Conference handouts: do you ever refer to them?

If you have ever been to a conference, I’m sure you’ve received more than your fair share of handouts and other paper, from the organizing body, speakers and vendors. Plus you’ll also have whatever notes you take.

Conferences sometimes can feel like the New Year, a perfect time for resolutions, vows and promises to ourselves about what we’ll get right to work on when we’re back at our desks. But like most New Year resolutions, our good intentions get buried in the day-to-day details and mini-crises that make up a normal workday.

Years ago, in my most minimalist stage, I refused any and all handouts, relying on my memory. I had the theory that if a presentation didn’t cause a strong enough impression that it stuck in my brain, it wasn’t of much importance or priority to me.

The there are those who go to the other extreme, not just collecting everything they can, but also organizing and archiving it so that they can access the information at any point in the future. My mother was the latter type and although she didn’t refer back to every piece of information from every conference, she quite often pulled out some useful tidbit or other when working on a new project.

I just got back from a conference in Barcelona where I learned a lot about things that we are either in the process of implementing or could introduce at work. And since I’m no longer so minimalist, I took copious notes and after getting home, I downloaded the handouts/presentations of each of the sessions I attended. I was also given marketing material about products and processes the vendors offered. Between paper and electronic documents, I probably have a full day’s reading.

Assuming I actually look at it all, which I won’t.

I will hold onto my own notes and the presentation notes until I finish the projects we are working on that prompted me going to the conference. And the marketing materials will go straight into the recycling bin as will materials about the conference itself.

That’s me though. I don’t have a filing cabinet, or even a single drawer. I hate collecting paper. (Okay yes, I am still a minimalist at heart.) If you are someone who does like to hold onto information, however, here are some things to think about when it comes to deciding what to keep:

  1. Determine what part of your job the handout relates to. Make a note of it on the handout and store it with your other files on the same topic.
  2. If it’s not connected to anything you currently do, is it something you want to try in the future? If so, create a “future plans” document on your computer and add the basic ideas to it. Toss out what you picked up from the conference,, because when you finally get around to the idea, it’s highly likely you’ll need to research the topic again to find out the latest advances.
  3. Are you ever involved in running events? I am, so parts of my notes include my impression of the conference itself: what they did well and what wasn’t quite so good. I put these notes in with my event planning files (which in my case are all electronic — I really do hate paper).
  4. Record the vendor details in your preferred contact management system, along with a note about why you might be interested in working with them, and get rid of the marketing materials. Vendors are always happy to provide you with new information at any time (which these days can almost always be found online).

What do you do with conference handouts? Have I missed anything? Share your tricks and tips in the comments.

7 Comments for “Conference handouts: do you ever refer to them?”

  1. posted by Sheila on

    I use the handouts to take notes during the presentations and refer to them afterwards when preparing my summary report. Once my report is finished, the handouts go in the recycling bin. Occasionally, I may pick up information outside of my area and hand it off to a colleague but I’m not a collector of anything and everything.

  2. posted by Ann on

    I have a lot of notes and handouts from past homeschooling conferences. After coming home, I don’t think I ever look at the notes. Time to let them go.

  3. posted by Mike Hathaway on

    I grab handouts only for items I want to look into more closely later. Every one that goes home is a look them up online see if other people like and hate them, then decide if they go into the notes system or not.

  4. posted by HiloJoe on

    Have to admit; I always go for the coffee mug, pen/pencil, and if it’s a real ‘upscale’ conference, the logo tee-shirt..

  5. posted by Terry Matlen on

    I’m intrigued by the fact that you don’t have a filing cabinet or a drawer. What DO you do with essential papers?

  6. posted by Amy Bucher on

    Unfortunately I eventually end up recycling everything. I have the best intentions when I take handouts; I imagine myself reviewing it, mentally cataloguing it, and archiving it for future reference. The fact is I’m generally so busy after a conference getting back into real life that I don’t have the time to thoughtfully review anything from the conference, and by the time I am able to do that, I no longer have the drive.

    The one thing that does work for me is taking hand-written notes during conference sessions, so I try to always have my notebook with me.

  7. posted by Matt on

    I’m surprised to hear how many other people don’t refer back to the materials. I’m a lawyer in an organization with a large legal department. When one of us attends a conference, useful conference materials (copies of slides, papers, speaking notes etc.) are put in to our library. I often refer back to materials from conferences I’ve been to and conferences other people have been to. They’re a useful research tool along with the usual textbooks and online services.

    Maybe the nature of the legal industry makes these materials more useful than in other industries. Or maybe it’s just that we have a dedicated librarian who makes sure that the material is always indexed, searchable and accessible.

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