Sunday, April 25, 2010

 

Getting the most out of an awesome conference (once you're back at the office)

I’m just returning home from an awesome conference. It was two-plus days of amazing speakers, great networking, and tons of ideas. I have 21 pages of type-written notes, full of ideas. And that doesn’t include hand-written notes on the back of business cards, other ideas embedded in presentation decks I’ve received from speakers, etc.

The flow of inspiration and ideas at a conference like this can be overwhelming while still away, but it gets worse when you’re back in the office. Unfortunately, those 21 pages of notes often get relegated to a pile on the side of our desks, or forgotten altogether once we dig into the backlog of emails, re-engage in the daily fire drills, and otherwise get overwhelmed by trying those great new ideas in the midst of the everyday madness that surrounds us.

To get the most out of the conference, and maximize your productivity and execution on all those great ideas, you need a little preparation, a little discipline, some organizational best practices and two short sharing exercises. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Take Better Notes: 21 pages of notes can be intimidating as you review them later. Next time, as you take notes during a conference, create a system for yourself that identifies the key ideas you want to review later. Put checkboxes, for example, next to things you specifically want to add to your to-do list later. Put a different symbol next to ideas you think are great, but know will take additional thinking/planning. More on what to do with those later. In essence, organize your notes as you take them to make next step capture faster and easier later on.

On The Plane Home: You likely want to tackle the backlog of work from the office as soon as the conference is over, and on the plane home. Instead, give yourself time to do a few things on that plane ride (the lack of connectivity and phone access works in your favor to keep you focused). First, go back through your notes come up with a few highlights or “headlines” you want to share with your team (or even just for yourself). Think about the 3-6 primary takeaways or themes, and write a short email with these bullets to your colleagues. This quickly & immediately share the most important learnings, and invites your colleagues to inquire to learn more (making it more likely those ideas will live on after you land). Second, start going through the rest of your notes in more detail to capture specific, immediate to-do’s into your usual to-do list(s), bigger projects worth considering on their own list, etc. Sorting your notes into something more actionable is the only way to ensure you’ll take action, and doing that now (when you’re not yet in the midst of your “usual” work) ensures it gets done while those notes and ideas are most fresh in your mind.

Triage: You will only be able to handle a fraction of those great ideas right away. And if the rest have to wait a couple weeks to tackle again, you really won’t have lost much. Be disciplined about what you (and/or your team) can tackle now vs. waiting for later. Keep a specific list of “someday” projects and plan to review them regularly. Doing this ensures the ideas are part of your regular review without feeling like you have to tackle them all right away. The last thing you want to do when you return from a great conference like this is act like a “crazy maker” and change everything you and your team is doing. It’s best to give yourself time to adjust back to the office pace, perhaps put some of those ideas in perspective, then have a system for review of those ideas to pick the right ones up as appropriate.

Publish Your Notes: This doesn’t have to be fancy, but take the time (still on the airplane if you can) to type up, lightly organize and publish your notes. Organize them by the “themes” you identified above if possible, and don’t overdo it. Don’t worry about editing, complete sentences, or anything like that. The goal here is to make your notes more complete and readable, but also something your colleagues can review and get their own ideas/inspiration from as well. Share these notes with others on your team for review, schedule a meeting to review together if you’re so inclined, and consider setting up a repository for notes from additional conferences, seminars, webinars, etc. Imagine having one place for you and others to read, remember and gain further inspiration from the past.

Execute: If you’ve identified things to do right away (from small tasks to bigger projects), give yourself a deadline and hold yourself accountable to getting them done. There’s nothing worse than attending a great conference with tons of ideas, then letting most of them slip once you’re back to the regular routine. You invested time and money to challenge the way you think, the way you do things, and what’s needed to accelerate your success. Make sure you do something about it.


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