Monday, March 26, 2012

How to debrief yourself

So last week I went to the ILLiad International Conference in Virginia Beach to sequester myself by the sea along with a few hundred of my closest resource sharing colleagues to share ideas, compare best practices, and try our hardest to resist the siren call of the ocean. Despite ever-shrinking budgets, short staffs, and the (albeit painfully incremental) progress in virtual conference attendance I'm still a huge fan of the real deal, as I firmly believe that the physical experiences of travel, serendipitous conversations, and late-night bull and/or brainstorming sessions over a couple of drinks by the fire pit is an experience that the digital world can not yet fully replicate.

No offense intended to Second Life, but actually going somewhere else other than your office for several days also means that you may fully immerse yourself in an alternate reality so that your conference experience may be transformative as well as edifying. There's a certain magic at work at a good conference that makes you almost intoxicated with all of the new possibilities that are revealed by simply getting a glimpse of what other people in your field are doing, thinking, and aspiring towards. But how do you keep that magic alive, once you return to your daily grind? This is a challenge that I've struggled with over the years, but I think I've finally made a breakthrough in bottling up your conference magic and making it a renewable resource of inspiration.

When you do finally get back to work, before you do anything else of substance and definitely before you attempt to dig yourself out of your email, your inbox, or whatever it is that has piled up in your absence (trust me- a few more hours of accumulation won't harm anyone) go back over your conference notes in their entirety. I like to use Twitter as my preferred form of note-taking at conferences, as not only am I following the conference hashtag anyway, but by going back and cutting-and-pasting everything posted to that hashtag I can capture not just my own conference notes but everyone else's as well. This can be especially useful if you are at a conference with multiple tracks, many of which you may wanted to take but couldn't due to scheduling constraints.

So what I do is take the whole Tweetstream for the conference period, copy it into Word as text only, then paste that again into Notepad - actually I use Notepad++ because I like its additional editing functionality - so I can go through each individual Tweet line by line. Then I edit this text for content, deleting all of the interpersonal Tweets (and most of the jokes) until I've boiled it down to useful information for both myself and my colleagues at work.

While I'm going through this editing process, I will inevitably stumble across ideas I'd like to follow up on, interesting books I should read that were mentioned by other presenters, and colleagues whom I will remember to email to ask about X, Y, and Z. Assuming that most of these tasks are simple enough to do in a minute or two, I will do them as I edit, so that I don't table the thought and forget about it, as there's nothing worse than being inspired by a good idea at a conference and then completely failing to explore it once you get home.

While I'm making this pass through the Tweetstream, I can't help but recapture a lot of the enthusiasm and excitement of the conference itself - this is a huge shot in the arm for me, especially when I've just gotten back and am vulnerable to the post-conference blues - not to mention hashtag withdrawal! As I send out emails, Facebook notifications, and Tweets to follow up with other attendees I'm hoping that I'm sharing a little of the magic as well, and then when I organize my Tweet notes into a conference update for my colleagues here at work (I'm also planning to share my ILLiad 2012 notes online) I will keep the inspiration flowing in a positive feedback loop.

As luck would have it, I actually had a job interview here at Harvard today as well. While going to a library conference is generally a good way to get into the right frame of mind for an interview, I found that reviewing my conference notes this morning really energized me about the issues I ended up talking about. I'm curious to see if anyone else out there has any additional practical strategies for keeping the "conference buzz" going after the fun is over - if so, please feel free to share!

1 comment:

Carrie Kent said...

Actually, I'm pretty low-tech about how I take notes (graph paper and pen) but you are right about reviewing as soon as you get back. I keep two notepads running at a with actual notes on talks, and a second where I pull out mentions of books, blogs etc... On this second one, I also write down actual ideas for things to do back at the ranch. Usually the second one is written inbetween talks or in the evening in my hotel room. As a result, it both forces me to read what I wrote during a talk and provides a more legible document for follow-through.