Some people hate going to workshops. Done wrong, they can be a huge waste of time and money. However, if they’re planned well, they can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved. Workshops are great for brainstorming, interactive learning, building relationships, and problem-solving. This is why advance planning is critical.
Before the Workshop
Follow these steps to make sure your workshop is a valuable experience for everyone:
- Define the Goals
Every workshop must have a goal. Do you need to improve your company’s hiring procedures? Do you want to teach managers how to be better organizers? Do you need to do some team building with a newly formed team?
Many workshops are a waste of time because there’s no clear goal kept at the center of the discussion. Without this clear goal, there’s really no point in getting people together.
- Decide Who Will Attend
Knowing who will attend directly relates to your objective. For example, if your workshop’s goal is to develop a detailed solution to a problem, then you probably want 10 or fewer key attendees. If your goal is centered on education, then you might be happy with a much larger group, which divides into smaller groups for discussion.
- Choose the Right Location
If you have 10 attendees, then the conference room down the hall will probably be just fine. But if you have 50 people, you may have to find an outside location that’s large enough.
Think about the logistics and practical details of your workshop when you choose the location. Will everyone be able to see your visual aids? If you need a certain technology, like teleconferencing, will the location support it? Are there appropriate facilities for breakout sessions? Will everyone be able to reach the venue? Will you need to organize accommodation for people who are coming from a long way away? And what catering facilities does the venue provide?
- Create an Agenda
Now that you know your primary objective and who will attend, you can start to develop an outline of how you’ll achieve the workshop’s goal.
Main points: Create a list of main points to discuss, and then break down each larger point into details that you want to communicate to your audience.
Visual aids: List the visual aids, if any, you’ll use for each point. If you need technical support, this helps the people providing it to determine where they need to focus their efforts.
Discussions and activities: Take time to list exactly which group discussions and activities you’ll have at which point in the workshop. How much time will you allow for each exercise? Make sure your activities are appropriate for the size of the group, and ensure that your venue has the resources (for example, seminar rooms) needed to run sessions.
- Develop a Follow-up Plan
The only way to find out if your workshop was a success is to have an effective follow-up plan. Create a questionnaire to give to all participants at the end of the event, and give them plenty of opportunities to share their opinions on how well it went. Although this can be a bit scary, it’s the only way to learn – and improve – for the next time.
It’s also important to have a plan to communicate the decisions that were reached during the workshop. Will you send out a mass email to everyone with the details? Will you put it on your company’s intranet? People need to know that their hard work actually resulted in a decision or action, so keep them informed about what’s happening after the workshop has ended.
If you ever attended a conference, you should have noticed that almost everyone is equipped with a paper notebook or tablet and that for a good reason: To take notes. You could be the king of small-talk with the memory of a trivia world-champion but if you don‘t take notes during an exciting and exhausting conference, chances are high you‘ll forget something like an important thought or contact information. So taking notes during an event is the single best tip we want to share that will help to maximize your participation‘s return-on-investment. Below, we share 6 tips, how you should approach conference note-taking.
1. Prepare in advance
The conference agenda will usually be announced a couple of days/weeks in advance which is the perfect timing to start preparing. In order to optimize your conference takeaways, make sure to research the topic, the speaker, and the agenda. While researching, start taking notes already so that you‘ll have them available during the conference. We also recommend preparing a few pages in your notebook/s exclusively for the sessions that you‘re planning to attend. Make sure to write down any questions that are coming up during the research so that you can ask the speakers after their talks. There might be talks you definitely don’t want to miss, and some that you won’t care about. Having a plan in mind before you arrive at the venue is the first step for a successful event.
2. Don‘t capture everything
This is a general note-taking tip but is also highly relevant for conferences. Talks or presentations are usually short and trying to blindly copy everything that is being said, won’t allow you to listen and actually understand the content. Instead, try using your own words to summarise the main ideas or concepts while taking notes.
3. Consider digital note-taking over analog note-taking
There are a bunch of obvious reasons for taking digital notes in general, especially for conferences: Notes are better organized and can be backed up and can also be shared easily. However, there are a few more unpopular advantages, especially for digital handwritten notes on a tablet, that we want to outline here.
A. You can add photos to your notes
Talks can be intense and packed with important information. Of course, you want to make sure to take away as much content as possible without risking the opportunity to listen to what is actually being said (see 2.). Most speakers will support their talks with fancy PowerPoint presentations. While your seat neighbor will be the guy trying to hectically copy everything on the slide, you‘ll be the one just turning on your iPad‘s camera, taking a picture of the presenter‘s slide to automatically add it to your notes, where you can further mark it up or highlight important parts.
B. Come prepared with conference note-taking templates
Following a note-taking system helps you to stay organized (more about it below). Most note-taking apps, like GoodNotes, allow you to add custom PDF templates. So during your conference preparation (see 1.), why don‘t you set up a simple template that will help you keep your notes organized? You could create a simple Word document with different sections for topic, about the speaker, notes, summary/key takeaways, and questions.
C. You can combine handwriting and typed text
Scientists found out that taking notes longhand will help you to remember and digest information more easily, so we recommend to mainly take handwritten notes during conferences. However, sometimes you may want to type a few words or sentences with your keyboard. Digital note-taking apps will usually let you do both and are therefore much more versatile than any paper notebook could ever be.
4. Ask questions and ask them now
Remember you have noted some questions while doing the research before attending the event? Ask them now. Just jotting down the notes is not enough. To make the best out of the conference, you need to be a little interactive and smart in asking questions from the speaker. Conferences are the ideal opportunity to connect with leading industry experts, so you definitely don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to consult them.
5. Follow a note-taking method
We highly recommend following a method for effective conference note-taking. Your notes will be more organized which allows you to review them easily. The best note-taking method for conferences is the Cornell note-taking system. Main ideas of sessions can be noted in the main section of the page, whereas small comments or reminders can be added to the side. If you want to take Cornell notes during a conference, remember to prepare enough pages or buy a Cornell notepad. If you decided to go digital, you can simply use the built-in Cornell note-taking template of your note-taking app or import a custom one.
6. Take breaks to review and summarize your notes
It is an ambitious goal to attend every single talk at a conference, given that lots of them might actually overlap. Taking breaks isn’t only good for networking or regaining focus but also allow you to take a look at your notes in order to digest them. Scan through your notes, highlight key points, and follow up with other attendees in case you have missed anything or compare your notes with them. Take the chance before it is too late.