The older I get, the less patience I have for writing up meeting notes.

Too bad for me. While the skills known collectively as facilitation are undoubtedly the most important when the subject is running a meeting, the art of writing the notes afterward comes in closer than you might think.

As form should always follow function, start with the purpose of writing and distributing meeting notes.

If you’re feeling mentally lazy you might suggest something shallow, like, “To document the meeting.” This isn’t so much wrong, as the comedian once said, as insufficiently right.

Back up a step, because the purpose meeting notes serve comes from the purpose of the meetings being noted. While there are lots of reasons for people to meet in an organization, one way or another most meetings are part of some process whose goal is to get to an important result of some kind.

Meeting notes have to be understood within this larger context. Their purpose is to summarize what was agreed to and, if a point was contentious, why it was agreed to that way; also to establish who is supposed to do what as a result of the meeting and when it’s due.

Which is why good meeting notes aren’t meeting minutes, and why the reason Herodotus is known both as the father of history and the father of lies might have some bearing on the subject. History is storytelling, not a neutral recounting of all the small episodes that make up the events being recounted.

Meeting notes are the history of a meeting, where meeting minutes are a he-said/she-said account of who said what and in what order, not very different from the transcript from a trial. Publish meeting minutes and you’re doing a few things, all bad.

You’re (1) asking everyone in attendance to live through the meeting a second time, and wasn’t the first time bad enough? (2) asking those who weren’t in attendance to make sense of a conversation from an account that’s intrinsically incomplete — incomplete because more than half the information content of a conversation is conveyed non-verbally and therefore isn’t in the notes; and (3) shirking your responsibility to explain what happened.

Meeting minutes are like a photograph where the photographer made sure the subject was in the frame somewhere and clicked the shutter. Good meeting notes are like the same subject, shot by a photographer who carefully composed the image, paid attention to the lighting, and set the shutter speed and aperture so as to maximize sharpness while choosing a depth of field that directs the viewer’s eyes to what ought to be noticed in the picture.

Good meeting notes are a narrative — the story of what happened in the meeting, told to remind the participants and inform any other interested parties of what happened and why it happened that way.

And not just remind, but gently adjust memories so people recall a meeting that was a bit closer to the one that should have happened than the one that actually did happen.

Is this dishonest? That depends on whether the adjustment leads everyone to understand the important points that came out of the meeting better, or to think the meeting’s results were different from what they actually were.

This is part of the storyteller’s art regardless of the story being told. Any narrative that describes every possible detail is a narrative so tedious that it conveys none of them.

Minutes are merely a record. Notes explain.

And this is why distributing smartboard images and other no-effort alternatives is a bad idea: They leave the reader too much latitude to misunderstand the point of it all. They provide no context.

Accurate minutes would be worse. Imagine how they’d have to read: “George reported that progress on the new building was delayed because the vendor was unable to ship the HVAC compressor due to flooding in central China. Fred screamed at George angrily for five minutes in response, explaining why the delay is unacceptable and puts George’s career in jeopardy because “HE ISN’T TAKING RESPONSIBILITY!” George shrank down in his chair with a frightened look in his eyes.”

Don’t misunderstand. There is a place for meeting minutes (although probably a notch less accurate than my example). That place is antagonistic settings that could result in litigation. If you have to publish notes from those sorts of meetings, ask permission to record the meeting and transcribe away.

But otherwise, the nature of good meeting notes is exactly why my patience for writing them is decreasing as I get older:

They require time, attention, and worst of all, effort.