Using a digital voice recorder in digital project management meetings has proved invaluable time and time again for me when compared to the old skool method of note-taking with pen and paper.
The problem with note-taking
Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to being a Digital Project Manager I never go anywhere without my notepad and pen, despite it being a cheap notepad and having never actually owned a pen like a proper grown up.
However there are just some digital project management meetings where I get back to the office, look at my notes and realise they no longer make sense as they did in the meeting, but look like a cross between that guy’s tattoos in Prison Break and the scribbles on the wall of a mental case who didn’t leave his room for twenty years before being separated from society.
The digital project management meetings I’m talking about are the long ones where you’re required to understand your client’s entire business model, current technical and business workflows and rules, design brief and the oodles of new requirements they have – and all in the space of one or two hours.
Now perhaps I’m just useless at note-taking, but the fact is I just can’t remember all that information word for word and got a little scared when I had that inevitable moment we all have from time to time where your eyes glaze over, you see people talking, you nod profusely, but you’re literally hearing nothing.
It was moments like this that resulted in me buying a digital voice recorder – ladies and gentleman, I present to you Excalibur!
The digital voice recorder solution
Due to my note-taking being not great, the primary reason I use a digital voice recorder in detailed digital project management meetings is that I want to focus 100% on the meeting and I’m not senior enough to have a PA.
In all seriousness, when I’m talking to a client about their business, project and requirements I genuinely want to immerse myself into the process and really get down and dirty in the details, for two main reasons:
- I know off the back of the meeting I will have to probably create a sitemap, functional specification and creative brief and I will need to get the details right
- I want the meeting to flow smoothly and be an organic conversation. I find this type of meeting to be brilliantly productive and invariably ends up with both parties getting excited about the digital project
Once the meeting is over, I press ‘Stop’ and head back to the office. I know all that detailed goodness is captured and will be there for me when I need to sit down and write some documents or brief the team – in fact, the team can also listen to the meeting themselves – double efficiency bonus points!
I won’t drone on much more about the why, needless to say, the number of times I’ve sat with headphones writing a big functional specification and literally enjoyed capturing a complex piece of functionality perfectly, first time – high bloody five!
Alternative recording solutions
Of course, nowadays digital voice recorders look a little archaic and alternative solutions are available for all you smartphone and tablet people.
These range from simple voice recorders to awesome apps that let you record a meeting, type notes, draw diagrams and even highlight the notes and drawings you made in sync with the playback. A few decent ones for the iPad are:
However, I did try using these and personally found it a little more cumbersome than pen and paper and also made me come across slightly detached from the client, like typing away on a laptop does – but maybe this type of solution will work for you.
Navigating the Excalibur unveiling
Although the theory and practice of recording digital project meetings are solid, it’s still a little bit of a taboo when you mention the idea to a client, and to be honest, I’m not surprised – it’s not exactly standard practice and there are confidentiality concerns.
But I find, as always with clients, honesty is the best policy and simply explaining that you want to concentrate 100% on the meeting itself and not note-taking, and that it will ensure you capture all the fine detail and enable more efficient briefing and digital project documents, you’ll generally get agreement.
In fact clients tend to fall into three camps when they see Excalibur, the:
- The happy and understanding type who say “Ooo good idea!”
- The tentative but accommodating type who say something along the lines of “Ok, but I won’t see this posted on YouTube will I?” while laughing nervously
- The very freaked out type who simply say they do not want to be recorded
The first two types of clients end up not thinking about the recorder 30 seconds into the meeting, and the third type, if you’re smart, you’ll identify before even being silly enough to get the recorder out.
But in case you’re not too smart (like me, trust me I learnt the hard way) here’s a few handy tips on when to suggest recording and when not too.
The dos and don’ts of recording
- Be completely honest about the fact you’d like to record the meeting, even if it’s a conference call
- Make the point to mention you will be discreet with the recording
- Name your recordings semantically so you don’t have to trawl through “untitled.mp3” only to find out it wasn’t the meeting you needed after all
- Use your instinct to determine if it would feel appropriate to get the recorder out
- Try to record pre-sales meetings and conflict resolution meetings
- Record meetings where it isn’t necessary e.g. budget discussions
- Ever use recordings to try and settle digital project disputes
- Send recordings to non-employees
- Covertly record, ever – it’s just plain wrong and illegal I think
But come on, I’m probably just a bit rubbish when it comes to note taking, and because it’s just not always appropriate to record digital project management meetings…
…what are your tips for note taking in digital project management meetings?
Well, this is an epiphany! I obviously use them for for interviews and workshops… but hadn’t thought about meetings … good one.
It’s finding the time to go back over and listen to them that’s the drag but then again, so is trying to decipher what the hell I’ve written, days afterwards.
Must check out the iPad aps you suggest – cheers pal!
Hi Sam, since getting the iPad I’ve used audionote a lot and it is fantastic. You don’t really have to take notes and I simply use it as a voice recorder. If you do need to make a note then it is time stamped against the audio.
Although now wearing off a little, the novelty of someone bringing an iPad to the meeting and recording the audio also helps with the acceptance on the client side. Initially it was the opening 10 minutes of my recordings taken up with iPad discussions.
Someone at Rawnet (Bowsh) recently bought a stylus so I’m now in search of the app that has handwriting recognition as well as audio recordings.
However, completely agree, would never dream of a client meeting without asking to record any more!
Nice article Sam, always on the lookout for time savers and completely agree about immersing yourself in the meeting only to find that notes taken make no sense whatsoever when you review them.
Another app for people to consider is Evernote for those on iOS. It’s my all in one, voice recording, whiteboard snapshot taking and note taking app. It OCR’s your whiteboards to let you find words scribbled on them when searching too (depending on the legibility of your scribble).
@Cola, I’ll never go back and listen to them as such, simply start my related action, like a functional spec, with headphones on and start to capture key bullets points that must be included.
If one particular point is long and complex, I’ll write it out in a bit more depth, then carry on with the bullet point approach.
Generally by the time I’ve done listening to the meeting again I’ve captured all the important parts and can just get writing at speed.
Yes it appears like a slow start, and it is, but once done you can practically write non-stop, knowing you’ve captured every bit of detail accurately first time – definite time saver in the long run.
I guess you could argue this is just ‘note taking’ as you should in the meeting… but when a client is talking me through their six staged authorisation process workflow, with all the business-specific rules they’ve adopted over the years – well – I challenge anyone to capture that first time!!
@Dave, heh yeah I bet the iPad gets a lot of “ooooos” and “ahhhhs”. I also bet they then proceed to have a go and you pray they dont click on the Mail icon – Apple should consider the side switch being able to quickly turning on a “let someone play with your toy” mode!!!!
I’d love to be able to get along with something like Audionote, I was so excited to try it out – but it just distracted me as much as trying to write… like you I ended up just using the recording facility so thought why not just revert to my trusty old voice recorder.
But oh yes!!! I too have realised how a decent stylus and handwriting-to-text feature would literally be amazing.
Does Bowsh’s stylus seem responsive though? Ive tried one and it kind of lagged a little behind, not to sound ungrateful at the amazing tech behind it, but enough to make it seem way more cumbersome than a pen… I could only write something legible if it was huge letters – am I just a spaz?
@Dean, thanks… I guess if you understand a million others do!! Always a risk when posting that you find out it’s just you :)
Evernote – I remember crowding round a Mac when that was released, all gasping at the OCR and holding book after book up at the cam heh… but yeah impressive, and again I envy anyone who can use a tablet as an effective note taking method in complex meetings.
This is great. All you need is to remember you recorded it :)
By the way, just listening to a recording now and I can’t stand the way I sound. Makes me cringe so much I struggle to get through the whole recording!
You get that?
@Benoit, that was ONE time!!! :)
@Dave, absolutely! At least you don’t sound like you’re some kind of cockney half-breed from Slough. When I listen back I literally cannot believe people trust me to do ‘business’ things.
To me I sound like someone I’d expect to be selling aftershave out of a suitcase oa London high street.
Hey just downloaded Audio Note. Do you know if it has a max. record length? I’m running two workshops next week and going to try this gem out.
Got any Brut?
Try the Pulse Pen from Livescribe, it’s a life saver for me so far because it captures both the audio and notes at the same time, so when I play it back I can jump back and forth and locate the exact bits I need easily. Not to mention the notes are searchable too.
I use an ipad app call Meeting Recorder. It is very easy to record what everyone says just by tapping on the name or agenda. Playback is easy too with its filter function. But it needs function enhancements such as whiteboard or places to enter resolutions.
@Belle, oh this is not an iOS app but an actual fat pen!! Woah, will check this out for sure!
@Steven, I’ll also give this a whirl, thanks for the suggestion :-)
@Cola, reply here and let us know how Audio Note worked for you ;-)
Great post Sam!
This has really given me something to think about…never recorded a meeting before but sounds like a great strategy.
@Dina, glad you liked it, and yes, it really works!!!
I’ve been doing this for consulting gigs and it really helps to transport me back to the conversation. When I arrive at the followup meeting and say, “The last time we met, we discussed the following issues…wanted to make sure we’re still aligned.” This usually makes the client feel like I know what I’m doing and the money they are paying me justified.
I also look at it as capturing the sand that falls between the fingers — conveying tone, urgency and perhaps insecurity or indecisiveness on the part of the client. These are all tools of the corporate therapist.
@Peter, that’s a really great, but subtle, client management technique I hadn’t really considered as ana advantage on recording meeting!!! Plus the “corporate therapist” title is genius :)
Sounds like a good approach. Like you say, it’s probably not always suitable, but it’s probably not too hard to spot when it’s not appropriate.
I always try to send an mail within an hour of a meeting, as a sum up of everything that’s been discussed. It helps both me and the client get 30-60 min talk boiled down to a few sentences and bullet points. Not only do you remind the client of what was decided, you also avoid miscommunication. Even though the client may just browse through the email, it can still act as a sort of evidence for them. So if you actually did miss something, your client may not bring it up later on because he realizes that you didn’t mention it in the e-mail which makes them feel guilty for not reading it :)
It may sound harsh, but some clients are babbling a lot, and getting things in b/w can be very effective – as well as professional.
@Adam, that sounds like a pretty good tip too, especially when dealing with clients that like to babble :) or ones that are a bit flakey :)