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Why do people take their own notes in a business meeting?

You've got an official note-taker. The note-taker is busily writing down clear and concise notes but as you look around the room other people are taking notes themselves and you have to ask yourself: why?

On the face of it this seems like an unproductive thing to do. Intuitively you would think that listening and writing notes divides your attention and to a certain extent that is true. But there does seem to be a reasonable amount of research available that suggests that taking notes helps with memory. i.e. if you take notes you can recall the key points better afterwards.

It appears that taking notes (writing down the key points) involves you processing the information, deciding what are key points in order to write them down. In other words the act of taking notes is just a good way to make you concentrate more and consider the information better. If you were concentrating intently but not taking notes would you recall just as well as when you were taking notes? Is the physical act of writing the active ingredient or is it merely the catalyst to concentration?

Interesting questions and no doubt something to research more. But what can we take from this that is useful now?

There are two purposes at play in taking notes. The first is to create a permanent record of what happened in a meeting. The second is to aid memory / help you concentrate and be more involved in the meeting. The two are quite separate and once you recognise this then you can make notes differently. If you are the official note-taker it is your job to create an accurate record of the meeting. If you are not the note-taker then you should ensure that your notes are optimised to helping you concentrate on the meeting.

One reason that many people take notes as well as the note-taker is that they don't trust the note-taker to get the content right. Another reason is that they know that the notes will be distributed too late to be effective. These are bad reasons for taking notes in a meeting, duplicating effort. Rather than taking notes you should be striving to solve the root cause of the problem.


  1. Have the note-taker project the notes on the wall as they are made so that everyone in the meeting can suggest corrections as they go. The result is that by the end of the meeting the notes are visible to everyone and therefore trust is not an issue.
  2. Once the notes have been completed at the end of the meeting there shouldn't need to be any changes made - everyone agreed them as they went along. That means that the notes can be emailed to everyone immediately i.e. sent in an email right at the end of the meeting so that the notes are in everyone's inboxes before they get back to their desks. This solves the problem of notes being sent out after a few days.


So what's the key point here? Clarity of purpose. It is important to know prior to going into your meeting why you will be taking notes and what they will be used for. Once you have that clarity of purpose you'll be much more effective in your note taking.

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Reader Comments (1)

Many people ask this question and its quite simple; there are many reasons why you would want to take notes on what you have said/done during a meeting for example taking notes means you can use them as evidence and also to remind yourself of what you did during that meeting which could prove to be useful in the future.

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterservicedofficeslondon

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