A quick guide to meeting summaries

If you’ve ever had to miss a meeting, been a few minutes late to a meeting, had to leave a meeting early, or simply found yourself not fully present in the meeting at hand, then you’ll know why having a meeting summary provided to you can be so vitally important.

And we couldn’t agree more. They offer a great reference point for anyone needing to catch up on a meeting’s discussion and outcomes, and facilitate people being held accountable to anything that was agreed upon. 

What is a meeting summary?

First things first, it’s important to understand what meeting summaries are, and how they differ from meeting minutes. 

Meeting summaries provide a high-level overview of the discussions within, and outcomes of a meeting. They include details such as which agenda items were discussed, any decisions that were made, as well as identifying any follow-up steps that need to be actioned and who is responsible for doing so. They are usually an informal document, based on notes gathered during a meeting, and distributed to all attendees post-meeting. They act as a reference point for anyone who missed all or part of a meeting, or anyone looking to refresh their memory of what was discussed.

“Meeting summaries are less formal than meeting minutes”

Meeting summaries are less formal than meeting minutes. Meeting minutes are used to provide a detailed, official record of a meeting. Although the information included in meetings summaries and meeting minutes may be very similar, meeting minutes usually follow a much more structured template because in some cases they will act as legal documentation. Some companies will have their own template depending on what information they require to be captured in meeting minutes, while many use Robert’s Rules of Orders as their outline. 

Four reasons why meeting summaries are awesome

The simple answer is to enable us to get more out of our meetings. 

The way we carry out meetings is changing; we currently find ourselves holding more meetings virtually than physically, and as such meeting productivity has been impacted. We have found through our user research that for many businesses, there sometimes are no notes or meeting summaries, particularly for internal meetings. These are the four reasons why we think meeting summaries are important.

1. Meeting summaries help those who were absent 

Meeting summaries provide a breakdown of everything that was discussed, decisions that were made and by whom, and what follow up steps were agreed upon, including who is responsible for actioning each item. This enables anyone who was absent for all or part of a meeting to catch up and - providing the meeting notes have been taken effectively - feel in the loop as if they had been present. It also ensures that responsibility for any follow up steps is communicated effectively to those absent.

2. Meeting summaries for those who need to refresh their memory

We can all admit we’ve been there; there are instances where the minute you leave a meeting you realise you didn’t take in as much as you thought you had. 

You can’t remember how certain items left or worse still, you’re left unclear as to whether an action item was assigned to you. But worry not, having a meeting summary means you can glance back and clarify what decisions were made and anything that you are responsible for. 

Particularly where an action item involves collaborative efforts between different individuals or teams within an organisation, meeting summaries can serve as clarification should there be any misunderstanding or confusion as to what was agreed and by whom.

As well as meeting summaries being a lifeline in terms of refreshing our memories in these situations, many people find that active note-taking during a meeting actually helps them stay engaged in the discussions at hand. Particularly when note-taking on behalf of all attendees, the responsibility of having to effectively communicate the meeting’s contents to those who were unable to attend, and knowing that the meeting summary they produce may be referred back to for years to come, heightens their focus during a meeting.

3. Meeting summaries and ROI

Meeting summaries have the potential to increase a company’s return on investment for all the time spent; meeting summary documents become records of historical knowledge and decisions, from which companies can learn and improve. Additionally, where a meeting summary provides a colleague who was absent the opportunity to fully catch up on what was discussed, the need for follow-up meetings - and additional time - is prevented. 

4. Meeting summaries for effective time management

Above all, meeting summaries facilitate the practice of effective time management. They enable us to get the most out of both our own - and our colleagues’ - time during and after a meeting. 

Their ability to provide all the information one needs to catch up alleviates any more time than is needed being spent discussing the content of a meeting. This in turn ensures that all the time people do invest in a meeting is spent as productively as possible, with a clearer purpose and positive outcomes. Furthermore, they help capture and assign any follow up tasks, ensuring that next steps are actioned effectively with the relevant individuals held accountable. 

Key takeaways

We hope this post helps explain why meeting summaries are such an excellent resource, particularly in ensuring that a company's time and resources are used as effectively and productively as possible. Meeting summaries can benefit both those who were present in, or absent from a meeting, as they provide a reference point for either refreshing our memories, or catching up entirely. Although they capture similar detail, meeting summaries are generally less formal than meeting minutes as they won't typically be called upon to act as legal documentation.

We personally look forward to the future when AI assistants such as Eric.ai can take care of these tasks for us, and revolutionise the way we interact within meetings even further. We’ll be releasing more details around Eric’s offerings and release dates in time to come, so make sure you’re following our Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts to keep updated. In the meantime, there’s still time to sign up to get early access to Eric.ai - simply head back to the homepage and fill in your details now.