The Paperless Conference

The Paperless Conference

Chris Anderson at LeWebBetween session handouts, itineraries, and notes, how the heck do you go paperless at a conference?

In most events, there is paper coming at you from all directions.

Julie Bestry from Best Results Organizing did a great blog post about her experience at a recent conference that I spoke at in Phoenix: NAPO2014: Taking Notes–The Paperless Experiment.

The plan was to try something I’d never done before, to go paperless for an entire NAPO conference. To do that, I’d have to:

  • Take notes digitally
  • Print nothing
  • Figure out how to integrate different input sources of information

Julie’s post made me think about how my approach to attending conferences as paperlessly as possible has changed over the years.

Conference Itineraries

This one depends on the conference, of course.

Many events provide the itinerary online ahead of time. When that happens, I like to store it in Evernote so that I always have it available on all my devices.

The best event I have ever seen for this is the National Association of Professional Organizers annual conference, which Julie and I both attend. They provide an iOS and Android app that allows you to build your schedule. I referred to the app constantly.

Speaker Handouts and Slides

Here is a possibly controversial opinion – if I need the slides from a presentation, the talk was probably not constructed very well.[1]

This is why when speaking, unless I have a gun to my head, I prefer not to submit my slides ahead of time to be printed in the Conference Binder Of Paper Hell.

Again this is just me, but I don’t follow along with The Slides when I am listening to a talk. I prefer to see what the speaker has to say and be surprised.

For speaker handouts and The Slides, sometimes the conference will provide them in PDF format for downloading before or after the event, and sometimes the speaker will provide a resource page that they can be downloaded from.

Often there is nothing you can do and things are on paper. That’s fine – I just capture them with my phone’s scanning app and off to Evernote they go. The paper never makes it home with me.

Note taking

The way I take notes at conferences has evolved, and you can see that evolution on the DocumentSnap blog.

I used paper notebooks for a while and captured them with my phone. Then I got a bit more advanced and used the ScanSnap SV600 to capture them.

I did a conference writing notes on my iPad with Notability, which I was inspired to do by paperless notetaking ninja Tim Grahl.

I’ve also used my Wipebook at an event and that went pretty well.

Now more often than not I type my notes on my iPad using the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard into the Drafts app.

I do this for many of the same reasons that Julie outlines in her post:

  • Because I can type without looking at the screen (but can’t handwrite the same way), I was able to pay attention to each speaker’s non-verbal communication in greater depth.
  • I was certainly able to type faster than I’d ever been able to handwrite my notes, giving me the opportunity to scan and correct errors without missing what the speaker was saying.
  • My notes are far more legible than in past years.

I like being able to type my thoughts while watching the speaker. Since I don’t care about The Slides, flipping back and forth between them isn’t an issue for me.

However I capture the notes, they end up (surprise!) in Evernote.

There Is No Right Way To Do It

There are many benefits to handwriting your notes, which Julie outlines very well in her post. I understand the tradeoff, and the way I do it works for me.

You need to figure out how paperless you want your conference to be for you. The important thing is not how you capture things, but what you do with that information after you leave the closing party.

Do you have any paperless conference tips? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

.(Photo by Robert Scoble)

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 3 comments

Clive - August 25, 2014 Reply

Hard to understand why conference organisers don’t put up a web page for the conference with all the materials, and any mentioned links. Would be dead easy, and can put behind a pass wall if needed. In fact, for any presentation (note to self:: must do for my own presentations).

Deron - August 14, 2014 Reply

I think you’ve heard me sing this tune before, but as much as I’m a digital guy, conference and presentation notes really clicked for me when I started doing them as #sketchnotes as modeled in Mike Rhode’s books. Having to put the speaker’s words into simple sketches and symbols makes me a much more active listener and the speakers (and others) seem to enjoy seeing them afterwards on Twitter.

There were some presentations that seemed more suited to digital notes and for those, I also used the iPad with external keyboard option.

Ellen Faye - August 12, 2014 Reply

At NAPO2014 (and almost everywhere I go these days) I use my iPad and take my notes straight into an Evernote. I don’t use an external keyboard – on screen works great. Love that I can find whatever I want whenever I want. Your session was awesome Brooks (knew it would be) and all that valuable info is a click away.

Leave a Reply: