“Take a note, Ms Smith”


We regularly deliver courses on “Notes & Minute Taking” (it’s one course, before grammar pedants weigh in but we deliver this one course regularly. We also tailor the standard course for customers, so it may be more than one course. Sorry.)


I find this strange, given the ability of technology to record and transcribe nowadays, and thought that, when I first started doing this course many years ago that once we got close to 2020 then demand would diminish, but it hasn’t, it’s actually increased. I’m not complaining and I seldom turn down the work (seldom= never). And, anyway, isn’t the human element still key to success? (I wonder if that will be true in 2055?)

The “thing” that people want to get from the day, they think, is confidence in taking notes so we focus on three area: listening, grammar and what notes to take. (They lack confidence as most have had note taking dropped on them, probably because they have a pen/pencil and note pad and general air of a note taker.)

Our point is that if you get grammar wrong it can cost you money and can change meaning of a document

Listening, of course, is key to so many things (read previous articles, no, you don’t have to, it’s not really an order) and crops up in so many of the programmes we deliver but there are some specific things that need more focus on when writing and listening:

  • Concentrate
  • Be quiet
  • Look and listen
  • Write as much as you can
  • Don’t let writing stop you listening
  • Use your EARS!

Sometimes concentrating too much can, in fact, inhibit your listening…and also, if you don’t know a word, write it phonetically so you can check up on it later.

Which brings us to grammar, which focuses on words and punctuation, both of which can impact upon the meaning and understanding of a sentence and a document.

The average person knows around 30,000 words but there are over 600,000 in the English language so you won’t know them all, especially in jargon filled meetings.

We spend an hour or so looking at the pitfalls of incorrect grammar, but one bit of feedback from a client recently said that some feedback they had thought we had spent too much time on grammar. Our point is that if you get grammar wrong it can cost you money and can change meaning of a document.

We use one example, admittedly, from other shores:

“Citing the “rules of punctuation,” Canada’s telecommunications regulator recently ruled that the comma allowed Bell Aliant to end its five-year agreement with Rogers at any time with notice. The regulator concluded that the second comma meant that the part of the sentence describing the one-year notice for cancellation applied to both the five-year term as well as its renewal. Therefore, the regulator found, the phone company could escape the contract after as little as one year. This cost Rogers $1 million.”

Of course, it is an extreme example but, amusingly, the email we received (that’s i before e except after c coming in there, weirdly) said, and here I quote, “too much time was spent on grammar and punctuality”.

We are now thinking of combining Notes with Time Management. And we felt good.

Then it’s the taking of notes we focus on. Note, if you don’t have the other two, the third won’t work.

Stenographers, professional note takers, only look for 92% accuracy when taking notes and when you know that the average person talks around 150 words per minute and the average note taker writes at 30 words per minute, then you realise trying to capture everything is plain daft and impossible.

So we give people some tips:

  • Develop your own shorthand
  • Be objective
  • Same tense (past)
  • 80/20 rule applies
  • Listen for KEY points
  • Stay alert
  • Stay factual
  • Summarise, don’t try to capture everything

We remind delegates that, minutes and notes should do the following:

  • Minutes should be a reflection of what happened in a meeting
  • They need to summarise actions agreed
  • They may need to be the actual words used
  • They more often need to be a summary of what happened and what actions were agreed
  • They need to be grammatically correct, factual and objective

But let’s get down to what I find out from delegates from spending 20% of my time delivering these one-day programmes.

  1. Being “dropped in” to take notes does not make you a note taker. Most of my delegates have received no training and no guidance for note taking, proving that “sitting-next-to-Nellie” still exists
  2. Grammar is not very good in our country. This is worrying but is a simple thing to correct. When people don’t really know how to use a comma, let alone an apostrophe, the documents are up for misinterpretation
  3. Confidence make a difference. People respond to positive help. This comes through training, coaching and good management. Delegates go from our day thanking us for increasing their knowledge, skill level and confidence, which is nice to hear

Notes may be a weird key issue in business but it highlights some key areas to develop. And it keeps me off the streets. Some days…





About Author

Avatar photo

Training Design & Delivery of topics such as Customer Service, Note Taking, Business Writing, Presentation Skills, All Management/Team Leader areas, Sales, Sales Management, all tailored and run in-house for your personal requirements. Also, coaching and mentoring.

Leave A Reply