One task I enjoy doing as a professional communicator is taking meeting notes. Without bragging too much, it’s a thing several leaders have valued in my skill set because I can listen to a lot of information and identify the main point or the most important point, which is a slightly different skill set. My mother would call it “reading between the lines.”
I haven’t written about this topic before, partly because I try to avoid bragging, but also because I am uncertain how to teach others how to do it. I will give it a shot here, though (the word “essay” is French for “try,” after all).
Summaries (or lack thereof)
Some meeting leaders are kind enough to summarize a decision that was made or an event which has transpired, making it easy to pass on “the big news” afterward. However, sometimes meetings end ambiguously, without a clear decision or summary. Could that be the most important point? If the sole purpose of the meeting was to reach a decision, yes indeed.
Scope of impact
You could be listening to fact upon fact upon fact (try sitting through a monthly status meeting for a launch vehicle sometime). This mass increased by X pounds. The thrust of the engine increased by Y percent. The flight test moved to Z date. Obviously if you’re a structural or propulsion engineer, you might have different priorities. However, if you need to go back and report on a fact that affects everybody, which item will get your attention? The flight test date, obviously.
Other “hot button” items are facts that affect the budget, workforce, or ability of an organization to deliver a product or service at the agreed-upon level of quantity or quality. In short, will something that you heard affect the organization’s ability to accomplish its primary goal or mission?
This could take many forms, from good to bad. Did someone get a promotion? Have layoffs been announced? Did people come out of meeting upset? Angry? Elated? Was there a long-drawn-out argument? Human dynamics are important and can sometimes be more important than any facts that are announced during a discussion.
The “most important” fact in a meeting will sometimes vary by the priorities expressed by your organization, culture, or individual leader. When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to ask: “Is there anything you want me to listen for?” Sometimes priorities change. Sometimes (and I’m sure every meeting leader is about to cringe reading this), there is no important information to come out of a meeting. It happens. Odds are, if you say that “nothing important” happened, you can record every individual fact at an equal level of importance and let the meeting minute readers make their own judgments. Still, prioritizing information is a useful skill to have. Keep it in mind the next time you’re sent to a meeting.