Getting the Most Out of a Conference Six Steps to Reducing Information OverloadJanelle Hailconference attendance, tips, strategies You were excited to attend a conference, filled your extra luggage with tons of material and attended so many sessions that you have brain overload. Now that you're home, you're tired, overwhelmed with too much stuff, and you toss the stack of papers in the corner, hoping to get around to sorting your notes and materials when you have time. Only because you have more pressing things to do, you never have time. As a conference attendee who has attended dozens of conferences, I finally designed an organized plan of action that will energize and revitalize the enthusiasm you had when you initially arrived at the event. Step 1. Advance Planning Familiarize yourself with the conference. Go online and run off all details of the conference to set up a list of sessions you wish to attend. Look at last year's conference information and order some of the tapes or CDs to acquaint yourself with the best speakers that pertain to your topics of interest. Observe who returns each year as speakers (those are the veteran speakers who everyone loves to hear). If the current year's speakers have books, go to the bookstore and find out if they pique your interest. Some Web sites offer the names of attendees from last year. If you have access to their e-mail addresses, contact them and ask which sessions were the most valuable to them. By the time you get to the conference, you will be in control of what course of action you want to take. Step 2. What to Take Travel as light as possible, but don't forget to throw in an umbrella and raincoat. It's a help to get the weather forecast on your computer before you leave so you don't have to second-guess the weatherman. If you can take your computer, it will be helpful for transcribing your notes while they're still decipherable. Be sure to take a supply of medications should you run into some difficulty. Take a bottle of water on the plane. It will help with jet lag. And drink water all during the conference instead of coffee and soda. This will keep your energy level up. Your mind gets stimulated at a conference, so pack a journal to write your thoughts in. Throw in a few energy bars for emergencies and some comfortable shoes. Alternate wearing the shoes from one day to the next and your feet will thank you. Did I say travel light? Step 3. Travel Day Arrive at the conference a day early if possible, to recover from jet lag and to get an early morning start at the conference the next day. Upon arrival, settle into your room as soon as possible. Complete the unpleasant task of unpacking quickly. To avoid wrinkles, bring your own travel hangers so you can hang up all of your clothes. Strike out on a mission to acquaint yourself with your surroundings. Pick up your registration packet and identify the rooms where meetings will be held. Also, find nearby restaurants, pharmacy, shopping, sightseeing points and other places of interest for your off-time and in case you want a diversion from conference activities. I have heard so many conference attendees say on the last day, "Oh, I didn't know that place was so nearby." Step 4. The First Day of a Conference Make a beeline to the freebie table to collect everything you even think may be of interest. Before leaving the conference, read through everything you've collected, and sort out what you don't need to take home. Take some post-it notes to attach to key information and a yellow highlighter to capture key thoughts. Check out the book table early for the books you know you want to take home. Make careful notes of tapes or CDs you want to purchase. These materials will give you take-home value that will last for a long time. Be prepared to allocate some of your spending money for them. It may be easier to have these materials mailed to you instead of carrying them home in an extra suitcase since the airlines now limit the number of carry-on and checked baggage you can take. And, it will save you the wear and tear of toting extra luggage around. Step 5. How to Take Notes and What to Do With Them Write your notes on the right side of a spiral binder and reserve the left side for your "To-Do" list. Jot things on your To-Do list as your mind is stimulated by note taking. At the end of each day or near the end of the last day of the conference, consolidate your To-Do lists into one compact one, assigning an A-List to the most urgent short-term projects, B-List to the important short-term projects, C-List for research and D-List for long-term projects. By the time you get home, you'll have a complete plan of action that requires little brainpower to initiate. Ah, the pleasure of marking things off your lists. Step 6. Take a Break The biggest problem you may face at a conference is trying to attend every session from early morning to late at night. It is impossible to pack it all in. Don't hesitate to take breaks. If you can, stay at the hotel that hosts the conference. When your energy level dips, excuse yourself for an hour. Go to your room, take a hot bath (yes, in the middle of the day even though you had one that morning), get undressed and take a power nap. This will revitalize you and allow you to continue for several hours beyond your normal limit. Take walks outside if possible. Go to the hotel health club daily. Do anything that will keep your body invigorated. Have some quiet time alone for reflecting each day. The Conference is Over What a satisfying feeling to end the conference knowing that you have increased your skills and source of knowledge. You can now return home refreshed mentally, physically and spiritually. And, you have a plan of action that can immediately propel you forward. Janelle Hail is an award-winning freelance writer and speaker. She is founder and CEO of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization dedicated to saving lives through breast cancer education and providing free mammograms for underserved women. To contact her, e-mail [email protected].