Can a Book Change the World (Part 1)

August 16, 2006

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
John Steinbeck

Can you imagine building a house with nothing but a saw? It can’t happen. You need all sorts of tools to build a house. Just as you need all sorts of tools to get the most out of a conference or convention.

The problem is, managing the hundreds of ideas you get when you attend a conference requires some pretty specific tools. And, that standard issue legal pad just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

When Michael and I went to our very first National Speakers Association convention, we were well-armed with matching “Wow! That’s a Great Idea!” Conference Navigator Guides. Never heard of them? Ed Bernacki, the Canadian Idea Factory genius (www.wowgreatidea.com), has put a different spin on conference note-taking and idea-gathering.

Yes, Michael and I have both been guilty of the “take-a-million-notes-on-the-yellow-legal-pad-and-never-look-at-them-again” syndrome, (I’m sure none of you can relate), but Ed’s notebook cured us of all that. The Conference Navigator Guide is to the yellow legal pad what a 747 is to a paper airplane.

First of all, it’s cool. About half the size of the legal pad, it’s spiral bound, easy to carry and has specially designed sections made of hard cardboard for things like business cards. It has fold out pages with nifty quotes and graphics and makes you look cool just by carrying it around (and, looking cool at a convention is everything, really). There’s even a pocket page in the back that is perfect for carting around the bookmarks or other propaganda you want to hand out (just ask your legal pad if it can do that!)

But good looks will only get you so far (as so well we know) – it’s what’s in this puppy that makes it a treasure. The “Bernacki Book” (or “BB” as we’ll call it from here on out) truly is a “conference navigator guide.” It starts you out with some simple ways to figure out where you want to go, and how you might be able to get there. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But how often have you gone to a conference, only to come home overwhelmed by too much information and not sure where to start to sort it all out? After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, how the heck are you going to get there?

The BB conference navigator pages walk you through the process of setting some goals for your experience (don’t worry; it’s not too much – just spaces for a couple of “organizational” and “personal” challenges). Then there are pages of very sage advice for how to survive the rigors of too much food, too little alcohol, and boring keynotes – you know, all the dangers inherent in any convention. This is good stuff, but it’s the note pages and the things you’re guided to do with those notes that make this little device so worthwhile.

Unlike the poor mis-guided legal pad, the note pages of the BB have sections. In addition to the free-form area for general notes, there’s space at the bottom of each page for “quotes to remember”, “ideas to save”, “questions to ask” and best of all, “actions to take”.

What begins to happen in the process of using the guide is that you come up with ideas – lots of them. Some of these you know you want to use right away, some you know are just a little nuts, and some you think you might get to down the road, but all of them are potentially useful and worth remembering. The special card near the back of the book is where you put them all in one easy-to-find place and categorize those ideas – sorting them into a “hot bin”, “chilly bin”, “recycle bin” or “loony bin.” Ours tended to fall mostly in the “Loony bin,” but what the hey.

Of course, the magic happens after you get back, and as Ed suggests, “Invest 60 Minutes for a Year of Ideas.” Follow the step-by-step directions in the back of the book and you can turn all those great ideas and insights into specific actions that will make even the worst rubber chicken you ate at the convention worth it all.

What’s in a notebook? What’s on the Internet? What’s in an idea? They’re all just means to an end. Knowing what tool to use is the first step—knowing how to use that tool is where you get the payoff. Don’t use a saw to hammer a nail. The Conference Navigator Guide is the right tool for the convention job — especially if that job is to find, use and keep your great ideas.

Sheryl Kay

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