Write the Docs: Mo Nishiyama – Did It In Minutes: The Art of Documenting Meeting Notes

I’m at Write the Docs today in Portland and will be post­ing notes from ses­sions through­out the day. These are all posted right after a talk fin­ishes so they’re rough around the edges.

Mo spoke last year in a lightning talk and this year upgraded to a full 20 minute session. He’s a self-professed child of the 1980s and warned us of upcoming ’80s references in his talk.

Meeting notes are like the garbage trucks of the documentation world. They’re seen as boring and something that no one wants to spend their time writing them. Even during meetings people play iPhone games, read comics, and sketch emoji in their notebooks. Documenting what comes out of those types of meetings is a losing battle. When working at one particular company Mo became really good at sketching the poop emoji in his notebook. The act of “writing” in his notebook, though, meant he got pegged to write recap notes each week.

Mo had always viewed notes as regurgitation. The first thing he did was shift his perspective to one of curation. He asked himself, who’s my audience? Meeting notes might be for absentee people, people outside your business unit, or even people external to the company. You’re not writing meeting notes just for yourself.

Next you can create a shared need. What’s the most important thing people can get from those notes? Chronology isn’t as important as, well, importance. You can see this in sports articles. If there’s a buzzer-beating shot that’s what the articles lead with, even though it happened first.

Then, you need to WTF: Write The Facts. Heated discourse may take place but trying to recapitulate all of those opinions is not relevant. Focus on the facts of the meeting and stay diplomatic. Somethings are better left unsaid.

Make sure that when you include action items those items are clear. Define who is handling the task, what the task is, and when it must be delivered by. Vague goals in the meeting notes will just be forgotten.

How you deliver meeting notes also matters. Use a collaborative platform that lets you listen to the others at the meeting. You maybe inadvertently included some incorrect information, typos, or other inaccuracies. Avoid email as the final product of meeting notes.

Mo uses templates to make all this happens. It saves him time in putting together the notes after a meeting. Just make sure to change all the placeholder text before pressing “Publish.”

A great way to get people to read your notes is to include Easter eggs. It might be little things like, “Hey, if you finish your code review by the Wednesday afternoon deadline I’ll treat you to a free pint.” It helps prevent the tl;dr syndrome.