Are Your Minutes Objective?

Paris Bakery 15-8584 Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

Do you invest time and energy in inappropriately embellishing your minutes?

While there’s a time and place (such as the Parisian patisserie pictured here) for ornamention and embellishment, you want to refrain from this in your writing style for minutes. 

Keep these guidelines in mind, and you’ll do both your organisation and your own reputation proud.

Adjectives Run Amok: Assess Your Choice of Words

Do your minutes read objectively, or are they adjective-laden? It was a Vice President who helped me on this front years ago, when he cautioned that it was not my role to assess or categorize the nature or quality of a debate or presentation.This was one of the best pieces of minute-related advice I’ve received.

Review your minutes for adjectives and, in most cases, pull them

Minutes are objective records, and should not contain subjective observations. Think about this statement, and then check your work. Do any of your minutes depict inspiring, intense, motivational, extraordinary, heated (or other such) presentations, deliberations or debates? Such use of adjectives may be subjective, and represent the recorder’s interpretation (however accurate it may be) of tone.

Do your minutes pronounce someone as having been “happy to advise” a committee, or “proud to report” on results? Even if you are accurate in perceiving that someone was “anxiously seeking” resolution to an issue, do you think the speaker would appreciate this characterisation being preserved for prosperity?

Role-Focused Minutes

There are different schools of thought on this one; do you refer to people by their job titles or names in your minutes? My minutes template includes a list of participants’ names and their respective titles or roles on the first page. Then, if it is appropriate to reference a given presenter or participant, I have typically done so by referring to that person by his or her title/role within the meeting. For example, rather than preparing minutes stating, “J. Smith invited expressions of interest in … ” a particular matter, I will write, “The Treasurer invited expressions of interest in …”

The advantages of this approach are twofold: your minutes reflect actions undertaken by a party in her or his professional capacity, and future readers of this historical record won’t be confused or distracted by trying to sort out context – “Who was this J. Smith of a decade ago, and by what authority did s/he undertake such actions?”

However, if your colleagues’ job titles are long and unwieldy, your organisation may choose to refer to individuals as Ms. Martin, Mr. Want, Dr. Young and so on. As long as you’ve listed participants’ job titles or roles within a meeting on the first page that records attendance and regrets, future readers will have context.

It’s Not A Matter of Degree

Review your work for the use of words such as “very” or “thoroughly”, which imply your assessment of degree; that is not your role. It can be easy to slip into such modes, which are not appropriate.

The purpose of minutes: historic records of business conducted, and outcomes

Instead, the exceptional EA, MA or PA will retain focus on the reason we record minutes. In short, we are creating historic records of the business conducted, the decisions made and commitments undertaken.

 Remember to minimise the embellishments, and you’ll have simply elegant minutes

Montreal Bakery 14-4369 Copyright Shelagh Donnelly


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