I’ve been a fan of the art of note taking all my professional life – as a student, an academic, and a business person. I always keep a notebook with me whenever I attend a meeting, conference or lecture. Using a notebook is not the only way to take notes. It’s becoming increasingly popular to take notes in electronic form, using a laptop or iPad for example.
I sometimes take notes electronically in Google Drive, especially for online Business English HQ meetings with my colleagues in the UK. Using Google Drive is a great way to share notes taken in our weekly meetings. Others at the meeting can add to the notes as well. Note taking becomes a collaborative effort.
In my book Write Now: Business Writing That Gets Results, I talk very briefly about ways of note taking. I define it as “the art of synthesizing information that you learned and putting it in ways that you personally understand.” (p. 40)
Why note taking is important
Why do I take notes at meetings or conferences? First of all, it forces me to listen actively. It helps me to stay focused on what the speaker is saying. It stops my mind from wandering or being distracted, especially if I’m tired.
Second, note taking shows the speaker that what he or she is saying is important to me. It also shows other participants that what the speaker is saying has value for me. On the other hand, when I’m giving a talk I always appreciate seeing listeners take notes.
Third, note taking allows me to keep a record of what happened at a meeting or lecture. Depending on the note taking system I use, I can go back to review my notes. I can see what action steps I need to follow up on. I can also check out links or websites that were mentioned during the meeting.
Note taking systems
There are many ways to take notes using, for example, the outline method, the two-column approach or the flow-based system. I’ll talk about these methods in another blog post, “Note Taking Techniques.”
Here is one practical suggestion when note taking – use symbols next to important points in your notes. You can use a:
diamond ♦ next to a really important comment or idea
question mark ? next to something you need to find out about
right arrow → next to an action that a colleague needs to follow up on.
Invent your own symbols that you find useful.