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Stop wasting your time at conferences: 8 steps to make it worthwhile

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

As a professional keynote speaker, it might seem unusual that I would give the bold advice “stop wasting your time at conferences,” but it seems to me that conference attendees are very often gaining little from their experience. Let me explain…

"...conference attendees are very often gaining little from their experience..."

Is your conference experience like this?


First of all, before you even think about going to the conference, you end up having to work extra hard before you go. When you get there, you meet lots of like-minded people and feel excited to be out of the office, and you can’t wait for all of the inspiration and information you know you’re going to get. Hopefully the speakers are good and there is a buzz in the room. You are filled with possibility! As each speaker takes the stage, you have great ideas about how your future could look and start. You frantically scribble a list of practical things you are determined to do when you get back to your desk.


As the conference wears on, your notes look less like a list and more like a mad scientist’s mind map – inspirational quotes, books you’re committed to reading, people you should connect with, and things you’ve always known you should be doing more of. Your energy is high, your vision is clear, and you can’t wait to get started.


When you get back to your desk

Fast forward to that moment when you return to your desk. You have a “goody bag” full of magazines you’re not gonna read, flyers that don’t matter to you, branded stress balls that, on reflection, probably are useful after all. You picked up a bunch of cards but fail to connect with the people concerned, your notes end up going in a drawer, and – and this is the most important bit – you end up feeling worse about yourself, your life, and your career than you did before you went to the motivational event.




I know I’m exaggerating a little as I paint this picture, but some of you will know that it is painfully close to the truth.

Even an over-achieving, action-taker like myself suffers this fate if I don’t pay attention to it.





The crux of the m atter is this: Experiencing possibility and then failing to act on it is detrimental to your spirit.

So I thought I would share with you my fool proof way to get the most out of any conference or event you attended with this action list for your return.


Recommended action list:

1.      Before you even go to a conference, aim to schedule the first couple of hours when you return to the office to make sense of what you have learnt.

2.      Have a system for handling business cards you’ve been given, and act on those immediately. So many people don’t have a system for handling business cards, and the card hangs around indefinitely as a reminder that you have failed to take action! Actions you might take include:

●    Send a personal email

●    Add them to your database if you have permission

●    Connect on social media

●    File or throw the business card away depending on how you run your system

3.      Unpack your conference bag/briefcase/handbag immediately on your return BEFORE you do anything else.

4.      Sort the information into piles:

●    People to connect with

●    Useful information

●    Waste bin - if you’re having trouble parting with any information ask yourself, “Can I really make use of this in the next 30 days?”

5.      Capture the essence of your notes as quickly as possible while they are still fresh in your mind. There are a couple of ways to do this, but my hands-down favourite is to dictate them using Dragon dictation software. Then, if you are feeling bold enough, throw away your notes because I guarantee you won’t read them again in any case.

6.      Separate out the actions – the whole point of going to an event is to leave and take action, so list out each thing you intend to do as a separate action.

7.      Put your actions into a task management system – for this I use Monday.com, and I literally cut-and-paste the actions from Word straight into the project management tool so that each line item becomes a task that can be managed.

8.      Prioritise – I then go through each task and put a timeframe on it. Now, here is the important part – you may not get to everything, and rather than add more items to a to-do list where they burden you, now is a good time to apply the 80:20 rule (Pareto Principle). Assume you will only get to do 20% of the actions, the real gems. So, do a quick calculation to see what is feasible. That means if you added 10 actions, the chances are you would only achieve 2 of them. By being really pragmatic here, you commit yourself to definitely achieving in a specific time frame the top 2 actions, instead of idealistically hoping you will achieve 10 and beating yourself up that you actually achieved none.




When I speak at conferences, I ask the audience to commit to one action they are going to take as a result of the event, and to write it down on what I call a “micro-change card.”






Overall, remember that the whole purpose of going to any kind of educational event, conference, or training day is to feel energised and take action. Having a plan for your return will help you do just that.

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