» How to Make the Most out of Conferences (and Better Your “Today” List)

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP.

I love going to conferences. There are so many opportunities for learning, not just in the sessions, but also in the hallways and at the social events. Ideas come at you from all directions, it’s often like drinking from a firehose. If you’re like me, you come away with more ideas than you can possibly use. That’s good. You just need to learn to prioritize (more on that later). The problem I see, all too often, is when we come away from a conference, with more ideas than we can use, we end up not using any of them. Those pages and pages of notes, whether on paper or digital, end up on a shelf, never to see the light of day again. So, how do you change your conference habits (and general to-do list management) from overwhelming “shelf-help” that gets lost in the mix to truly productive “self-help”?

Why do we do it?

I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure there’s a really good reason why we don’t take action on those pages of notes and new ideas. All I know is that I’m just as guilty of it as you are. Or, at least I used to be. I take less notes than I used to, partly because I know that the more I take, the less I’m likely to look at them. It’s more intimidating to see that I have 20 pages of notes, than 3. So, I’m more selective and try to focus my notes to my needs.

Putting it into perspective

Another reason I think we don’t take action is because we get distracted. Buzzwords are flying around, shiny products are on display and other attendees are regaling us with their stories of success. The challenge there is separating the fiction from the non-fiction. Let’s just say that some people tend to exaggerate, or selectively leave out the challenges they’re facing. It’s not unlike how on social media we tend to only see the great successes, without the struggles or investments, in money and time, that led to that success. You can’t reap the rewards unless you’re willing to make the investment (or sacrifice).

How do you measure success?

The next challenge in evaluating opportunities and new ideas is that each of us defines our success in our own way. Our needs are different. Our expenses are different. Our goals are different. Just because someone else is seeing their version of success with a new idea, doesn’t mean that will work for you. Use your own compass and plot your own course. Don’t use someone else’s map to find your path.

But, we can’t do them all!

Exactly! You can’t do them all, no one can. That’s why you need to learn to prioritize your ideas and limited time. I learned to do this over 10 years ago, at my first National Speakers Association conference. We had three very full days of meetings. On the last day, at the last session, the association national president addressed the group. He told us to make a list of all of the ideas we had heard. Then, told us we should prioritize the list, in the order of how they would most benefit our businesses. And then, and here’s the hard part, to keep the top 3 things and then physically get rid of the rest of the list. You can’t focus on 20 or 30 things. You’ll just end up diluting your time between too many things, getting nothing done. When you focus your time on only 3 things, you’ll get way more accomplished. After you complete those items, make a new list. If some of the things from your original list are still important, they’ll show up again. I can tell you, from personal experience, that they rarely do. Once you have finished the things on your list, your business, and you personally, are in a different place. Things that were important before, just aren’t important now.

“To-Do List” vs. “Today List”

I’ve been living my life that way since that conference. It was hard, at first, to erase my dry-erase board, with its myriad of ideas and projects. Sure, I took a picture of it, before erasing it, but I haven’t looked at that photo… ever. And yet, I’ve accomplished more than I ever had. The things on my short list are not my daily tasks. Replying to email, marketing and writing content are a different list. I like to refer to them as my “Today List”. The big picture items are my “To-Do List”. Writing a new book is usually on my to-do list. When I finish one, I start writing the next one. Learning a new language made it onto my new list. Then presenting in that language. Next, for me, is doing the audio version of one of my books, in Spanish. A lofty goal? Sure. But what good are goals you can easily hit? Actually, my uncle once told me never to use the word “goals, ” because it’s self-limiting. Think bigger, and you can achieve more. Don’t try to just reach a goal, try to do the best you can, every day.

So, what does your shelf look like?

Have you filed away years-worth of conference or webinar ideas, without ever acting on them? How many notebooks, filled with notes, are on your shelf, or filed away? How many things are on your big-picture, to-do list? Do you really need them all? Or, can you keep the first 2 or 3, and focus all of your energy on those? It takes a little faith and a little courage to shorten your list. If you’re like me, you’ll find it liberating, like a huge weight has been lifted. And then, when you start to get more done, you’ll be encouraged to keep making short lists. Here’s to helping yourself (and not your shelf)!

WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP has over 20 years experience in wedding related sales and marketing, and is an author, business consultant, a member of the National Speakers Association, and the wedding & event industry’s only Certified Speaking Professional®. Learn more at alanberg.com.