5 Ways to Maximize Your Conference Experience 

How often have you returned from a conference — rich with new ideas, notes, business cards, and product sheets — only to jump back into your daily routine and never revisit everything you took home or jotted down? 

Unfortunately, probably more than once! If you’re gearing up to attend a conference (or recently returned from one), here are five ways to maximize your conference experience, retain more information, and act on what you learn. 

1. Rethink how you take notes.

While it can be tempting to summarize what a speaker shares (this is likely how you learned to take notes in school), it’s not necessarily the most effective way to take notes at a conference. Instead, focus on writing down actions you can take soon after the event, questions you want to bring back to your team, or insights you want to share with your organization. This type of note-taking can make your reflection process simpler and more actionable. Post-conference, focus on implementing key takeaways and initiating conversations with new connections and colleagues, referencing the speaker materials. 

2. Take notes about who you meet.

After you make a new connection, take a second to make a note about that new person. You can jot something down on their business card, in your contacts list, in a notebook or notes app, or in a LinkedIn connection request. The goal is to remind yourself why you connected with them and what you want to follow up about post-conference. 

3. Block time to review your conference notes.

Before you leave for a conference, block time on your work calendar to review your notes and materials the day after you return — or during the conference or on the flight back if it’s a more extended event. According to the University of Waterloo, if you do nothing with the information you learn during a lecture or conference presentation (in this case), you lose 50%-80% of what you learned. This “curve of forgetting” also suggests that by day 30, you may only retain 2%-3% of the original content. Planning time to study your notes and materials is essential to maximize your conference experience. 

4. Use a take-action system.

It’s not enough to re-read or review your notes; You want to be strategic. Here is a systematic process to highlight actions as you review your notes: 

  • Immediate to-dos. Place items in this list that you can complete within the next few days. For example, “Request email engagement data for marketing campaign from IT.” You can check off these simple tasks quickly and move you forward. 
  • Scheduling. Next, list the meetings or conversations you want to coordinate with people you met at the conference or with coworkers with whom you want to discuss your learnings. For example, while reviewing your notes, you can send out meeting requests or check calendars, “Schedule a call with Tom to learn more about leveraging AI for internal communications,” or “Schedule a call with Susan to discuss upcoming focus group topics.” These calls don’t need to happen immediately but scheduling them while the ideas are fresh in your mind will keep them from slipping away. 
  • Call notes. If you’re scheduling calls weeks in advance, add meeting notes regarding what you want to discuss, and include links or pictures of your conference notes and materials. These detailed notes are a gift to your future self. Include other context when helpful. If you’re meeting with a new conference connection, note what you found interesting about your conversation or their presentation and any topics you want to explore together. If you’re chatting with a coworker, record what you learned at the conference, how it connects to your organization, and why it’s relevant to them. 
  • Future action items. You may also have action items that aren’t quick, simple, or immediate but still valuable. Add these items to a list you can check later, add reminders to your calendar, and consider sorting these by time-sensitivity. For example, “Reformat the internal comms report to highlight engagement data.” 

5. Share your conference experience.

In addition to the action items, you may have knowledge you want to share with your organization or team. Make it happen. Teaching others what you learned can help you internalize the information. Depending on your personality, you may want to ​​host a lunch-and-learn, prepare a written report, contribute an article to your organization’s internal newsletter, or facilitate interactive workshops, just to name a few! Effectively sharing valuable information can also increase your chances of attending other conferences in the future. 

Attending a conference is just the beginning. Before settling back into your routine, revisit your great ideas — and the fantastic notes and materials you took home — during your previously scheduled time blocks! As you review your notes, focus on to-dos you can check off over the next few days, schedule meetings, and organize future action items. You can maximize your conference experience and help transform your work with a few intentional changes. 

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