How To Take Notes At A Conference - Verbal To Visual - sketchnoting; visual note-taking; doug neill

How To Take Notes At A Conference

If you’re willing to invest time (and likely money) into attending a conference, why not invest a bit of time planning how to capture and then act on the ideas you learn there?

Here are some tips for taking effective notes during the next conference you attend:

How To Take Notes At A Conference

Materials: Keep it simple.

During a conference you’re likely going to be moving around a lot, from one building to another and one room to another. The quicker and easier it is to pack and unpack your materials, the quicker and easier you’ll be able to get into the flow of the note-taking process.

During the recent conference that I attended (NerdCon: Stories) I stuck to a single notebook (a lined Moleskine) and a black pen (the Pentel Energel 0.7).

Feel free to expand beyond that minimal approach, but do note how much time and energy you’re spending before and after each session.

(Want to see some of my other favorite tools for skechnoting? Check out this episode.)

Process: Make a plan.

Spend a bit of time before the talk or panel begins deciding how you’re going to capture ideas on the page. I like to break sketchnoting down into four categories: text, layout, imagery, and color. How will you use each of those elements in your notes?

Make a plan, then adjust as needed throughout the conference.

Conference Sketchnoting Process - visual note-taking

My plan during NerdCon: Stories was to use only the right page of the notebook (I was working on thin paper that bleeds easily) and take a top to bottom approach, with rows in mind. Each row would contain a single idea, and I would express that idea with some combination of words and visuals.

Example Sketchnotes (1)

Example Sketchnotes (2)

Bonus Tip #1: Purpose

Identify beforehand what you’d like to get out of the conference as a whole. Then keep that purpose in mind throughout the conference – that will help you filter out those ideas that don’t matter so that you can focus on the ones that do.

Breaks: Take them.

Your brain will be working overtime as the conference progresses, so be sure to take breaks! Give yourself the freedom just to listen sometimes.

At NerdCon: Stories I only sketchnoted about half of the events that I attended. That balance worked well for me, especially because there were a few events that I simply wanted to experience – two live podcast recordings with John Green: an episode of The Writers Panel and an episode of Dear Hank & John.

Share: Spread the love.

By sharing your notes online not only do you create a digital archive for yourself, you also can help others internalize the ideas that were shared. On top of that, you open the door to continuing conversations around those ideas.

Right after each panel that I sketchnoted, I took some quick photos and shared the set in a single Tweet:

Sharing Sketchnotes On Twitter

I’m also sharing both my sketchnotes and some written reflections on those panels over at The Graphic Recorder.

For me that in-the-moment sharing coupled with some after-the-fact reflecting is a useful combination.

Act: Turn ideas into action.

Too often the ideas learned at conferences stay there. To make sure they don’t, start acting on them as soon as possible.

The quicker you put into practice the new ideas that your learned, the more likely they’ll stick.

Conference Sketchnoting - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill

Bonus Tip #2: People

Attending conferences is also (and maybe even more importantly) about meeting people! So consider setting aside a few pages in your notebook where you can jot down information about the folks you meet and the conversations that arise.

The next time you attend a conference, put these note-taking strategies to use, and add your own as you see fit.

That will help you to make the most of the learning experience and carry it with you from that moment onward.


Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

And if you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.