How to make good use of what you learn at Clarity2016

Kathryn Reeves

Kathryn Reeves

Our guest blogger is Kathryn Reeves, a writer, digital content strategist, and plain language advocate based in Wellington. 

Clarity2016 is just a month away, and we’re pleased to have secured an array of compelling speakers from around the world and across the knowledge spectrum.

From plain language icons like Joseph Kimble and Neil James, passionate leaders like Susan Kleimann and Sandra Fisher-Martins, and inspirational teachers like Dr Paul Wood, you’ll leave the conference buzzing and full of ideas.

This post gives a few tips on how to take that conference inspiration and make something of it once you’re back in the real world.

Collecting information is the easy part

I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to information — it’s hard not to be in the internet age. I bookmark countless webpages, take screeds of notes from books and meetings, and have folders full of articles, clippings, and pamphlets. But collecting information like a mad thing doesn’t mean I get around to reading it all, let alone absorbing it.

Conferences can be a bit the same. The human brain has approximately a million gigabytes of memory capacity (it’s true — I read it on Scientific American). But ask me what I remember after a conference and I’m reduced to a few simple anecdotes and a couple of speakers’ names.

How to make good use of what you learn

To remedy this, I’ve experimented and found success with an approach to conferences that helps me take what I’ve heard and apply it to post-conference work and life.

See if it works for you, or use these ideas to kick off your own approach to conference prep.

Illustration of writer's desk

1. Narrow your focus

The sheer amount of high-quality content you’re presented with at conferences is one reason why it’s so hard to take anything in. The antidote to this is to narrow your focus. Before the conference, choose two or three (yes, so few) sessions that you want to not only attend, but prepare for and follow up on.

Choose the topics that punch you in the gut when you read about them — the sessions that you actually want to change you. You’ll attend others, of course, but these are the ones you’ll commit to absorbing.

2. Expand your knowledge and form some questions

Take the topics of your chosen sessions and put your study hat on. One theory of education, contextualism, states that knowledge isn’t something that’s ‘out there’ for us to reach out and take, but contextual:

We do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract ethereal land of the mind separate from the rest of our lives: we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudices, and our fears.

Professor George E Hein

So have a good read about the topic before the conference. You could explore the history or theories that underpin it, or see what people are saying about it on social media, or find out more about the speaker’s work. And spend some time reflecting on your own thoughts on the topic.

To further prepare, come up with a few questions relevant to your own work that will help to focus your attention during the session, or to ask if you get a chance. Even better, you could ask the speakers directly — it’s a great opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with the best in the business.

3. Take action after the conference (asap!)

After the conference, do something with what you’ve learnt. And I don’t mean next month. Keep the train of inspiration going by scheduling in some time directly after the conference to take action, before the whirlwind of work and life gets in the way. Here are a few ideas:

Whatever you do, contact the speaker to share your experience. They’ll appreciate hearing how their talks have inspired real-world change, and it’s always a good idea to keep the conversation going.

More advice on attending conferences

Some more gems of wisdom from around the web about attending conferences (and they just happen to be handy lists!):

See you in November at Clarity2016!

This post is adapted from a previous post published on


2 responses to “How to make good use of what you learn at Clarity2016”

  1. Verity says:

    Great article & perfectly timed, looking forward to Clarity 2016! Thanks for sharing these resources.

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