and ask them a couple of questions and engage in that back and forth is really great for learning. There is a tendency to skimp on that portion of the conference, or when you do it, you just start serving alcohol and call it networking. Having some of those breaks in the middle of the day where it still feels like work time gives people the opportunity to actually ask more serious questions. It is socially awkward and prob- ably partially socially unacceptable to be dogged about asking somebody a bunch of questions when they are holding a glass of wine.
One of the challenges of conferences is helping people implement what they’ve learned. What advice can you give? One of the things that I recommend doing is going to the conference with sheets of paper already set up for each of the talks that you are going to hear. That just means have a slot for the title of the talk, [and] have three bullets for the three main points that you want to take away from that. If your main goal is to bring something back that is a tangible piece of information that you can use at work, don’t only write down the three key points the speaker wanted to make; try and spe- cifically draw at least one connection from each talk to some- thing you can use — some specific tip that you can bring back. Or have a template that you can use in a note-taking program on an iPad. Those templates provide a structure that forces you to view every talk in this way, and it provides a reminder that ultimately creates a set of habits for how to go through talks. I think that kind of scaffolding is a really great reminder of what it is that you are supposed to be doing. Taking notes is a wonderful thing even if you never read
those notes again. The act of essentially filtering all this information through your body and letting it come out your hands influences your thinking. There is this idea in psychol- ogy called “the generation effect,” which is basically the idea that information you generate yourself is better remembered than something that you just hear. Taking notes forces you to generate information.
You talk in the book about the positive value of habits. How does that fit into a conference scenario?
The purpose of going to a conference is very different from the purpose of going to work every day. One of the things you want to do in your work environment is to create habits that allow you to do all of the repetitive things that have to be done on a daily basis mindlessly so you can focus your mental energy on the things that are important. To me that is the real positive value of habits. That said, we all get into mental ruts. We think about things the same way, we use the same solutions to problems because they have been at least moderately successful for us in the past. The value of going to a conference is the prospect that you will be shaken out of some of that a little bit, and the beauty of going to a confer- ence that is really off site is you can’t be sucked back into a meeting or some other thing. I teach classes for companies, and I often prefer to do that at a venue offsite. Because if I go to a corporate office and I teach a one-day class, invariably a third of the class disappears for half an hour because some meeting came up.
Except that on site or off, most people feel chained to their smartphone. They call them smartphones, but they are really devices for creating dumb people. They are just these wonderful invita- tions to multitask. I despise multitasking. We do not really multitask, we timeshare.
Along those lines, a lot of meetings encourage people to tweet while they are in a presentation. What do you think about that? Drives me up a wall. That real-time tweeting thing has no value except potentially for the two people who are using their tweets as a way of taking notes. I think that for everyone else in the crowd to sit there and stare at the Twitterstream as it is going by while trying to pay attention to the talk at the same time — they are not getting anything out of it. I like looking at the stream later just to see what people’s com- ments were. Nobody should be able to see it in the moment because they spend their time looking to see what comes up, or worse yet, looking to see if their tweet has come up yet rather than paying attention to the talk. I do not think that deepens the experience in any way. To me, the problem with
‘It is socially awkward to be dogged about asking somebody a bunch of questions when they are holding a glass of wine.’