4-Part Note Taking Strategy that Will Pay for Your Conference Attendance

Do you take notes during sessions at conferences? STOP – chances are, you’re doing it all wrong.

Most of us learned our note taking strategy in school. We scrambled to write down as much as we could as teachers and professors talked for hours.

Our goal then was to capture all the things. There WOULD be a test at the end. We had to write down as much as we could and review our notes over and over again in order to prepare for the test.

Many of us still fall into that old habit when we attend conferences. We sit through sessions trying to capture all the things. But, we don’t need to.

Unlike classes in school, sessions at conferences are filled with bits of content that we can choose to note, choose to use, and choose to completely ignore. There is no test at the end.

Over the years, I’ve developed a method for taking notes at conferences that allows me to focus on the bits of content that can help me, and set aside the pieces that don’t apply to me.

IMPORTANT FIRST STEP: Let go of your need to write down everything that is said. You are not attending sessions to create a written recording. You are attending to learn about strategies, ideas, and resources to help move your business forward. You are allowed to ignore the rest of the content.

4 Things You Need to Capture in Your Notes During a Session

I’ve whittled note-taking down to 4 items that fit onto a single page (or less) for each session I attend. I typically take a sheet of paper, or a page in my journal, and draw two lines that cut the page in half from top to bottom and from side to side. This creates 4 boxes for the 4 items.

These are the 4 things I place in those boxes:

1 – Implement Right Away

Almost every session I’ve attended has offered at least one thing that I can implement right away. Most sessions yield 3 – 4 items.

These are things that the presenter talks about that fit into my current plans or near-future goals. I don’t have to have meetings to discuss them or delegate them to others. I can simply pop open WordPress and make a change to my SEO settings, create a new message or image for one of my social profiles, update a section of my newsletter, or send a message to a person or team to say, “We’re doing this from now on…”.

When I attend conferences, I often go back to my hotel room in the evening and attack the items on this list from each session. By the time the conference is over and I’m back home, I’ll have implemented a dozen or more strategies.

Completing these “Implement Right Away” items tend to be valuable enough to pay for my trip to the conference.

2 – For “Insert Name Here”

While some of you may work alone many of you have partners, assistants, teams, or even business friends with whom you share ideas. As you sit through sessions, topics will arise that are worth noting to those team members and friends.

My list is usually full of “For Eric” items. I note programming, operations, strategy, and app topics for him. I’ll also have lists for our social media team, website developers, client managers, and finance team.

After the conference or meeting, I’ll send an email listing the notes I took for each person, and let them know that I’m willing to chat more about them if they’d like.

3 – Good Ideas

When you decide to take notes like this, you may fear that you’ll miss capturing a great idea that you can implement later. So, leave yourself a space to capture those ideas. Maybe the idea doesn’t fit your business right now, or you don’t fully understand the idea – but it piqued your interest, and you want to remember to revisit it in the future.

I use this section of notes later when I feel like I’m hitting a brick wall on addressing a problem or an opportunity. I’ll pull out the notes and browse through them looking for inspiration – and I usually find it. The answers rarely jump off the page, but remembering the ideas and the reasons I wrote them down is enough to help me break through my block and develop a solution.

4 – Resources

As a speaker I simply can’t create a presentation without mentioning solution providers, books, podcasts, apps, sites, vendors, and other resources I use to produce the results I’m speaking about. Almost every session you attend will introduce you to a resource that you hadn’t heard of before that day. If you are ready with a section of notes to capture these resources you’ll walk away with a great set of books to add to your reading list, podcasts to follow, tools to use, and so on.

Most speakers are really good about listing resources and offering links to more information about them. But, don’t be surprised if you hear them mention a resource that they don’t explain further – so many of us use tools and resources that we take for granted and assume others are using too. If you hear one of these during a presentation, don’t hesitate to raise your hand or stop to talk to the presenter at the end and ask for more information.

I’ve gotten a lot of great resource suggestions this way and am always looking for more. This section of notes is another way I am able to see the value in attending a conference. Finding tools to automate processes, and learning resources to further my business allows me to build profits that pay for the expense of the trip.

Implement Right Away

As you attend conferences in the coming year, give this 4-part note-taking strategy a try. I think you’ll find that it’s much less stressful than trying to capture everything in writing, allows you to focus on the items that will actually make a difference in your business, and offer you the ability to recoup the costs of attending the conference by turning the content into actionable steps.

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Rachel is an experienced executive specializing in Internet Startups and Growth Mode Companies. Her career has been spent working hands-on with entrepreneurs to build and grow SaaS products and related services. She's a mom of two boys, married to her college sweetheart, and when not in front of her computer, can be found sweating it out on her yoga mat.

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