If not, it shouldn't be creepy to remember it with an augmented brain.

There is a fuzziness here when your brain is augmented with information that you didn't have original access to, such as a shared calendar with birthdays on it, but I'm not sure how creepy using that information is - it almost certainly comes down to expectations of privacy with respect to that information.


As I attempted to express in my initial comment, I find it creepy when the details which are remembered exceed the level of expectation for the relationship between the people.

Remembering my birthday? Well, I know you wrote it down (or in OP case, it's in the HR file), but we have a relationship that is formalized around paperwork. So OK, whatevs.

Remembering my oldest child's birthday? There is no way in hell you remembered that organically. So I'm led to suspect that you made an active effort to log the detail for future use. And I have to envision you, listening to me casually discuss family ephemera, taking notes of items that might have some future value.

That's creepy, IMO. But I can accept that different people view it differently.

Nevertheless, if your goal is to create a connection between yourself and another person (as indicated in OP comment) -- you will not succeed if you fail to understand your audience. This is the idea I was attempting to express to OP.

The other person may choose to overlook your offensiveness, but they will not think more highly of you after the fact, than before. For certain definitions of "other person". Do with that what you will.


I take notes and for dates I think are important I put them in my calendar, but I also remember numbers easily so dates aren't a challenge for me. I have Aphantasia & Prosopagnosia so I don't waste a lot of brain space remembering what people look like :D (Or names for that matter, I'm terrible at names).

Seriously though, I would walk past that same co-worker in a shop out of context and not recognise them at all.

Context is always important, I don't just randomly trot out dates because I can. I've never once had a person react negatively to me doing this. Its not like I see you for the first time in a year at a BBQ and the first thing I do is look up in my CRM my notes from the last time we met. I'm not wearing Google Glasses to tell me your name, DOB and family details. I met a former colleague a few months ago randomly in the street, had a quick chat and went our separate ways. Ten minutes later I looked at my calendar and realised it was his birthday; I didn't run after him to wish him a happy birthday, but you can be sure next year I'll remember his birthday without my calendar because of that day.

I recognise some people might be offended, but my own experience and most of the literature I've read around establishing rapport, building emotional connections etc all point to people really liking it when you talk about them. So I will continue to use my method until evidence points me to someone else. I know I risk alienating people such as yourself but overall I feel I have better friendships and working relationships. I just hope if I make someone uncomfortable that they'll let me know, just as you did.


If I understand your argument, you think that:

(1) there is no way an acquaintance would remember your child's birthday organically,

(2) so if they do remember they have taken actions to remember,

(3) and the reason they took those actions was in order to give the appearance of caring about the relationship between you both.

(4) Furthermore, everybody on the receiving end of this interaction finds it distasteful or offensive, or at least will not think more highly of you because of it.

I think that (some of) these points may hold for some people, but don't hold in general.

1. For whatever reason, there are people who will remember things like this.

2. There are also people who may remember something like this in one situation, but not in general. For example, it just so happens that my wife's brother has the same birthday! We went out for his birthday last night, which prompts me to remember this detail about your child. So when I meet you soonafter, I ask "how did <eldest child> enjoy their birthday?"

3. The important part of this is the 'appearance of caring', I think. Is it weird for a presenter at a workshop to use memorisation techniques to remember the participants names? Is it weird to make flash cards about people you met from a networking event to memorise who they are and what they do? There is a really blurry line between the 'appearance of caring' and 'actually caring' and I'm not sure there is much of a meaningful distinction.

4. I'm part of a large family conversation online. Many of the posts are birthday wishes, often from people you might see once a year. The first post is often from one aunt in particular, who has obviously collated a list of the birthdays for the ~50 people in the chat. No-one thinks this is creepy, and everyone loves that she has gone to the extra effort to remember their birthdays. Posting birthday wishes to an old college acquaintance because facebook reminded you isn't creepy, but also isn't viewed as fondly becuase less effort is required. I think it's reasonable to imagine many people would be flattered that someone went to the trouble to remember personal details.

I hear your point though, and agree that it could be creepy - it really is about understanding your audience, as you say, however I think it is more likely to be appreciated than not.


"All of it is valuable, but not all of it is valuable for work."

^ you could make the argument that almost all of it is valuable for work. The connections you make with other people, even on things that do not relate to work, can have a huge impact on your relationship in the workplace. Even the stuff that just seems like nonsense, joking around, crazy dicussions about things that don't really matter much, etc -- sharing those things can be part of building friendship and trust, and that can be of great value for work.

Of course, sometimes such things can have a negative effect, depending on the person you are meeting with. So you need to be aware of that.

Some people are particularly good at building relationships this way.


> Most meetings are, in fact, a waste of time

Let's assume your premise is true. What can we do to change this situation? Here are a few things which have helped me

1. Define Key Objectives for a Meeting

2. Define Agenda

3. Agenda has 4 parts - Topic, Owner, Expected Outcome, Duration, Time

4. Owner - The owner of the part of the agenda is expected to own the topic and drive it

5. Owner needs to pre-define the Expected Outcome beforehand. Broadly, there could be three outcomes - Information, Discussion or Decision

6. Moderator should keep a strict check on Time. Sometimes, if there's a overshoot - the moderator should either ask for team agreement to continue the topic for a limited time (10 min - for example) until the Expected Outcome is reached. If not, stop the meeting and move on the the next item on the Agenda.

Yes, all this is a lot of work. But this fruitful work can reduce the total number of meetings to 5-10% of your total work time.


> Yes, all this is a lot of work. But this fruitful work can reduce the total number of meetings to 5-10% of your total work time.

I totally agree, but I'm usually not in a position to change the culture around meetings, nor do I get paid enough to be motivated enough to do it. If I ran my own company, the story would, of course, be different.


> I'm usually not in a position to change the culture around meetings, nor do I get paid enough to be motivated enough to do it.

I can totally understand you can not change culture around meetings in the entire organisation. I would like to offer two perspectives.

First, you could however change the micro-culture in most meetings which you are a participant. For example, "Hey! Thanks for the invite. What are the objectives for the meeting? It will help decide my participation for contribution". Second, if you are not paid enough, it is even the perfect reason todo so. It can buy back more time for yourself by reducing meetings! Overall, you basically do X for yourself and have more control over your work time. So, if you do not want to do it for the organisation - do it for yourself.


> Overall, you basically do X for yourself and have more control over your work time.

The company has control of my work time by definition -- they pay me for my time. How it chooses to use the time I give them is the company's prerogative, not mine. I really don't care one way or another if it's cool with me sifting through Instagram for an hour while someone talks about a bunch of nonsense.


Your time is the most valuable thing you have. My unsolicited advice is that you exert as much influence as you possibly can over how it is spent.


You're totally right, and I should have clarified that the process I describe is for long informal conversations with thought partners, focused primarily on exploring interesting ideas.


I wholeheartedly agree that most meetings are a waste of time.

In fact, a decade ago I made a very simple game for Windows Phone as it was launching called Meetingz, where you clicked on buzz words that you heard during a meeting to avoid going insane (while looking productive). After the meeting, it tabulated your BS index and compared the results to previous meetings.

During its short lifetime, the app had over 11,000 downloads: http://triosdevelopers.com/jason.eckert/killercodingninjamon...


Clicking on a phone looks productive? I'm surprised, I thought it would make you look distracted and inattentive.


> This is not true. Most meetings are, in fact, a waste of time.

Obviously, this depends on the company and the team. If your department or team is having superfluous meetings then clearly you need to address the elephant in the room before trying to optimize memorization.

I’ve worked at companies that you describe and it is, indeed, miserable. However, once I moved to companies that took meeting discipline seriously (30 minutes max with few exceptions, agenda must be agreed upon ahead of time, people were expected to dismiss themselves from meetings that weren’t relevant) the value of well-run meetings became obvious.

Fix the core problems first, then optimize. There are plenty of books, blogs, and articles about how to run proper meetings. If your company is the type that thrives on inefficient meetings and wasting time, you may have to ask your manager to step in and handle meetings for you so you can focus.


He's talking about a different kind of meeting. A human encounter where you discuss and engage freely with another person.


I have similar doubts, but only thinking of the kind of work meetings I regularly have.

I think something like a non-technical interview "meeting" has a much higher information density.


It's crazy to think at how wildly different memory works.

I once went on a 5 day business trip and about 2 days after the trip it was kind of effortless to recall pretty much all of the details of everything without taking notes. Enough to write a 7,000 word blog post and string together a story from beginning to end. I purposely left out many details for the sake of not wanting the post to be overly long.

I also find it pretty easy to re-trace my day and pick out details, like the orientation of how things were on a table at lunch, or what video game a kid was playing on the train who I happened to be sitting next to from 2 years ago without really trying to recall it.

But I'm 100% helpless when it comes to memorizing scripts. I've recorded over 500 technical tutorial videos and most of them were scripted out for a course where I read those words (no webcam so it didn't look weird), but about 100 of them are YouTube videos with a webcam where I just winged it based on prior knowledge with no script or bullets.

But now I have a talk coming up next week where I'm giving a 45 minute presentation on something technical that's basically a 45 minute live demo and I can't script it out and it's going to be live streamed. I legit can't even write 15 seconds of words and recall them exactly a minute later. I wish I could find a bullet proof way to do this. I've tried so many things over the years unsuccessfully. Bullets help, but it's super easy to forget critical details with just a few bullets.

I hate to draw conclusions but I think I'm very far on the spectrum of being a visual learner that trying to memorize words alone could be impossible for me.

How do you memorize lots of words in a specific order when you suck at memorizing words?


Have you tried the method of loci? I do a variation of it when I don't have writing means nearby to keep the idea in my head. In its essence, you visualize a familiar place (ie parent's home) and how you walk through it and drop what you want to remember somewhere. Works perfectly fine for me. I suspect that's because of grid cells and spatial cognition (more here: https://youtu.be/gmc4wEL2aPQ).


I haven't, but I'm going to give it a shot.

Interesting talk too. I like how she highlighted that the brain finds numbers to be important.

When doing grocery shopping I often memorize the list based on the item count. Like if I'm going for Italian bread, tomatoes, green peppers, sausages, milk, water, avocados, chicken and bagels I never try to memorize the items. I'll make a note of the count, which would be 9 in this case.

This has a really good success rate for me when it comes to remembering things because during the shopping session I'll think "ok, that's 7 things, what are the last 2 things". Then I'll scan my bag and recall the last 2 things eventually. It also makes it almost impossible to leave the store while forgetting something because 7 != 9.


For the second and third paragraph: how do you validate that you really remember these things correctly and not just think you remembered them?

For the script remembering: you cant do it. That is basically a profession called acting which takes a few years of training (biggest problem if you try is to do the gestures before the phrasing out, so usually what you do looks and feels unatural).

Good advice I got was you make a few 'stars', aka minitopics and you branch out with on words what you want to say, you remember these topics and then you speak naturally. If it is a long talk and you must not miss anything then mayve the ancient greek method might be good. Take any place you know by hear (like your favorite greek temple, or your home) and go mentally systematically through it (like counterclock-wise) and place mentally on each physical object a topic. To recall during talk do the mental walk again.


Validation sometimes comes from external feedback, like "oh yeah, now I remember that but how did you remember that?". Other times it's just trusting I'm not making stuff up based on previous successful recollections.

I wouldn't say I have an especially good memory tho. I guess maybe it's pretty good for days after something but most details trickle away after that unless I specifically focus on remembering them. I'm also pretty bad at memorizing mundane things like what I ate for dinner over the last week.

That advice sounds good. I Google'd it a bit and it sounds like the Loci method that a few other have also commented with. I'll see what I can do, because when I think about previous memories it's super visual, almost like replaying events. I'm not sure how it'll apply to artificially associating paragraphs to objects but we'll see. Can't hurt to try it out.


Just one more thing: for me the Loci method doesnt work, i somehow cannot remember places low grained (is there a coffee mug on the table or not and did I want to place some speech item at the mug). So for presentations i make sure the hints are all on the slides.


Yeah, I wonder if I'll have the same outcome.

As for slide hints, in this talk there's only about 5 minutes of slides and 40 minutes of live demos where I'm sharing my screen. Basically running and talking about a bunch of different things on the terminal while hopping between the terminal, code editor and browser. It would be very unnatural to try and read extensive notes while doing this. My plan was to put a single page of bullets off to the side on a 2nd monitor and glance at that, but I'm afraid it won't have enough detail.


Do the bullet list. Less detail is usually better since easier for you to process. Are practicing the whole presentation fully at least twice?


Check out Learning How to Learn course (free). They talk about how learning and memory works from first principles and also teach various memory techniques. There are ways a visual person can learn too.

On the other hand I find memorizing speeches isn’t a good method, because you’ll sounded unnatural. Better to memorize the key points and the sequence of them.


As someone who has had to memorize dozens of scripts, both in plays and speeches I recommend brutal repetition. In addition I recommend making sentence by sentence Anki cards where the prompt is one line and the "answer" is the next.

But really if you haven't gone through a speech 50 times you're just getting started.


While there are some useful thoughts and hacks presented in this post frankly if someone provided something resembling these examples post meeting I'd start by seriously questioning their priorities and time management skills.

Cynically speaking one may consider some of the prose and phrasing to be awkward to the point of unsettling - almost "uncanny valley".

My experience has been that meetings are almost always so information sparse that a "good enough" recall of relevant details is trivial. I have often been told (and tested as such) that I have a better than average memory but at certain levels of performance this is (essentially) expected.

Also be aware that significantly better than average recall of people, places, situations, etc can be very unsettling to others if there isn't a substantial accompaniment of charisma. There are gushing anecdotes all over with the likes of Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, etc remembering the names of random strangers years after meeting them. Bear in mind, of course, these characters are personally likeable whether they remember your name or not!

Meanwhile (especially across genders) the reaction may not be quite so positive when it's "that awkward guy I had a meeting with once a few years ago. I think he might be obsessed with me"...

Overall this approach strikes me not only as unnecessary optimization but difficult to impossible to "pull off" for those it doesn't already come naturally to.


Best I have read on meetings including meeting notes is from Steven Sinofsky - goes into different types of meeting, meeting dysfunctions and finally peak meeting function https://medium.learningbyshipping.com/reaching-peak-meeting-...


Thanks for sharing!


Hey HN, I’m the author. Just to clarify: the process is for long personal meetings with people I know and respect, where we discuss ideas and things we’re curious about.


Many commenters here miss that the author seems to refer to occasional (2/week) 1:1 meetings. These are meetings with people he presumably chose to meet.

The post is interesting in how he describes he trialed and found a few strategies that work well for him to remember what he cared about from a meeting. E.g. he rediscovered that association and context are very important and describes how he draws them out. He draws his counterpart to recall the conversation, this is a great application of psychological theory around neural associations.

This is clearly not guidance for business meetings, but a really valuable skill for when you meet interesting people once in a while and would like to remember more of your discussions.

Wonderful post and many lessons to take away. Next time I'm asked at the end of the meeting to try to draft notes from my scrambled scribbles I'll try to recall a bit more context.


Note taking is a skill we should be teaching in school.

This technique is great for subjects which you have existing knowledge.

Once you're overloaded with information, recalling those specifics is quite hard without good notes that were taken during the meeting.

For example, if you're in a meeting discussing colors for a design you write down the chosen colors. Remembering the path you took to the meeting room nor the blue shirt the client wore will help you recall what shade of chartreuse they wanted.


Is substack the new medium? I saw a link to it for the first time a couple weeks back (at least the first time I registered the name) and now it seems to be everywhere.

Yes I'm aware of the phenomenon that makes you notice things more after you notice them once. Not that.


I'm not really happy with Medium but I'm not a huge fan of substack either. Not sure why mailing lists with a blog on the side is seen as superior to a blog with a mailing list on the side.

Coming from somebody who still uses rss, mind you...


I'm not totally happy with Substack, but it's easy to use and takes no time to set up. Also, I think their core idea is that most posts can really be reduced to a dense email, and if we make it easy to send those, we'll do great.


Let's hope so. At least until they get greedy and start to hold content for ransom


Funny I asked the exact same thing yesterday :D


Another trick is to follow up a meeting with the minutes of what was said. It is common in meetings for people to disagree and for no clear decision to come out (particularly on a noisy conference call with 20 participants - I am shocked how poor is the audio quality in 2020, doesn't sound like a hard problem to solve). But whoever controls the minutes controls the narrative and the official outcome of the meeting.

To the point where for contentious meetings you can have conflicts on who will take care of the minutes.


I have experienced so many meetings where nobody took notes, and the next day hardly anyone was able to say exactly what was discussed, that I don't think this is reasonable. In my opinion, meetings are not effective in most cases anyway, because people hardly ever prepare themselves. If people don't even write anything down, time is completely wasted.

Since I am a consultant and do not want to waste my clients' time, I take notes in real time. Meanwhile, this works so well that I can look at people and discuss things at the same time. After many years of experiments, I wrote a software myself (https://github.com/rochus-keller/crossline) that supports taking comprehensive notes in real time.

I was in the management of defence projects for many years and finally not only co-chaired the meetings, but also recorded the meetings using my tool and gave minutes to the people (regularly up to thirty participants). In many meetings I projected the screen of my tool so that the participants could read and make corrections immediately.


Can you take the real time notes also if you lead the meeting? I think that is often challenging, to request input, try to problem solve, making sure the meeting is constructive. Taking accurate notes requires myself often to be more passive than I can be if I am responsible for good progress. But depends on the meeting scope.


Yes; I even write down what I say, not only what the other people say; it is challenging when several people sometimes talk at the same time. Ultimately it is a question of practice. I have benefited from the fact that I have been programming for many years before that and write very fast with the ten-finger system.


Never once in my life I thought "I wish I had taken notes when I met person X." I naturally remember something worth remembering to me, and never once I found out that there was something important that was said and I was worse off for not having written it down. Is it just me?


Memory capability and behavior is variable. I can remember and keep in mind vast swaths of code, but I am capable of forgetting someone’s name in seconds.


I have to meet with new groups of people on a regular basis and am likewise horrible with names. My notes in meetings consist of first names written down as a map of where people were sitting. If I miss a name, I leave an empty spot. It has helped me with remembering names. I often never refer to it again.


I literally have to keep a text file on my phone with peoples names. I have exceptional visual and spacial memory, but names just slip through like sand through a sieve.

With the text file, I just have to recall on roughly which line the name was and I am able to recall it. I have no idea why or how this works, but it does. I did try to keep a "Mental" list, but that just does not work, I need to type it in or write it on a piece of paper for it work.


Probably not in a business setting. But often I wish I'd taken better notes during doctor visits.


Situations I wish I had taken better notes (both before and after):

- Doctor visits

- Lawyer visits

- Pre-purchase home inspections

- Financial advisor meetings


If you don't have the possibility of taking notes and it is important pop up a recorder on your phone and use it. When you get the chance get over the recording and take notes this time. You will know what you want to write down in retrospective. You can skip through the parts that are not important.


To add to that, having a notes app on my phone where I can, in advance of one of these consequential (but infrequent) meetings, accumulate my concerns and questions ahead of time is a lifesaver.

Given that my brain is very happy to erase itself while in conversation, I've found pre-notes to be an important tool in making sure that I come out of those (expensive) conversations with all of my questions answered.


I forgot things other people said and regretted not being able to recall. Either you have great memory or even worst so that you don't even recall that something was said.

The easiest example are requirements gatherings. Tons of things are said and they become blurry after a while.


Must be nice. Personally, if I don't write it down I will probably forget about it. Perhaps I will even forget that there was something worth writing down...

I have been big on journaling for my entire life, though.


A note to the author: the phrase "first tense" should be "first person".

Overall, this seems to be a very laborious process for something not that useful. I'm glad you and the people you've given notes to seem to enjoy it though.


Thanks for the tip, fixed.


There’s some good stuff here but I can’t help but feel it’s 10x more effort than I want to put in post meeting.

If a 1 hour meeting takes 2 hours to write up the notes for, perhaps there was a better way to spend that 3 hours to get the same value?

Alternatively, if I’ve got 1 hour to allocate to this meeting, maybe 10 mins of pre-meeting research and notes, 30 mins of focused meeting time, and 20 mins of summarising and post meeting notes would be a better format?

I suspect there’s value in the authors techniques for a small subset of meetings. I don’t think there’s much value for most meetings that are internal to a company for example.


That's right; the process is for long personal meetings with people I know and respect, where we discuss ideas and things we’re curious about.


Please assume good intent with this comment.

I had a bit of difficulty reading this because I was side-tracked by this sentence structure, which appears a few times throughout...

"Here’s how my paper notes look like".

I see this quite often and I'm having trouble figuring out what to search for to explain it and check if it's correct, and foreign to me, or if it's incorrect. I suspect it's incorrect and that it should either be, "Here's how my paper notes look" or "Here's what my paper notes look like".

Can anyone enlighten me on why I see this structure a lot?


I bet you see this in non-native speakers' writing. Non-native speakers tend to subconsciously translate things from their native language to English (I'm one, and I find myself doing this now and then), and native speakers tend to notice the nonstandard usage more than non-native speakers.


> Drawing helps me bring back many other emotion-related things because I begin remembering emotions I’ve implicitly stored (i.e., when the person was angry, happy, loud, etc.).

I love the sketches. I learned to draw for that reason, I add sketches to my notes. It also helps me to relax during a meeting and read the mood of the room (if I sketch facial expressions).

And, quite often, to share the sketches afterwards creates an opportunity for casual conversation and creating rapport.


> You can delight the people you meet with by sending a detailed note with everything you covered on a meeting (very few people do that)

Be careful with your approach with disseminating meeting notes, despite what this article claims, they are not always well received. I've been promoted, in part, for providing this kind of structure to meetings but have also found myself embroiled in a political battles with gas-lighting coworkers.


Can you elaborate on this with an instance? How did you deal with them?


I left the company, both times. Once I established that they were gas-lighting everybody and nobody cared, time to move on from that toxicity.


> If I’m taking this meeting, then I better pay attention to it. And if it’s not worth my full attention, then I shouldn’t spend time on it.

Yeah, most of us just end up shoved into lots of meetings we shouldn't be in that we don't care about, or having a meeting we do care about co-opted by a discussion that's irrelevant to us.

if i could _only_ be in good meetings i'd do a dramatically better job at remembering them all too.


We're still in the very early stage (6 months old) but we're building a product mixing meeting notes and task management to make sure meeting outcomes actually get done (without forcing everyone in the meeting to use our tool). If you're curious: https://meetric.app


Awesome product! One of those 'How does this not already exist?' products.


I can remember 95% of a 2h meeting, too.

Just not any of the Actions Items assigned to me, or the names of any of the participants.


Any meeting worth remembering is also worth recording, then you don't have to remember it cause you can just play it back.

Seriously, why don't we just record meetings by default?

We started doing this with story sizing and it's been great, obviously prompted by WFH, but I think we'll carry on doing it afterwards.


> why don't we just record meetings by default?

Chatham house rules make recordings a little bit tricky, but it's nothing that can't be overcome.


Lawyer here — self-cite (2010): "Note-taking in meetings and phone calls: Three easy habits your lawyer will love you for." [0]

Contemporaneous meeting notes are invaluable in legal disputes because they help the lawyers reconstruct a timeline of what happened. Plus, contemporaneous meeting notes tend to be believed more than hindsight witness testimony, which can have credibility problems — as in, people sometimes "forget," or hedge, or flat-out lie.

But: Meeting notes can also be misconstrued — sometimes intentionally (e.g., by opposing counsel).

[0] https://www.oncontracts.com/note-taking-in-meetings-and-phon...


The best note taking experience I ever had was at the very first Startup school. Someone had a collaborative text editor that worked on the local network, and word got around so we all installed it. It was basically a local version of Google Docs, where everyone could edit at once.

Basically, everyone wrote down what they thought was important, so you could see what other people thought were important and add to it. Also that way people could correct mistakes other people made.

There ended up being maybe five primary note takes, and then maybe 20 or so who were adding small tidbits and another 20 who were mostly just fixing small mistakes, out of a group of 500.

And at the end we ended up with an awesome summary of the entire day.


Strongly disagree with not taking any notes during the meeting. I've learned that by jotting down brief comments about the important action points during a meeting, you keep the meeting centered on action points as opposed to a million other things that don't improve your productivity.

It's a different world when you do that - meetings actually have a point if everyone knows your goal is to figure out how to act on the information.

You can then send a brief writeup of your notes and any additional information. Putting it in writing prevents misunderstandings and causes other to do what they said they'd do.


I used to write notes for my own reference and people would come back to me asking for the notes. Few years back, I started sketching more than write full sentences or phrases. People like that more. I really like it too and I have been meaning to improve my sketching skills.

My long-time business partner, co-founder suggested me to read Dan Roam's book[1]. The books are awesome. I hope that I can, one day, draw/sketch half as good as my daughter.

1. https://www.danroam.com


The piece that I think is most important here is the amount of time OP spends on this process post-meeting. It's a ratio of 4:1 in terms of meeting time to recall time. It's this ratio that I think prevents most people from being more deliberate about the time that they spend with other people.

I wonder if someone writing software could help with that process. Most note taking tools are very open ended, would love to see more "opinionated" tools in this space.


Some meeting advice that managers over the years have given to me:

- If you are leading a meeting, schedule (at least) as much time to prepare for the meeting as the duration of the meeting.

- Before each meeting, clearly articulate the POP: Purpose, Outcome, and Process.

- Designate a note taker and document all decisions / outcomes / tasks / follow-ups.


my old manager taught me this beautifully simple trick --

at the start of the meeting, if you're the responsible party for taking notes, open up a new email and add all the meeting attendees (plus anyone who couldn't make it).

proceed to take notes directly in the email during the meeting (following whatever note taking format you prefer)

bonus points if the meeting has no slides/screenshare; in that case, present the notes as you are typing them.

when the meeting ends, while everyone is still in the room, send the email.

boom - immediately, everyone has the outcome, there are no "please forward me the meeting notes", everyone is immediately on the same page, and everyone will see the email when the meeting is freshest in their mind and respond right away if something in the notes does not mesh with their understanding of the result.


This article reminded me of when I was in academia some people used to take notes of talks with Latex, including typesetting diagrams. It was quite impressive. I tried it myself I think, but I can't remember to what results.


I have been to maybe 3 meetings in my entire life that were valuable and couldn't have been summed up in a three paragraph email.


Why bother? You're filling your brain with junk when you do that. Most formal meetings are totally worthless.


You're right that most formal meetings are a waste of time. My process is for long personal conversations with people I know and respect, where we discuss ideas and things we’re curious about.


This works well for daily journaling too.


Always take notes during a meeting.


Have you managed to do that and still pay attention to what the person is saying? Especially in a one-on-one.


As a former civil servant I've been lumbered with the meeting secretary role on countless occasions. The following thoughts may-or-may-not help others.

1. Train your chairperson.

The meeting chair is usually an important person. Everyone will be there to influence that person's thoughts - as well as fight their own corner against professional and personal enemies. The secretary is usually someone a lot further down the pecking order. Which means training your chairperson is gonna be a fraught affair. However, if you can demonstrate to your chair that listening to your advice will lead to happier meetings then they may be happier to learn. I call this the "Dark Art of upwards management".

The keys to a successful meeting - they vary. But a pretty fundamental key is "what is this meeting about", alongside "what does the chair want to get out of this meeting". Work these out (by any means possible), then ask the chair if your assumptions are right before the meeting starts. Most chairpeople will (in my experience) indulge your questions in a patronising sort of way the first few times, especially if you can follow up on likely arguments that may block successful outcomes. After a while intelligent chairs will be asking you for a summary of the meeting before it starts. Chairs do not like to have their time wasted. Be the person who helps the chair save their time.

2. Take notes during the meeting.

Never rely on memory recall after the meeting! Your memory will lie to you, especially about the boring bits which turn out to be really important for some of the participants. And use oldskool pen and paper: typing is essentially one dimensional, whereas a pad of paper has three dimensions and pens can draw arrows, bubbles, and (during the boring bits) relevant doodles as well as record word/idea summaries. It should be enough to capture key phrases (which will trigger memories later) - if you need a full record of everything said during the meeting, use a voice recording device.

Also, advice for face-blind folks like me. Draw a map of where everybody is sitting at the very start of the meeting, and insist that everyone introduces themselves (for the record) before the bickering starts. Then you can give people numbers or pithy descriptions ("bluedress", "uglytache") to help capture who said what.

Nowadays online meetings can be recorded. Personally I think it makes the whole thing a lot less fun. Someone still has to summarise the meeting for the files, or action points, etc.

3. Write up a first draft of the meeting summary straight after the meeting.

Do not put this job off! Tackle it while the anger at being forced to do the work is still hot in your veins. It does not have to be perfect; it just needs to be in the required format. Fuller notes is best - it's always easier to cut words later than to add them. Pull action points from the notes into a separate document. The action points are the only thing anyone's interested in. But your chair will thank you later if you have a fuller record: being able to say during a subsequent meeting that something has already been decided - and being able to point to the record of that - will save your chairperson the pain of deja-vu ... and give them a reason to like you even more than they already did.

Final thoughts ... my ideal meeting lasts no more than ten minutes. If I need to meet someone (eg: client) on a regular basis I will do as much work beforehand as needed to make the meeting as speedy and pleasant for everyone attending. Know what every meeting is for; what I want to get out of the meeting. Know what others want to get out of the meeting before they know themselves. If you know someone will attend the meeting because they really like making everyone listen to their (never-ending!) voice ... lose their invite. If the matter of a meeting creeps way beyond its original scope, or you can see that you have nothing further to contribute, stand up and walk out.


I think that f2f meetings with real people are in the past and any self-respect online meetings software allows recordings. So, what on the mother earth are u talking about


I disagree. Our perception system tracks dozens of parameters during f2f meetings that are simply impossible online because it's a different medium. It's way, way harder to build rapport with someone online.


Have u heard of coronavirus yet?




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