I travel for training events and conferences frequently. I used to go with no plan of attack and try to learn, connect with folks, gather information and see the sites in the area. I would always go home disappointed. I felt like I wasn’t able to benefit from the event. I didn’t learn much nor did I get to spend time with the people I wanted (isn’t that half the fun??)
Over the last few months I have been implementing a little different strategy and it has worked really well for the last two times I have traveled. It just took a little tweaking to make all the difference.
How to make the most of a conference.
1. Get there early.
The awesome thing about conferences is they are usually in cool places. While I love Monroe, I also love spending time in bigger cities. I have started getting to conferences a day early…usually in the early afternoon. It doesn’t cost that much extra and I am able to fit in a great meal and a few other things. I generally ask friends who have either lived in the area or I hit up social media for suggestions. Many times you can ask your waiter or bartender where to go and get great ideas off the beaten path.
2. Find a note taking system.
Before you get to the conference, find a note taking system designed for how you digest and store information. If you are a visual person I wouldn’t suggest a crazy outline strategy. Your note taking system needs to work in cooperation with how you store and call back up information.
You need to focus on information dumping at the conference during sessions. Don’t try to seriously organize it while you are taking them down. Grab the large concepts, quotes, images etc. I also try to find a person who takes really detailed outline notes and get a copy from them post conference.
Mark up your notes though. If you know something is awesome, or you will need it in a few weeks, mark it with an asterisk or a different color. I draw boxes around things and give them stars.
Remember-you are just getting the information down and marking what you believe will be important to you!
3. Build relationships during the downtime.
Some people are tempted to prep for the next session or organize their notes. The best times for you to meet other people or check in with friends is during the downtime. If you want to meet someone-this is the perfect time. Make plans for the evening or breakfast the next day. If you meet someone, don’t be afraid to get their social contact info then and there (and friend them).
You might find yourself really connecting with a group of people. Move your stuff over to sit with them. It is always easier to process information with a group and I find the actual learning at these events happens in the unplanned conversations.
Share information with people. If you have a document or a link you think might help, let them know. Get their information so you can stay in contact.
4. Go through your notes a few days after you get home.
Spending a few days away from the information helps. This time away great because it helps you to get back in your context. Look through what you have marked important and what you didn’t mark as important.
Make a few action items for things that need immediate response or processing. Think of what would impact your life.
Fill in the information you might have missed (share your contacts and notes with others and they will freely do the same).
Make a quick index for your master system. I usually jot down some keywords and the page number of my notebook on a note card. This goes in my master idea filing system.
5. Contact People.
Look through the folks you connected with. Send them a quick message thanking them and just touching base. If you offered to share information with someone-this is the perfect time.
This strategy has helped me make the most of events over the last few months and benefit long term from them. I hope these tactics help you as well.