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Get the Most From Your Next Conference

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Have you ever paid to travel to an event, exhausted yourself there and returned home wondering if you really got anything from the experience?

Here is some helpful information based on exchanges with coaches, industry experts, top advisors and other conference warriors on the topics of how to maximize the collection of conference ideas and actually get the best ones implemented when you get back to the office.

Before the conference

1. Review the agenda

  • Look at the session descriptions and decide what you want to accomplish.
  • List your goals for morning and afternoon sessions and check them off when completed.
  • If you’re part of a team that’s going, create assignments based on end results that you want to achieve and divide them up.

2. Schedule the follow-through

  • Plan a post-conference action-plan meeting to be held immediately upon your return. Do this work while the ideas are still fresh and motivation is high.

During the conference

1. Plan for rest

Dr. James Maas, the “Sleep Doctor,” stresses the importance of sleep for learning and daily activities. These tips may help:

  • Request a quiet room away from hotel lounges, elevators and other noise sources.
  • Before bed, pull the drapes fully closed to help keep out the early morning light.
  • Make sure the door is dead-bolted and/or the door guard swing-bar is flipped to the locked position – you’ll sleep better knowing no one will open your door in the middle of the night.

2. Knowledge needs nutrition

These tips are given to college students to help keep them alert and focused during exam weeks:

  • Get up in time to eat breakfast
  • Avoid sugary breakfast cereal and white toast.
  • Go for slowly digested carbohydrates found in wholegrain cereals, oatmeal and wheat toast – fruit with yogurt is also a good choice.
  • Have a snack mid-morning or afternoon
  • Avoid quickly digested, refined carbohydrates such as doughnuts, sodas and candy.
  • Go for apples, nuts, cheese, milk, V8 drinks, peanut butter and yogurt.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Minimize caffeine – overdoing coffee, tea and energy drinks can overstimulate the nervous system and put you “on edge.”
  • Eat lunch – protein seems to help concentration, so tuna, chicken, turkey, lean beef or ham and eggs make ideal choices.

3. Note taking

Here are some ideas that can help colleagues and staff interpret what you have written:

  • While taking notes, bring a highlighter or use a note-taking structure that will enable you to easily identify potential action items at the end of the day. Writing the action items on sticky notes works too. If using a tablet, mark possible action items with highlighting features, asterisks or other symbols.
  • If you are a heavy note taker, consider a spiral notebook and write ideas and details on the right page and potential action steps on the left page.
  • Use an app on your mobile device. A few to look into are Notability and Evernote. You can email notes immediately to your team back at the office with pictures of handouts.

4. Movement stimulates energy

According to the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, long periods of minimal or no movement tend to lead to low energy levels and decreased performance. Researchers recommend:

  • Every 30 to 45 minutes, perform small movements (stretch, stand up).
  • Every 90 to 120 minutes, perform major movements (walk, climb stairs).

5. Power nap

By 2 p.m. you have been processing information for eight hours and are better off taking a 20-minute power nap than staring like a zombie. Here are power nap tips from Dr. Maas:

  • A nap should be 15 to 30 minutes – any longer and you’ll lapse into deep sleep and be groggy, so set an alarm.
  • Turn off the lights, noise and lie down.
  • Avoid late-afternoon napping as this may disrupt your normal sleep pattern – avoid naps if you have nocturnal insomnia.

6. Daily recap

At the end of each day, sit down and review the proposed ideas/actions you wrote during the sessions:

  • Look at each item and ask:
  • Is this a good fit for my practice?
  • Will this really benefit me?
  • Am I ready for this or is this something that’s still way down the road?
  • If the answer is “no” to any question, cross that item off the list or toss the sticky note it’s written on.
  • Take the remaining items and write each one on a small sticky note (if you haven’t already).
  • Start arranging them in the back of your notebook by grouping them into categories (marketing, portfolio management, etc.).
  • Look for missing pieces – Review your ideas and determine if there are any prerequisites necessary to accomplish them.
  • Prioritize your categories – Decide which projects you will start first and label the categories accordingly.
  • Prioritize your action items – Within each category move the Post-its into the order in which you will accomplish them.
  • Continue building this collection of Post-it ideas at the end of each conference day.

7. End of the day

Relax and enjoy a nice dinner:

  • Eat proteins at dinner (fish, poultry, etc.) but avoid a large or heavy meal within four or five hours of bedtime.
  • If you’re hungry at bedtime, try a light snack that is high in carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (rice, potatoes, bread and processed breakfast cereals) and low in protein.
  • Avoid caffeine and chocolate within six hours of bedtime and alcohol within three hours.

After the conference

What you do next will determine the return on your investment of time and resources.

1. Post-conference review

Use your notebook filled with details and Post-it notes. If you haven’t done the Post-it step yet, refer to the daily recap section above.

2. Post-conference action plan creation meeting

Use this meeting with your team to convert your conference ideas to defined goals, then action plans.

  • Do a conference debrief with your team explaining what you learned, what you plan to accomplish and why.
  • Review the sticky note groups in your notebook and find the highest-ranked categories. Pick one or two groups to start with.
  • Convert your grouped action items into SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed) complete with action items needed to accomplish them.
  • Delegate action items and due dates to the team. Make sure everyone understands the desired result so their “to do” lists are more than just random action items.
  • Schedule follow-up meetingsto drive accountability and respond to obstacles encountered by staff. This will dramatically increase your probability of implementation!
  • When the team has completed the first group of action items, go back to your notebook and create the plan to implement the second group of ideas.

Use this process to bring your best ideas to life after the next educational event and you’ll be sure to get more than a tax write-off from the conference!

For more on growing personally and professionally for your business, visit Raymond James’ Practice Insights portal.

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Special thanks to:

Dr. Jim Maas of Cornell University for ideas from his book Power Sleep

The Human Performance Institute, Ironman and Janus Labs for nutrition and exercise ideas from the guidebook Ironman Advisor

Graham Haines, Business Consultant

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