How to prepare for scribing a meeting (minute-taking)

Six important things you should do before scribing a meeting (minute-taking):

  • If you don’t know the subject of the meeting, do some research.
  • Prepare the template for the minutes.
  • Find out how long the meeting is. If it is going be more than two hours long, request regular breaks.
  • Ask for a ‘go to’ person to sit next to you at the meeting.
  • OHS – make sure you (and others) at the meeting are physically safe.
  • Arrive early to make sure everything is organised and ready to go.

For a detailed description of the above six points, read on.

If you don’t know the subject, do some research

If you don’t have any knowledge of the topic you are scribing,  do a bit of research before the meeting. For example, you could ask the people holding the meeting to send you a sample of previous minutes so you can see what sorts of subjects will be discussed. Ask them to email you a link to websites or publications that will give you a better idea of the subject matter. You could also ask them to send you all the documentation that will be tabled and/or referred to during the meeting.

Prepare the template

At least one day before the meeting, obtain 1) the agenda, and 2) the list of attendees and apologies, so you can prepare a minutes template prior to scribing the minutes. Also ask for a copy of previous minutes so you can see how detailed (or basic) your Minutes need to be. As mentioned above, it can also be helpful if the organiser gives you a copy of all the documentation that is going to be tabled at, or referred to in, the meeting.

If the meeting is long, make sure you have regular breaks

Constant typing is hard work. Before I learned to insist on regular breaks, I used to scribe minutes at day-long meetings where participants continued to talk while eating lunch but I couldn’t take a break because the meeting was still in progress.  It was a real strain on my body.

When you are first asked to scribe the meeting, find out how long it is expected to take and if it is going to be more than a couple of hours long, explain to the organiser that you’ll need at least a 15-minute break every two hours, and for all-day meetings you’ll need a half-hour break in the middle of the day.

Organise a ‘go to’ person to sit next to you

If you’re scribing a large meeting and don’t know the participants’ names, ask the organiser to arrange for someone who knows all the names to sit next to you while you scribe so they can answer any questions you have during the meeting. For example, if you don’t know the name of the person who has seconded a motion, your ‘go to’ person will be able to tell you so you don’t have to interrupt the meeting to find out. Without a ‘go to’ person, vital information identifying who said what may be missing from the minutes.

Occupational health and safety

It’s important you are comfortable and safe when scribing.

Ask the organiser to ensure you 1) have a comfortable adjustable office chair that will allow you to sit at the right height when scribing into your laptop, 2) are seated close enough to the meeting participants that you will be able to hear them without straining your neck or ears.

Depending on your laptop battery type, you may need to plug your laptop into a power-point before or during the meeting. In any case, you should always make sure you will have access to a power-point while scribing the meeting. Ask the client to seat you near a power-point so you can plug in your laptop if necessary, and make sure that where the laptop is plugged in to the wall, there is no risk of anyone tripping over the cord.

Dress appropriately so you don’t freeze or overheat in the meeting room. (I always bring a cardigan or jacket, just in case.)

At the meeting, make sure you have plenty of water by your side and drink as regularly as you can.

Arrive early

Make sure you know exactly where and when the event is to be held and arrive 15 to 30 minutes early so you have time to set up your laptop, adjust your chair for best posture, if using a power-point to plug in your laptop make sure it doesn’t pose any risk to anyone at the meeting, and briefly meet the organiser and/or Chair and your ‘go to’ person prior to the meeting. You should be sitting at your laptop ‘ready to go’ five to 10 minutes before the meeting commences.

When the meeting commences, you literally won’t have time to scratch yourself as you scribe the main points of what is said as fast as they are said, as well as the identities of the different speakers. Afterwards, you’ll edit your transcript of the meeting into well-written, accurate minutes.

Helpful links to other articles about scribing and minute-taking

Why pianists make good scribes

The skills you need to start up a scribing business

How to become an on-site scribe

How I became a scribe

The path from typist to scribe.

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