Why Take Notes In A Meeting Using A Mind Map?

I can remember distinctly the first time I used the Mind Mapping tool in a meeting and how I suddenly felt it was the best meeting that I had ever been to because I was really involved, kept track of everything and with the meeting minutes I had a great recollection of events. It was a real revelation for me at that time and have been using Mind Maps in meetings ever since.

Of course there is a slight disadvantage to it because once you get a reputation for having excellent notes from your meetings, more and more people will encourage you to take the minutes – beware of that because this is what happened to me until I became senior enough to delegate the process!

My favourite story about using Mind Maps as a tool for recording the meetings I attended comes from the first time I started working in the Ministry of Defence as a young lieutenant. I was a keen, career chasing officer recently returned from 2 years at sea and fresh from my Initial Staff Course and I was involved in a high level meeting.

Of course I took Mind Map notes during the meeting which was a lively and sometimes controversial discussion about plans for a new piece of equipment. As I got up from the table at the end of the meeting the chairman, a rather gruff senior Captain who did not suffer fools and ruled his department with a rod of iron, beckoned me over and proceeded to give me an almighty telling off about doodling in his meeting and not paying attention (Mind Maps were still relatively unknown back then).

After receiving and accepting the broadside (I was old and bold enough to know not to interrupt a four ring Captain in mid chastisement), I said to him:

“Sir, you don’t understand, let me explain�”

And then I proceeded to give a blow by blow and completely accurate record of events that showed an understanding of the issues that belied my relatively little time in the post. He didn’t apologise (four ring Captains in the Royal Navy don’t need to) but was impressed with the tool and rewarded me by insisting I take the minutes for all his meetings!

Of course this post is going to encourage you to use Mind Maps as a note taking tool in meetings because it has worked really well for me and for the thousands of others who also use it but let’s look at the choices we have.

Using Mind Maps for Efficient Meetings

If you are going to capture the proceedings, outcomes, decisions and actions from a meeting you have three main (practical) options:

  1. Record the meeting using a digital recorder and then have the recording transcribed.
  2. Have someone (usually the meeting secretary) take copious long hand “conventional notes” that are typed up afterwards
  3. Have someone (could be the meeting secretary but needn’t be so) take Mind Map notes during the meeting and then type up the minutes using the Mind Map to remind them.

Let’s look at each one of these in turn:

109150_tape_recorder.jpgTranscribed Recordings – The advantage of transcribed minutes taken from an audio recording of what went on is that it is a complete and 100% accurate account of what was discussed, agreed and committed to.

The disadvantages are:

  • The transcription will cover EVERYTHING including irrelevant digressions, long winded circular arguments and unnecessary levels of detail making the minutes harder to decipher.
  • Unless you outsource the transcriptions (which may be commercially sensitive) someone has to sit down and re-live the entire meeting so that the minutes can be typed. This takes time and requires that someone has the ability to transcribe.
  • Failure of the recording equipment (malfunction, low battery or just forgetting to press “record”) means the meeting might not be recorded at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a good idea to record meetings for archiving but as a tool for creating accurate written minutes I think it becomes a difficult and unwieldy task that produces a poor quality product.

245648_old_diary.jpgTaking “Conventional Notes” - the advantages of conventional notes are that just about anyone can do them and they can be typed up relatively quickly.

The disadvantages are:

  • Writing down your notes in longhand creates a sequenced record of events that becomes harder to make sense of if a particular point is revisited at different times during the meeting.
  • Capturing minutes using “conventional” notes often results in a “dictation” style dialogue that often captures unnecessary and relatively unimportant discussions occasionally giving more weight to trivial items with long discussions instead of more important items that might have been resolved or dealt with quite quickly.
  • Longhand notes tend to record “process” rather than “outcome” or conclusion.
  • Important discussion points can be missed whilst the note taker is distracted as they concentrate on writing sentences and/or paragraphs about what is going on
  • Have you ever tried re-reading notes of something you took in real time? I don’t know about you but when I am writing things down quickly my usually quite neat handwriting turns to unintelligible gobbledygook!

So the final alternative is one that I have used hundreds of times in meetings ranging from short one-on-one sessions with my staff to large scale two-day affairs with 50 people. Each time I created an accurate record (and recall) of events that became almost legendary when I was doing my Project Management work before I left the Navy.

dsc01443.JPGUsing Mind Maps In Meetings - first of all the disadvantages of using Mind Maps in meetings. Being effective with Mind Maps is a skill that must be developed and that does take a little time and a shift in the way you view your note taking approach. You also need to trust in your memory a little more to access your recall of the events and you have to THINK that little bit harder.

Here are the advantages:

  • When you use Mind Maps to take your notes in a meeting you have to actively think more about what is going on in order to structure your record of it in Mind Map form. This means you concentrate more, stay interested longer and really appreciate what is going on at a far deeper level. (I found that in really boring meetings I used to Mind Map them to practice the skill and keep me awake!)
  • You will stay more involved in what is going on, at the time it is happening because it only takes a second or two to write down a keyword (instead of the many 10s of seconds it takes to write down sentences and/or paragraphs). This means that you will keep up with what is going on and not miss anything.
  • As complex issues and arguments unfold you will be able to keep track because you will have a summary overview that clearly shows the relationships between the various points.
  • You will be able to easily cut through lengthy discussions to summarise the issues, record the outcome, and identify action points.
  • As issues are revisited at different times during a meeting you will be able to add the subsequent contributions to the point on the relevant branch of your Mind Map making it an issue focussed record instead of a time-lined capture.
  • Your recall of what went on, what was agreed and what the action points were will be near perfect AND you will have it summarised in front of you there and then on a single piece of paper.
  • You will be able to produce a very accurate and succinct record of the meeting by sitting down and then writing a few sentences about each branch of your Mind Map, allowing the keywords to stimulate your recall. You can do this at anytime you want and of course the sooner the better but you could write equally accurate minutes from that Mind Map 6 months later if you wanted to (but that is the point of a later post J )

So if you want to get more from your meetings, stay awake and have near perfect recall of the points important to you, then I suggest you consider using Mind Mapping.

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