How To Take Great Notes
Learn how to capture what's most important in a meeting with a member of Congress. This training is geared towards taking notes in lobby meetings but the same principles apply meetings with local influencers, editorial boards, etc.
For lobbying purposes, notes are tracked and analyzed to keep a running record of where our Members of Congress stand, to inform conversations in future meetings, and to ensure solid meeting follow-up. Great notes enable us to:
- Pass on knowledge when a group or liaison post changes its leadership.
- Get a sense for the national picture.
- Understand how, or if, a member of Congress’ position has evolved over time.
Taking Great Notes is part of the Working with Congress Series.
Important things to capture in your notes
- What was the (supporting) ask in this meeting?
- Concerns of the staffer/member of Congress with respect to our policy.
- Questions the staffer/members of Congress had about our policy.
- Recommendations the staffer/member of Congress had about our policy or strategy.
- Points about our strategy or policy the staffer/member of Congress found interesting.
- Who the member works well with across the aisle, or in their own party.
- Separate (in parentheses or brackets), your sense of the staffer. Were they engaged? Were they interested? Were they hostile? Did they want to be anywhere but in that meeting? What was their body language? Discuss this with others after the meeting as well to make sure your impressions match.
- Action items for the member of Congress/staffer.
- Action items for your group or team.
Tips for taking notes
- While it’s useful to capture what we are saying for the context of the discussion, if it is a choice between writing down what we said and what a staffer said, always pick the staffer.
- Use initials to designate when someone from CCL or the office is talking. E.g. For John Smith, write “JS: CCL is great!”
- To capture more, consider leaving out vowels. Just fill them in as soon as possible after the meeting. You don’t have to get every word of the entire interview written verbatim, just the parts you might want to quote. Perhaps not at first but eventually you’ll get better at recognizing what is quotable. Focus on that and don’t worry if you miss the exact working of less quotable material.
- Practice. If you’re serious about being a good note-taker, interview friends, neighbors, relatives, and local lower-level officials for practice. You can even do it on the phone or via Skype.
- Use the note-taking form to remind yourself of what’s important to record, but write your notes on a separate sheet of paper first. This will give you more space than the notes form, and you won’t have to worry about messy writing. You can transfer it to the notes form afterward taking only the important parts and in more legible handwriting.
- Example of good meeting notes
What to avoid
- Writing down too much of what we are saying, and not what the staffer/member of Congress is saying.
- Using non-standard abbreviations.
- Poor handwriting.
- Not enough detail.
Go over your notes with the team right after the meeting, fill in blanks from short-term memory, and clean up any mistakes or illegible patches.
- As soon as you are back at a computer, type up your notes, and submit them using CCL’s online form. Doing it sooner helps you to remember things you didn’t write down, and you’ll still be able to remember what your scrawls mean.
- Use complete sentences.
- Define abbreviations.
- Make sure to record the Primary and Supporting Ask as well as the response.
- Make sure you list the topics of interest/concern of the staffer.
- Highlight or emphasize the most important quotes or points so they are easier to find
- Submit your meeting minutes.