worth your time: how to get the most out of a conference

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Leadership Seminar

Avoid getting overwhelmed by the fire-hose of great information

Ever notice at a conference, seminar, or training, you go from inspired and energized at the beginning of day one to overloaded and exhausted by the final day? And in the end, nearly all of those great insights seemed to have leaked out of your head?

For those furious note-takers, do you ever go back over those notes? And if so, do you do anything with the information?

Here are some tips to on getting those key concepts to stick, while making those great ideas actionable:

Before you go:

  • Mark your calendar for time post-conference to review and process your notes. Make this part of setting up the trip. When booking your conference, also set aside quality time the first day back in the office. More on this later.
  • Set up a Twitter search feed around the conference hashtag. This gives you an idea of who will be attending and lets you hear the buzz about the event before you go. It’s also a great way to find other attendees who sound interesting to connect with when you’re there. If you’re not sure how, here’s a quick tutorial.

While you’re there:

  • Take notes. No need to be comprehensive, and don’t try to organize at this point. Only capture “aha” thoughts or insights. Now, this is a lot easier to do when you really listen and track with the presentation, much tougher to do if you are going through your email.  How do you really absorb and think about great content while texting a friend about the taco you had for lunch?  Remember Peter Drucker’s observation that, even in urgent c-suite matters, there is almost nothing that cannot wait 90 minutes.
  • Join the social conversation. Unless it’s a gathering of AARP (no offense!), almost every conference will have a unique hashtag associated with the event. Open up your Twitter client (I recommend HootSuite or TweetDeck, or even your smartphone’s Twitter app) and pull up the conference hashtag search you set up before you left (see Step #2). You’ll be amazed at what people are saying and what’s sparking interest. You can throw in your two cents and create connections with fellow Tweeters.
  •  At the end of each day, quickly review that day’s notes. This not only brings the key ideas back, but also makes connections with other things you learned throughout the day. Stever Robbins recommends going a step further. Type your hand-written notes into your laptop or iPad, as it “forces you to mentally review the session a second time, which boosts both meaning and understanding.” Do this every day of the event, while you still have content in your head. Otherwise, you may look at your notes for the first time a week later and wonder what on earth you wrote.
  • Head out to the social planned at the restaurant across the street. Yes, the one you found out via your social sleuthing. And take a stack of your business cards—with your LinkedIn profile included. You’re about to make a lot of new friends.

When you get home:

  • Review and process your notes. You already blocked out time for this in Step 1 above. Resist the urge to dive immediately into your pile of backed-up work (don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere). Pretend this is the first day back (or at least a good chunk of it) it is an extension of the conference. A good approach: take the morning for a deep dive into your notes, download the presentation slides if available, and go through with the idea of harvesting good applicable ideas and next actions. Then, take the afternoon to catch up on email, etc. Don’t book any meetings on this first day back.
  • Teach others what you learned at the conference. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Pick your favorite two or three presentations and review them with your team. Get their ideas on what is applicable to your organization and brainstorm how to move on those ideas. Make this approach an ongoing part of your teamwork training.
  • Stay connected to your fellow attendees. Now that you’ve met a few of your digital friends in person, you have a better feel for who they are and why you’d be interested in what they’re sharing online. And the same goes back to you. So start sharing the stuff you taught your coworkers in Step #8 and build up your network and resource base.

This process takes some discipline, but NOT because it is hard. It isn’t. The discipline comes in doing this when no one is asking for it, while getting bombarded with urgent items upon your return. But working on this one “non-urgent, but important thing” (Hat tip: Stephen Covey) can mean the difference between a life-changing conference, or, in the company’s opinion, a complete waste of time. It’s actually simple and fun to capture the ideas and insights, share them, and put them to work.

Or, you could reminisce about that taco”¦

By ed bagley
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