The Virtue of Note Taking

The other week I spoke at a major broker/dealer conference. I flew in the day before my speaking session and attended a keynote address by Bill Bachrach. I heard wonderful things about Bill and looked forward to learning from him.

As Bill started speaking, I started taking notes. My brain was stimulated with ideas that I jotted down.

At one point, I paused taking notes and looked around. There were hundreds in the audience. I didn’t see a single person taking hand-written notes.

Aversion to Note Taking

Perhaps no one was taking notes because Bill said he would provide both his slides and an audio recording of the presentation to attendees. Whatever may have caused it, it is my experience (I speak in front of thousands of advisors each year) that few people take notes at conferences these days.

Taking notes has been replaced by taking pictures of slides and downloading slide decks. Advisors do themselves a great disservice when their notes consist of nothing more than the slide deck provided by the speaker and a couple of snapshots. They miss out on the creative brain being activated.

At what point will the slides and concepts be revisited? When we are in the office with the demands of email, phone calls and distractions of running our business? Of course not. It is near impossible to learn something new or think strategically in our office environment.

How about at our next “strategic day”? This may be wishful thinking. Most advisors don’t take strategic days where they get away from the office, think about their business and make changes to improve their processes. It doesn’t take long for us to get distracted or get too busy to implement those things that would make us a better advisor. The status quo bias is strong!

Benefits of Taking Notes

When the 50-minute presentation was complete, I had two full pages of notes – the majority of which was not what Bill had said. Rather, they were ideas that came to my mind during the presentation on ways I can improve myself and my business. In other words, the note taking sparked my creative juices.

Taking physical notes unleashes the creative brain – which is sorely needed in the financial industry. It isn’t about capturing every single thing the speaker said. It is identifying an important point/theme and taking notes on additional thoughts and ideas that come to our mind. Ultimately, it is about our personal improvement.

We go to conferences to learn how to be better. We usually walk away with great content and perhaps a few ideas. But seldom are they translated into action. I encourage you to view conferences as your “strategic days”. Take written notes and allow your brain to ponder them while at the conference. Write down specific steps you will implement to improve your business upon your return.

While it is easier to sit back and “enjoy” a conference talk as if you are watching a movie, it is more effective (and likely more profitable) to take notes and activate the creative brain. That will require a bit more work, and maybe a hand cramp, but it may very well pay off handsomely in the long run.