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Conference Takeaway

By Donna K. Rice

Spring brings a busy conference season for both the writing and ministry arenas. In April, I attended Mount Hermon Writers Conference, came home and repacked, then headed for our ministerial fellowship’s women’s conference. The first weekend in May, I’m off again for another ministerial conference. Since many of us are prepping for ACFW’s conference in September, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts about conference takeaway.

Conferences are a big deal. The cost money and time. We may be overstimulated with social interaction, overfed with new information, and overwhelmed with how to assimilate it all into our writing practice. For me, putting a lot of thought into the conference before I go helps manage the issues above. I spend lots of time going over the class offerings and analyzing them in relation to my current needs. I don’t just show up and guess about what classes to take. Planning conference time around needs, helps me get the most out of the investment.

I also take notes with needs in mind and build in shortcuts to find the info later. For example, I use a wide margin on every page of handwritten notes to capture highlights and a color coding system in computer notes to emphasize specifics that grab my attention during a class. It’s much easier to glance quickly through notes for special markings than it is to reread everything from a conference. Most of us don’t have the luxury of carefully reviewing every note we took. We can train ourselves to depend upon memory and a system of coding our notes as we take them. If you were to read notes in my computer, you would find them most colorful and maybe a bit confusing, but they make sense to me and I can relocate bits of information quickly. How to code notes doesn’t matter so much as making it a practice and developing a code that makes sense and locates key information.

In addition to studying the schedule before the conference and coding my notes, I usually try afterwards to boil down the experience into one or two major takeaways. What really took my thinking to the next level? What new skill did I learn? What new thing do I need to do because of attending? Was there a breakthrough? Was there a revelation?

My women’s conference last week drove this point home. The big takeaway? Take to heart the notion of letting my audience inspire and guide me, whether while writing or ministering in person. God met our women in a big way in Texas last week. Every message flowed right into the next. The worship team was phenomenal. The women left glowing with joy. Those happy faces inspire and motivate me like nothing else could.

We know our writing influences the reader and we’re taught to write to our readers, but seeing real faces in our mind’s eye raises the stakes. Our audience depends on us to fulfill certain needs. The reason we pursue this dream gets real.

For the published author, reader letters and speaking engagements create an audience visual. For the unpublished author, it might be more difficult to visualize their reader. Here’s an idea. Got to or and search for images of men or women expressing the key emotions you want your reader to experience after reading your work. Let those images inspire you while writing. One day, you’ll have real life readers with whom you can connect and the inspiration will be even sweeter!

How do you identify and retain conference takeaway?

Donna K. Rice writes women’s fiction and inspirational nonfiction. She’s a licensed minister, conference speaker, and estate planning attorney. She’s also the National Director for Women in Ministry for the Apostolic Christian Network. Contact her at

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2 Responses to Conference Takeaway

  1. Barbara says:

    I like how you aim to boil down a takeaway from each teaching session and conference. I did that during a conference last year, and I had better retention.

    I plan on following your example and being intentional about teaching sessions. Thanks for that reminder!

  2. Donna K Rice says:

    Retention, yes! That’s what takes a fun conference to the next level and builds our skill set. Great thought to add to this post, Barbara. Thanks!