I speak to leaders all over the country, thousands of them each year. Each week I meet many bright, active, highly engaged professionals who are dedicated to improving themselves and making an impact through their work.

Yet every time I speak, I’m amazed at the number of otherwise smart and competent individuals who make this rookie mistake when attending a keynote session or workshop—they don’t take notes.

There are a number of reasons for this. Electronic devices, as advanced as they are, still lag in the area of note taking. Laptops are too large for many of these settings, and the typing and handwriting-to-text functions of tablets and smartphones aren’t up to par.

Also, many conference attendees depend on printed handouts or downloadable speaker’s notes to provide the takeaway content they need. That’s why I strongly believe in handouts and workbooks.

However, it’s a mistake to rely solely on such items.

Here are three good reasons why I take notes every time I attend a conference and listen to an outstanding speaker.

Note Taking Clarifies Thought

I think best when I’m writing, even when that’s just writing down the ideas I’ve heard from a speaker. The act of writing sparks connections in my mind, reveals second and third layers of insight, and generates completely new thoughts, beyond what the speaker has delivered.

Write the key points the speaker makes, and add your own analysis and commentary.

Note Taking Engages the Whole Person

Writing is an active thing, and when you take notes you are more likely to focus, to engage the speaker, and to stay mentally sharp throughout the presentation. Writing is also visual, engaging a different part of your brain than does listening alone. When you take notes, you immerse yourself deeper into the experience of learning.

Write more than words. Use symbols, drawings, and spatial representations of ideas.

Note Taking Aids Memory

Everyone knows this; yet few of us do it. We remember things better when we write them down. That works for a keynote address as well as for a grocery list. Apart from rereading the notes later, the very act of writing them cements the ideas into your mind.

At the end of your notes, write the three top takeaways you hope to apply.

When you attend a conference, you benefit from the experience and expertise of proven leaders. When you take notes, you double or even triple the value of that learning!

What’s your strategy for recording the insights of a conference or learning opportunity? Share your answer on Facebook or Twitter.



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With more than 40 years of leadership experience, Stan Toler knows what it takes to empower people to reach organizational and personal goals. He cuts through the mystery and confusion and provides clear guidelines to help you accomplish vital leadership tasks, including…

defining your vision, developing your plan, and communicating clearly to help people buy in to your shared goal overcoming common leadership challenges to create a culture of success building strong relationships and effective teams that make working hard worthwhile.

You’ll find all the tools, tips, and practical guidance you need to help individuals and groups reach their highest potential and fulfill their God-given purpose.