Take Notes for Success in English Business Meetings

Take Notes for Success in English Business Meetings
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    Communicating effectively during business meetings is challenging. However, most people forget that you can make communication easier by taking notes. Taking notes during (or before!) business meetings not only helps you remember information later, but also allows you to actively engage in the discussion, ask relevant questions, and participate meaningfully in the conversation.

    In this article, we’ll explore the simplest way to begin taking notes, and how to make sure your notes are structured, useful, and actionable.

    Plan Ahead for Success

    Taking notes in a meeting can be challenging, especially if the meeting is run in a language other than your own. There are several steps you can take ahead of time to make the meeting easier for you to follow.

    Request the meeting agenda ahead of time. Most organizers are happy to provide the agenda in advance, which helps you double-check the topics and prepare accordingly. If the agenda isn’t provided, you can request one. If you’re asked why, you can explain that the agenda will help you contribute more effectively during the meeting.

    Request the agenda be displayed in more than one language. If the meeting involves participants from a variety of language backgrounds, ask the organizers to provide the agenda in multiple languages. Obviously an accurate translation is best, but even imperfect translations can be helpful. This simple accommodation can significantly enhance understanding and participation for all attendees.

    Listen Effectively 

    Taking notes starts with listening. Many people think note-taking is just about writing things down. However, the true heart of note-taking is listening and understanding.

    Listen to more than just words. Active listening is the foundation of successful note-taking. Engage fully with the speaker. This means focusing on not only their words, but also their tone, and body language. Stay present and attentive. Listen for nuance. 

    Listen first, then write. Develop the habit of listening for key points, underlying themes, and actionable insights. Once you understand, then write it down. Resist the temptation to transcribe every word exactly, as this can distract you from understanding the meaning of the discussion.

    Focus on Key Points and Action Items 

    Focus on key points, action items, and decisions. Dense, hard to read notes will not help you perform well in your meeting! You must be brief, so highlight essential details that require attention or follow-up. Clearly mark action items with deadlines and responsible parties to ensure accountability.

    Don’t write down every single word. Remember, when documenting key points, strive to capture the main points of the discussion rather than attempting to record every word. Use your own words to summarize the main ideas, while preserving meaning and context.

    Ask Questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to get more information during the meeting. This ensures that your notes are comprehensive and high-quality. Asking for more information or for examples can provide valuable context and enhance not just the quality of your notes, but the quality of the meeting overall.

    Structure Your Notes for Clarity and Taking Action

    Organize your notes in a structured format that facilitates comprehension and action. There are many effective ways to structure your notes! 

    One effective approach is to divide your notes into sections based on the meeting agenda. This alignment ensures that your notes follow a logical flow, making it easier to revisit and implement the discussed points.

    You could also structure your notes based on which deadlines are the most urgent.

    WIthin each topic, we recommend structuring your notes according to the VCR framework:

    • Value Section: Summarizes key value propositions, benefits, and success stories discussed during the meeting. Captures insights about the potential impact, return on investment, or competitive advantages associated with various initiatives or strategies.
    • Cost Section: Documents financial implications, resource requirements, and cost-performance metrics associated with the topic. Identifies potential areas of investment, budget allocations, or cost-saving opportunities.
    • Risk Section: Identifies potential risks, challenges, and mitigation strategies discussed, along with lessons learned from past experiences. Highlights potential roadblocks, uncertainties, or areas that may require contingency planning or risk management strategies.

    Read more about the VCR framework.

    Write Faster Using Abbreviations & Symbols

    Develop abbreviations or symbols to speed up your note-taking process. Shortened forms for common words and phrases can help you capture information quickly. Experiment with symbols for priority, urgency, or relevance to make your notes easier to both read and write.

    Try using visuals like diagrams, charts, or mind maps to improve the clarity of your notes. These visual aids help you capture complex ideas, relationships, and processes more easily. You know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words!

    However, be careful not to overuse abbreviations or create overly complex symbols that are difficult to understand later on. Find balance between speed and clarity. This helps your notes remain easily understandable, even after some time has passed.

    Summarize Your Notes During the Meeting 

    Periodically summarize key points and takeaways. You can do this privately to yourself, or out loud to confirm that you are following along correctly. Summarization makes sure that you’ve captured the most important pieces of the discussion. Summaries help you from getting lost in the details! Use them as reference points for further exploration or action.

    Summarizing also makes you look more professional and feel more confident!

    If you have a chance, pause to review your notes. Highlighting the most important points and connects them to the broader context of the meeting. This helps reinforce your understanding and ensures that your notes accurately reflect the truth of the discussion.

    Leverage Technology Tools Wisely

    Use technological tools to make note-taking easier. Note-taking apps, digital recorders, or transcription software can upgrade your note-taking skills. Choose tools that fit naturally into your note taking routines and meeting routines. However, be careful! Just relying on automated meeting transcriptions isn’t always a good idea. Automated transcriptions are not always accurate (especially if you’re speaking non-native English!) and they can take a really long time to read in full. Depending on how long everyone speaks, a two-hour meeting can be nearly 42 pages long!

    Certain note-taking tools can offer valuable features like cloud storage, real-time collaboration, and easy sharing. These features can either enhance productivity and collaboration within your team, or harm them. Be careful of potential distractions and make sure the technology helps, rather than harms, your note-taking.

    Review and Reflect Post-Meeting 

    Schedule time after your meeting to review your notes. Clarify anything you don’t understand, fill in gaps, and identify action items that need your  immediate attention. Reflect on the meeting’s outcomes. How can your notes help with future decisions or initiatives?

    Reviewing your notes shortly after the meeting allows you to capture additional insights and solidify your understanding while the information is still fresh. This practice also helps you identify areas that may require further clarification or follow-up.


    Strategic note-taking using the VCR framework can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your business meetings by ensuring that your notes are structured, insightful, and actionable. By focusing on value, cost, and risk, you can capture key insights, identify opportunities, and mitigate potential challenges more effectively.

    Incorporate these strategies into your note-taking process to elevate your contribution and drive positive outcomes in your organization’s meetings. Effective note-taking not only supports your personal growth and productivity but also contributes to better decision-making, stronger collaboration, and more successful outcomes for your organization.

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