My continued personal development and professional education as a trainer are important to me, as I’m sure they are for you. One way I continue to develop my knowledge and skills is to attend conferences, conventions, and seminars–you know, places where some of the brightest minds share their knowledge for you to absorb like a sponge.
So I’d attend conferences and conventions, one after another, until I had stacks of legal pads full of notes and ideas. I thought I was making a solid investment, but there was a problem: I never did anything with them.
I missed out on opportunities to improve. I had all of these ideas, but having no follow-through was making me waste time and money.
Then I realized what was holding me back: It was a case of having too much information all at once, with no plan for putting knowledge into action. After all, there’s a difference between knowing something and actually doing it. So, I finally figured out a way to act on these ideas.
1. It starts at the educational venue.
Wherever you are–a conference, seminar, a class, whatever–take great notes by focusing on what really matters, as opposed to transcribing the presentation verbatim. Use keywords and short phrases written in your own words to improve efficiency.
Don’t bother jotting down every word on the slide, as most speakers will share their notes with you after the event. Write down only the things they’re saying that’s not on the screen. You can organize your notes to correspond with the slides by noting the slide number or title.
Underline or “star” areas you’d like the speaker to elaborate on, so when it’s time for questions you’ll have a visual trigger to start the conversation. Questions like, “Why do you feel this area is important?” or “How did you come up with this process?” will give you insights into developing on your own. Basically, think of the metaphor about learning to fish versus being served a fish.
Be sure to get their contact information, specifically e-mail, so you can follow up with further questions, or to get copies of their notes.
2. Categorize your notes.
Rarely does a speaker share information that’s only relevant to one specific area of discussion.
For example, a presentation on squat form may also apply to coaching strategies in general, and maybe even some ideas on how to change personal habits. Further, a discussion on business development could easily have pointers for social media marketing, referral generation, and budgeting. Hear enough speakers, and you’ll have a long list of marketing action items in several different sections.
With all this jumbled information, it’s important to put everything in one place to make implementation possible.
One idea is to sit down with a pen or highlighters and group different categories by different colors.
Another method is a little extra work, but I like to type up my notes in a Word document, then copy and paste the various tips and action items into a spreadsheet for easy reference. Not only does this process more strongly ingrain the information I’d heard, but I now have one place to turn to when I want to reference different topics.
Then, when I’m prioritizing, I can more easily re-arrange items based on my needs.
3. Prioritize your notes based on your needs.
Once you have all your notes in place, it’s time to figure out what’s most important for you to pursue. This approach will help you decide which pieces to consume first. There’s a saying that goes, “The best strategy for eating an elephant is to take one bite at a time.”
Focus on what will have the biggest impact, or identify those targeted actions that will be the easiest to implement. Sometimes these things are one and the same, but the idea is to build your “to-do” list in a way that will make you feel like you’re moving closer to your goal.
Personally, I like to see a long list of action items crossed out, as that makes me feel most accomplished. And when I feel accomplished, I’m more motivated to continue to the end. Therefore, I typically prioritize tasks based on time commitment needed for implementation, and then tackle all the small things first. I’ll estimate the amount of time or effort that would go into each task, and put them in order of least to greatest.
After recently attending a conference on business development, I focused first on adding my business listings to Google+ and Yelp, which took little effort, before creating the more time-intensive referral rewards system.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about this step, as long as you’ve laid out what needs to be done in a systematic order–and can start eating away at that elephant.
4. Schedule your changes.
The most successful people have a clear mastery over their schedules. Stress impedes our ability to make good decisions, and it is the direct result of poor time management and competing demands.
Knowing what needs to be done and exactly when it needs to be completed alleviates stress in our lives and helps us to actually complete the tasks we might begin but sometimes get distracted from.
If your action items are physical changes you need to make, like tweaking your website or email scripts, block off sections of your schedule solely to implement the items you’ve compiled. How much time you set aside depends on what you can realistically manage, but don’t think that just because you can only dedicate 30 minutes each week that it’s a waste of time. When your time to execute comes up, act on it as many items as you can, moving straight down your already prioritized list.
If it’s a habit or behavior to implement, such as building better time management or using certain verbal cues, focus only on mastering one trait until it becomes second nature. Be sure to have set deadlines for when each item should become a habit.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to master all of these skills at once. In Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less, he suggests that implementing one habit at a time yields an 80 percent chance of success, whereas pursuing two or more at the same time drops the rate of success to below 35 percent. In other words, you’re much more likely to succeed in building a new skill or habit by just focusing on one!
Make a list of all the habits to implement, schedule them using this form (presented below with a link to the template), and use the space to describe how you’ll practice the habits. This way, you’ll have a visual reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish.
The reality is that a conference or convention doesn’t end when you leave the room; that’s actually the shotgun signaling the start of the race. Follow through doesn’t have to be painful when you have simple steps and a plan for action.
Your post-conference checklist:
Here’s your handy-dandy checklist for putting your new knowledge to use. (Download in a printable version here.)
Step One: At the conference.
– Before you leave each session, did you…
o Ask enough questions?
o Get the speaker’s contact information?
o Write clearly and legibly? Read through the notes immediately while the information is fresh and you can fill in any pieces you missed.
Step Two: Categorize
– List all of the areas of discussion reviewed at the conference. (Example: coaching techniques, social media marketing, referral generation strategies, etc.) Give each a column or tab in a separate spreadsheet, or assign each a color.
– Comb through your notes (consider typing them up if hand-written) and either add the text to the corresponding column(s) or assign a color.
– Tip: differentiate between action items and strategies that can be turned into a “tip sheet” for future reference.
Step Three: Prioritize
– Decide how you’ll execute the action items on your to-do list. Will you pursue items based on the impact they will have on your business? Or will you execute those based on the amount of time they will take to complete?
– Put your items in order based on how you want to execute your items.
Step Four: Schedule
– When will you spend time each week executing these steps?
– What will be the deadline by which you’ll have mastered the habits and skills you learned?
Resources to further increase your knowledge:
- The Big Rocks of Personal Training By Bret Contreras
- Personal Training: What You Really Need to Know By Jonathan Goodman
- Personal Trainer Books List: Best Books for Personal Trainers