Any good conference will provide interesting information and generate lots of ideas. So many ideas that by the end of the conference you are overwhelmed.
The trick is to be able to take all of that information and transform it into usable, workable knowledge. For most people this is easier said than done. Good intentions are replaced with the urgency of items waiting for your return followed by the daily work of your usual routine. And before you know it, the inspirational energy of the conference has waned, leaving you with some thoughts of “what could have been,” but few or no new results from the investment. But there is an alternative scenario: review, plan, and act.
Start with a Comprehensive Review
Begin by conducting a review of the material covered within 24 hours of the last event of the conference. This process rarely needs to take more than an hour or two at most, so don’t put it off. Without conducting the review, the other steps are significantly less effective. In most cases, the easiest time to complete your review is on the trip home, unless you are driving. If that happens to be the case, delay your departure for a short time to allow the completions of the review BEFORE getting on the road.
The review is an opportunity to begin refining and digesting all the notes that you took during the conference. As such, it is critical to gather all your notes together before beginning the process (whether paper, electronic, or a combination of both).
Re-read and Highlight Your Notes
Begin the review process by reading through all the notes that you took in the order they were presented, if at all possible. The order is not quite as critical, but it will help create familiarity with the material as memory processes are triggered. Highlight the most salient points for future reference.
Summarize the Most Useful and Applicable Information
While everything is fresh in your mind from the review of your notes, create your own summary page. The process of documenting this information will help cement it in your mind and allow you to begin to process the future applications.
Don’t get too hung up on order or priority, there will be time for that later. Just note what seems to be the most important, useful and/or applicable information gained while attending the conference. And don’t forget to include great ideas and key knowledge gained from interaction with other attendees.
Develop a High Level Plan
Once you have identified what are the key ideas gained from the conference, decide how they can be applied and their relative priority or logical order of implementation. To minimize overwhelm, avoid as much as possible the temptation to return to your complete notes, but instead focus on the information you recorded in your summary. If at all possible, state it as a significant goal.
This is an appropriate point to both organize and simplify. Although considering priorities and logical order is appropriate, don’t get mired down in the details in this phase. Keep the high level ideas to no more than 5 major concepts while limiting sub-points to 3-5 supporting thoughts.
Pick One and Focus Your Efforts
After organizing your take-away ideas and new insights, it is time to focus your efforts on actionable tasks. Review the high level plan and select the highest priority or logical first step of those listed in the high level plan. Create specific action items and tasks to be implemented as a result of the information gained at the conference.
To make the implementation practical think in terms of day, week, month, quarter, year.
- DAY – What can be done the day after I return? Often this is an additional review or sharing of information with appropriate individuals.
- WEEK – What actionable step can be completed within the next week that will propel me towards the goal? This does not have to be a big step!
- MONTH – What is a measure of a progress toward the goal? If you can’t measure it, then you don’t really have a goal.
- QUARTER – What key step(s) must be completed? Intermediate goals are always important to implementing significant change.
- YEAR – What major changes will be seen as a result of the implementation?
At the end of each cycle (day, week, month, quarter, year), evaluate progress and, if completed, add a new item for the following period.
Before you know it, your new knowledge will be fully implemented and you will be ready to attend another conference and learn something new.