#CareerPlaybook 016: Are you taking notes?

Meetings are expensive, especially in startups. Make sure to maximise their ROI.


I went to a sales meeting with someone from my team.

I noticed he did not take any notes during the meeting.

As we came out, I asked him why.

He said that taking notes distracts him from engaging with the prospect - fair enough.

A few days later, while finalising the proposal, I found that many aspects of the discussion we had then were not reflected in it.

Angles to position our product, in a light that would appeal to the prospect, as they mentioned themselves.

More importantly - in my eyes - it was not using much of the prospect's own language (the exact words they were using in the meeting).

The value of a sales meeting is, in part, the information you can gather, to identify how you can help the prospect, and craft your sales messaging and positioning accordingly.

Not taking notes during meetings means that some points discussed will likely go missing when recording the meeting notes later, or following up. Also, the specific language of the prospect (from internal acronyms, to industry terms) have not been captured.

I always take notes during meetings and type them on my computer (or phone) - I'm a fast typer though, and can take notes while not looking at the keyboard - synced in the cloud.

It then makes for quicker consolidation and sharing after a meeting, while providing a structured backup available anywhere.

Note-taking etiquette

I usually mention at the start of the meeting that I will be taking notes. Along the lines of "To be clear, I'm not doing my emails, just capturing what we are discussing".

In my experience this has never impacted the engagement in my sales meetings.

One small trick, when taking notes on a computer, is to ensure the computer is at a 45 degrees angle from you. Not a barrier between you and the person you are meeting.

The one thing most miss when taking notes

Taking notes can be just jotting words down. As long as they make enough sense for you to consolidate them quickly after the meeting.

My notes include:

  • points discussed
  • ideas to explore
  • action points

and most importantly:

  • specific words used by the prospect

While the first three are obvious, I have noticed that the last one is usually not.

When you engage further with the person - in a sales cycle for example - it is critical for me to use the exact words (and acronyms) the person uses. This ensures alignment and establishes trust - it shows you "get" the person.

Just like mirroring someone's body language.

Disseminate knowledge

While meetings are cheap for the recipient (especially in big companies), if you are the one initiating it, it comes with a cost to you (especially in startups), in the form of time, and potentially travel costs.

Time to prepare, travel, conduct and follow-up on the meeting.

An hour meeting, can cost 10+ hours of your time.

But it's also time not spent on other tasks, which could generate more value.

Beyond establishing a bond with the meeting participant, sharing knowledge with them, educating or selling to them, a meeting's output is also the knowledge gained from it. Knowledge that can inform decision-making in your company.

But this knowledge has only real value, if it is shared internally. So sharing meeting notes with your colleagues is an important step in maximising the ROI of your costly meetings.

If you are in Sales for example, that knowledge can be valuable to your colleagues in pre-Sales (technical or SDR), post-Sales (Customer Success), product management, or leadership.

Beyond populating your system of record of choice (CRM), so that knowledge is recorded and archived, sharing relevant snippets to specific people who might gain value from them, increases the ROI of your meeting.

Other benefits of note-taking

Taking notes shows you take your contact’s inputs seriously. They are worth writing down.

It is also helpful to not lose a thread initiated earlier in a discussion, so as to come back later to it ("you mentioned earlier that...").

Writing down things is also proven to help with memorisation and recollection.

The only downside is that you do lose some eye contact and body language observation. Though this can be mitigated greatly if you are not staring constantly at your screen while typing.

The good ol' Moleskin, aka "pen and paper", is obviously an alternative, which a lot of people prefer.

So no matter if it's for collecting feedback (see #CareerPlaybook 005: Asking for blunt feedback), during a sales meeting, or just an internal meeting, taking notes provides a heap of benefits and outweighs in my mind the potential downsides.

Use a good note-taking app

I tried many note-taking apps over the years. From Evernote to Notational Velocity (which was my choice for years) and plenty in between (Simplenote, Bear, and many more).

Evernote is probably the best choice a lot of people. Though I tried it twice and its "logic" did not work for me. It has the benefits of being multimedia though, so you can add audio and video recordings, annotated Web page clippings and more.

My focus for a note-taking app is on text only though.

For the last year or so, I have adopted one that I absolutely love: Ulysses.

It's actually a writing app (which I am using now as I type this), and absolutely perfect when you write long form content, like blog posts (or a book).

But it works extremely well for meeting notes and all sorts of other notes.

I wrote more about it here:

Ulysses | the ultimate writing and note-taking app

Trick with Dates

If you type your notes on a computer (or phone), one trick to keep things structured is to ensure each note's filename or title starts with the date with YYMMDD as in 200204 for 4th February 2020.

That way, your notes will always be sorted chronologically in whatever system you use, now or in the future (when you transfer notes to your next shiny new app).

Going further

Taking notes is helpful for memorisation, recollection and finding that perfect information you'll need in 6 months' time.

Once you establish a note-taking system, using it for taking notes about everything is very helpful:

  • random thoughts and ideas, which could can categorise and find again easily
  • journaling, which helps with self-awareness
  • preparing meetings, which is the key for a productive meeting
  • structuring your thoughts about a topic, which helps articulate them orally when needed
  • drafting messages (there is a different feel to it when you draft an email outside of your email client)

Are you taking notes? What are your tactics?