The Best Way to Take Notes at an Event

May 31, 2016 · 3 min read

By: Jeff Okita

Trying to capture the nuggets of wisdom from a dozen back-to-back speakers is a little like trying to catch fireflies with your hands. Too many of them are swarming around, and even when you’ve caught one, sometimes they just slip through your fingers.

I’ve stopped trying to just ‘sit and absorb’ the knowledge gained in these speaker events. The more conferences and speaker series I go to, the more I’ve relied on a clear note taking system to help make the most out of these events.

The palest ink is better than the most capricious memory.

Don’t try to remember everything. Write things down. Here are the best ways to take notes at an event.

Pick your tool

In a dark theater, it may not be a great idea to prop up your laptop to take notes, but certain tools make it super easy to take more extensive notes. Here are three of my favorites.

Evernote/Evernote Touch: Evernote has been the king of online note taking for years. They’ve developed a strong reputation with their flexible tool and powerful search functionality. I use evernote as a respository for all my thoughts I want to record.

Dropbox Paper: While relatively new to the space, I really like how easy it is to takes notes in a structured way. Not only that, but if you have a colleague who is at the conference, you can collaborate on a note taking document. Dropbox Paper doesn’t yet have a mobile app though, so it’s best used on a computer.

Pen & Paper: TBH, pen and paper are still my go-to. It’s flexible, socially acceptable, and super portable. At most conference, I just bring a small notebook and a pen.

Prep your notebook

  • Designate a page for your main summarized takeaways. You’ll find major themes across all speakers that you may want to put in one place.
  • In a notebook, use the left page for your notes, and the right for ideas to apply your notes to your organizaiton or personal life.
  • Leave plenty of pages per speaker. You’ll be surprised how much there is to record in a talk.

Use Symbols

Using symbols allows you to more easily scan your notes for the most important things you’ve written down.

These are mine, but use whatever you want. The important thing is just that you have an established system.

Review Afterwards

You’ve written everything down, but it’s important to take your notes and do something about them.

  • Reflect on your takeaways: Think deeply about your takeaways and how you want them to apply to your life
  • Share your quotes: Tweet out amazing quotes you enjoyed.
  • Research your questions: Spend time finding deeper answers to questions that came up during your note-taking.
  • Add your action items to your to-do list: Put your next steps into your favorite task manager.

There you have it. Now you’re a note-taking pro. Take these tips with you to make the most out of your next event.

I work at Degreed in growth marketing. I love to learn, and at Degreed, I help people achieve their learning goals.

Check out Degreed to find, track, and measure all your learning.

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