This post is part of 23 Things for Professional Development.
Step 1: Recall it – my notes from the training
Clarification of responsibilities
Things for the Secretary to do before the meeting
- Organise date, time, venue, audio-visual requirements, refreshments, parking
- Pre-meeting with the Chair?
- Draft and agree the agenda with the Chair
- Prepare and/or collect papers
- Find out who will and won’t be attending (meeting may need to be quorate)
- Find out if any attendees need special arrangements in terms of accessibility or resources and organise these
- Circulate agenda, papers and minutes of previous meeting in good time
Agendas often include the following elements:
- Title, date, time and venue of meeting
- Minutes of the previous meeting
- Matters arising from previous minutes
- Specific items to be discussed, which may have associated papers
- Regular updates from officers e.g. Treasurer
- Any other business (AOB)
- Date, time and venue of next meeting
It is good practice to include a short description of each agenda item if it does not already have supporting papers.
This helps meeting attendees understand the points for discussion in advance, and allows them time to reflect on the issues and maybe even do some research if they are not familiar with the issue involved. This also speeds up the meeting, as the time can be used to discuss the points rather than also having to describe them.
AOB should be reserved for last-minute items which could not have been submitted for the main agenda in time.
Notes and minutes
Consider the purpose of your meeting, as this will influence the type of record you keep in the minutes:
Keeping a formal record
Although the Secretary will take notes during the meeting and write up the minutes afterwards, it is important to understand that notes and minutes are not the same. As the Secretary, it is your role to apply your intellect to objectively interpret and report accurately, clearly and briefly the main points of the discussion and any decision that was reached, not to take dictation and write up an exhaustive account of the meeting.
It is useful to identify action points with specific formatting, for example in bold.
Combine the passive tense with strong verbs to create an impartial but robust record e.g. it was decided that John would accept the offer.
Examples of reporting verbs: add, advise, ask, agree, apologise, confirm, deny, discuss, explain, invite, note, offer, persuade, recommend, refuse, remind, report, respond, request, state, suggest.
Clear Writing: Ten Principles of Clear Statement – ten simple ideas to help you write clearly
University of Oxford Writing and style guide (sorry, download for University staff only, but your organisation may have something similar)
Steps 2 and 3: Evaluate and apply it
- Although I have been the Secretary for various committees in recent years, this is the first formal training I’ve attended on how to do this effectively. Although most of these points are obvious to anyone who has been involved in a committee, it’s useful to have checklists of what to do and the official endorsement of the difference between notes and minutes.
- I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Secretary’s role is quite powerful, although they are often perceived as being rather lowly, especially as it’s difficult to fully join in with the meeting as well as writing notes.
- I feel reassured about the difference between notes and minutes, and from now on I will aim to keep my minutes as brief as I can (as well as making my job quicker, it will also be faster for everyone else to read them).
- Having a pre-meeting with the Chair is something I have occasionally done in an informal way, but now I can see that it could be useful to make this a routine part of my preparations.
- AOB is often used to squeeze items in to a meeting because people weren’t organized enough to submit them to me when I made the call for agenda items. The main reason I find this a problem is because it makes the meeting much longer, and also that attendees come to the item ‘cold’ because they haven’t had a chance to think about it before the meeting, so conversations are often less productive. I will work with the Chair to agree to allow only genuine AOB-type items at the end of the meeting to help reduce this problem.