The Power of Paper – Why Meeting Notes Are Still An Important Tool

People in a meeting taking notes

Recently, a learner asked me a seemingly simple question: Should she take notes during the course of a meeting? She wondered if notetaking was an old standard practice that had gone by the wayside or if it was still seen as necessary in current business culture.  

My answer to her was a resounding, “Yes!” In fact, not long ago, Turpin customized a meeting planner for a client that specifically included a section for notetaking. But after my reflexive reaction, I decided I should take a few minutes to consider why I felt this was true and break down the reasons I consider it important. (Spoiler: It’s not because I’m in league with the legal pad industry.) 

You Can’t Hold It All in Your Head 

I’ll start with what might seem the most obvious purpose for notes: Memory is fallible. Have you ever eaten in a restaurant where the server didn’t write anything down but then had to come back to the table to clarify some details about your order? I’m going to guess that you weren’t exactly filled with confidence that everyone’s order would come out of the kitchen correctly. Taking notes gives your colleagues the assurance that you are following the proceedings closely and that you’re being accurate. 

You may think you’re not likely to forget anything, but even the most critical details can slip through the cracks if they aren’t properly reinforced. Taking notes during a meeting serves as a physical anchor for your memory. It’s a tangible record of what was discussed, decided, and planned. In fact, putting pen to paper involves the coordination of your hand movements, which can create a spatial and motor memory trace. This additional sensory and motor engagement can enhance memory recall. (Check out this abstract if you’re interested in reading more of the research on this.) And a quick post-meeting review of your notes will ensure that crucial details don’t get lost in the shuffle of a busy workday, which may have involved any number of important meetings with critical information. 

What Was I About to Say? 

It’s also an excellent method to track your own thinking throughout the course of a complex discussion. How many times have you had a thought or question in a meeting and waited for an opening to share it, only to find that it vanished in the ether after just a few minutes? If you’re like most people, you’ll only recall it later in a much less useful setting, such as in the shower or on the train ride home. 

The How and The Why 

Important decisions are made in meetings, and it’s crucial to document not just the decisions but also the rationale behind them. Notes will act as a historical record, providing context for why certain choices were made. This can be invaluable when revisiting decisions or onboarding new team members who need to understand the reasoning behind past actions.

Collaboration and Corroboration 

Additionally, meetings are usually collaborative endeavors, and notes are a collaborative tool. Sharing meeting notes with participants afterward fosters transparency and ensures that everyone is on the same page. People like getting credit for the ideas and solutions they put forth, and note-taking allows you to track those details. It also allows for feedback and corrections, creating a collaborative space for refining your team’s ideas and plans. 

People Need to Feel Heard 

One of the most important reasons I landed on is this one: Taking down notes in meetings is really a cornerstone of active listening. When you’re the one leading a meeting, it’s easy to get caught up in the role of the presenter. But as we all know, effective leadership also involves active listening. Taking notes will require you to be present and engaged in the conversation. Perhaps most importantly, it shows all the participants that their input is valued and that you care enough to respond thoughtfully to their ideas and concerns.  

So, the next time you’re gearing up to host a meeting, don’t forget your notepad and pen—they might just be the keys to unlocking your team’s full potential. 

Our methodology is based on our book, The Orderly Conversation®, a groundbreaking resource that offers a proven, practical approach for developing and delivering presentations that moves business forward.

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