059 – Get More From Your Conference Experience

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Episode Summary

Attending conferences requires a large output of time and money. No wonder we often try to take in as much as possible to get the most bang for our buck.

Unfortunately, what happens is we go home with lots of great intentions and ideas but struggle to implement all we may have wanted as we go back into the rhythms of daily life.

In this episode, we talk about four strategies to help us absorb as much as possible from our conference experience but in a useful way.


Items Mentioned

The Piano Pantry Retreat

Related Post: Conference Management 101: Four Tips for Organizing Information




Scannable app (for Evernote)

Genius Scan


As this episode drops, it’s the first week of March, meaning spring is just around the corner, along with the Music Teachers National Conference – this year being held in Reno. While I won’t be in Reno this year, I will attend NCKP, the biennial Piano Conference held in Chicago, at the end of July.

If you’ve attended just one conference in your lifetime, you know how fun and informational they are – they’re amazing. There’s one dilemma though I think a lot of us struggle with, and that’s what I want to talk about today. The dilemma certainly isn’t lack of quantity. In fact – quantity is part of the problem.

Attending conferences requires a big commitment of both time and effort on our part, so understandably, we feel like we have to do all we can to get the most bang for our buck – hopping around to sessions and attending everything available.

The problem then becomes, again, not lack of quantity but gleaning information in a useful way. Honestly, is it really that helpful to hop into three different sessions in one hour and have six new ideas – who can possibly implement that much information?

Instead, I think the answer to getting the most bang for our buck lies in doing a little less with more intention. We need to plan how to take in the information in a way that doesn’t just add to the stack of cool ideas that never get used. I want you to walk away from your conference experiences feeling like all you’ve learned is easily retrievable and, in turn, useful.

Would you love to have copious amounts of time to work on some of the things you never have time to work on as a teacher, like cleaning out your email inbox, photos, and videos, or finally coming up with a better system for organizing your documents, sheet music, and game files?

What if I told you I have just the opportunity, and not only does it include ten hours of uninterrupted time to work on these types of things, but you get to do it alongside a handful of other teachers, including me.

The Piano Pantry Retreat is a small group retreat hosted in my home in Northeast Indiana in the summer months. Here’s what Emily Suszko, one of the attendees from last year, had to say about the experience.

Everyone should do this! It was so fun! Amy’s cooking and hospitality is worth it even if you didn’t get any work done but Amy breaks down difficult tasks into easy bite-sized portions, and getting work done together feels so refreshing.

I just want to, in turn, say a big thanks to Emily for taking the time to share HER experience, so you, in turn, can hear direct feedback.

If you’re interested in learning more about this little getaway, visit PianoPantry.com/retreat

Before we talk about strategies for managing our conference experience, I just want to say to all my teacher friends who ARE attending MTNA Reno this year – don’t have too much fun without me! Watching your teacher friends have all the fun together on social media without you is always hard. FOMO is real here. Boo. No, really, I can’t wait to see all the pictures, and I hope to see some of you in Chicago this Summer.

OK, so today I have four major tips for you to consider today. I’m going to lay them all out for you first, and then we’ll talk in a little more detail.

  1. Have a plan for how you want to save the information, and be consistent with that plan.
  2. Be intentional about what and how much you allow into your brain (really!) It’s better to sit out a session or two and take the time to absorb what you’ve learned than to intake so much you feel more overwhelmed than inspired. Sometimes more is less.
  3. Take time to process and organize the information at the conference (again, even if it means sitting out a session or two). What do I mean by this? Well, one example would be if you want to keep all your handouts digitally but maybe some presenters don’t make digital options available -it’s taking time to scan hard copies into your digital management system of choice. At most, process all your notes no later than the following week otherwise, things will get forgotten.
  4. Keep an ongoing action list during the conference (one note) for key items you want to implement moving forward. So, this is on top of your notes on individual sessions. It’s one location where you can put all future actions or ideas into one goal list

Of these four points, we need to talk in a little more detail about two of them – making a plan and creating an action list.

There are a few questions I want you to ask yourself when making your plan for how you will save all of your conference notes and handouts.

How do you like to take notes?

  1. Handwritten directly on the handout or on a separate paper like in a notebook
  2. Handwritten in a digital paper app (such as Goodnotes) using a stylus
  3. Typed directly into your tablet or laptop note-taking app

How do you want to store and retrieve the notes and handouts long-term?

  1. Digital
  2. Hardcopy
  3. (Both?)

If you’re storing things digitally, HOW and WHERE are you storing them? Can you find a way to store your notes and handouts TOGETHER rather than having the handout in your document storage and your typed notes in another app?

If you’re storing the hardcopy, HOW and WHERE will you keep them? It needs to be in a place that’s easy to refer to in the future and doesn’t just get lost in a stack of papers or the back of a file drawer.

In general, I would implore you to work toward a plan that will allow you to keep your notes and handouts TOGETHER rather than (for example) typing notes and then keeping the hardcopy handout in a folder in your file drawer somewhere.

Here are a few example scenarios of how this might look:

  • You take handwritten notes directly on the handout, but afterward, scan and file it digitally and throw away the hard copy.
  • You download the digital handout into a note-taking app (like Evernote or Notion) and then type notes into that same note where the handout lives.
  • During the session, you download the digital handout or scan the hard copy directly into a program (Goodnotes), so you can write on the digital copy directly using a stylus.

Now, for scanning your documents, I recommend either the Scannable app (for Evernote) or Genius Scan.

There are lots of wonderful digital information storage tools these days to help us through the note-taking and information-storage process. Next, I thought I would share with you more detail about how I have found Evernote useful in making my conference information-management plan.

I will just put a brief disclaimer here that I have also started using Notion, a wonderful app with similar capabilities, in the last couple of years. Evernote has remained where I like to “dump” information, if you will, so while I’ve moved a lot of what I do into Notion, as of this moment, I still have all my conference information organized in Evernote.

If you’re not familiar with these programs, Evernote and Notion are both cloud-based apps for storing and organizing information. Think of them as digital filing cabinets. Their ability to save various formats in one place – including basic text notes, PDF files, images, and bookmark links – is why I find them highly valuable for taking in information during conferences.

Not only can you save various formats, but you can also save all of those formats inside one note. So you could scan a handout or download a digital copy and add it into a note and then type your personal notes into the same note where the handout lives. You could even save a screenshot photo from the presentation slides and a bookmark link to a recommended product from the session all inside the same note. Or, as I mentioned earlier, you could take handwritten notes on the handout if that’s your jive, then scan that handout to save it digitally.

So, have a plan and do all of your note-taking in the same way for every session for consistency.

The other thing I wanted to discuss in more detail is the idea of keeping an action list.

I’m telling you, this is something that can be an absolute game-changer when it comes to putting ideas into practice and not letting things fall by the wayside.

Yes, you want to take all your individual session notes – hopefully, one note and one location for every session. On top of that, though, create ONE place where you form an action list.

Let me give you some examples:

There are two parts to this list. The first is a list of tasks using action verbs that you take away from sessions. Try to write one action statement as a takeaway from each session, if possible. Write the action statement on your session notes and copy it to your action list. Try to use action verbs on this list as much as possible, like “read,” “create,” and “watch.”

If you attend a marketing session, you might write something like: reach out to school music teachers individually to introduce myself.

If you attend a session on new repertoire, you might write: order this book for such and such students

If you attend a technology session, it might be: do some more research into this app and consider if it might be the right tool to implement in your studio next year

So, the first part of the action list is individual actions from the sessions you attend. The second part of the action list serves as a “mental dumping ground.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m away from day-to-day work, random thoughts tend to creep in, and you’ll find it nice to have a place to jot down notes to yourself in one place – even if they aren’t related to the sessions. (I just title that part of the list as Miscellaneous notes to self.) That way, you’re not like sending emails to yourself, “remember to do XY or Z,” or making random notes on your session notes.

Once you get home from the conference, visit the note daily for at least a week to keep your fresh ideas moving forward and, in turn, get MORE from your conference experience.

Before we wrap up, let me give you those four pieces of advice I mentioned at the start of this episode.

  1. Have a plan and be consistent.
  2. Attend a little less so you can absorb more.
  3. Take time to organize your notes during the conference.
  4. Keep an ongoing action list.

If you would like to see more examples of how you can use a program like Evernote, navigate to the show notes where I like to a related blog post on the Piano Pantry blog where I share screenshots and a lot more detail!

Today’s tiny time is to take a few minutes to consider what it feels like to come into your studio space. Put yourself in your student’s shoes and physically walk through the same path looking at everything through their lens.

If your studio is in your home, it can be easy to forget that your students view things differently than you might – you’re so used to your own home space we may not realize the entrance is not perhaps as welcoming feeling as it could be or that you might have a coat closet you use but never realized you didn’t have a designated place for your students to hang THEIR jackets.

There are a lot of little things we can do to our spaces to warm them up a bit and make it feel more welcoming. I like to keep a mint jar in my entryway. There’s just something about having free pieces of candy that I feel adds a special little touch – whether it’s for my students or visitors in our home. My students know it’s for when they leave, not when they enter.

Maybe add an essential oil diffuser or a little welcome sign stating a small checklist of expectations for when they enter – like hanging up their jacket, removing their shoes, using a little hand sanitizer, and so forth.

Consider things that would make YOU feel happy and comforted entering a space and do that for your students.