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Choral Tech: Surviving (and Thriving!) at Conference

National Conference time is upon us! For those of us who love conference time as an opportunity to recharge our inspiration, add new tools and literature to our toolboxes, and meet or reconnect with our peers, it's an exciting week ahead. It's also an exhausting one-- It often seems like everything in conferences boils down to three categories:
  1. Things I will absolutely remember and carry into my next rehearsal session immediately. It seems like my brain is only capable of holding about three of these for the entire conference.
  2. Things I absolutely want to use, but will promptly forget about. These will inevitably come back to me in a discussion, reading or middle-of-the-night moment 8 months later when I say "Why did I forget about that?"
  3. Things that I need to dismiss entirely to remove from the clutter of my mind.
In order to help you maximize #1 and #2, I offer 5 ways to relax, capture as much as you need to, and build your network while hopefully saving some energy for the end of the session festivities, like the Choral Cabernet student scholarship fundraiser. As always, please share your tips at the end! Unless otherwise specified, these are all options which can work with any Android or Apple smartphone or tablet.
#1 - Make a Plan

Get your concerts, "can't miss" sessions and anything else that you're planning on getting to in your calendar now. Use the location field to remind you which building, room, etc. so that you can get to the right place. Not only can you get helpful reminders about where to get to next, this will come in very handy in a couple of the later steps.
#2 - Get your Identity in Order

You're going to meet lots of new people that you'll want to keep in touch with, so being able to exchange information quickly and easily is important. Check out an app like Bump which lets you pass your contact information (or a colleague's) to another person just by bumping your phones or tablets together. At the bare minimum, make sure that you've got whichever e-mail you like to use for your professional communications and a phone number ready to bump. One additional step that I highly recommend is to sign up for a Skype account now. Skype is a free video-conferencing software which can run on a variety of platforms. When you make new connections, Skype is a great option to communicate face-to-face with people as well as offering text chatting which is faster and often more convenient than e-mailing back and forth on a long conversation thread. If you have a Skype account, you may want to share that with your new connections as well.
#3 - Evernote

Get Evernote. A light-weight note-taking app, Evernote is packed with free things that make conference life easier. Remember how you added all of your events to the calendar? Evernote will automatically label your notes with the name of the session so that you can get right to the jotting. You can record audio notes directly into Evernote (although make sure that you honor the policies regarding recording in concert sessions -- i.e. Don't do it). You can attach pictures and files to your notes as well. Finally, you can tag the notes across categories and folders. If you are in a reading session that might apply to one of your ensembles more than the other, use tags to identify a note as belonging to a particular group.
Finally, Evernote syncs your notes between all of your devices automatically. If you install it on both your computer and your phone, then your phone notes will automatically be copied to your computer "over the air."
#4 - Picture and Scan

Take pictures-- tons of them! When you enter a session, take a picture of the name of the session so that you know where you are later on. If there's a PowerPoint in the demonstration, don't write it all down -- take pictures of what's on the screen when something interesting comes up (and when you're done, ask the presenter if they can e-mail the presentation to you-- people are often happy to do so). When walking the floor in the exhibit hall, take pictures of interesting products/descriptions rather than grabbing the papers which you'll likely lose/throw away later. Again, depending on your system, if you've created an entry in your calendar for what you're doing at that point in time, your pictures can get tagged automatically with that event.
OCR apps are designed to recognize text in an image and convert it to an editable document. In other words, if you take a picture of a conference handout, they will scan the document and save it to your device in a way that you can use down the road. It's a great way to make your notes "live" to copy, edit or use later on, and keeps you from dragging around more paper than you need to during the day. Your shoulders will get sore enough from the reading sessions!
#5 - Debrief
At the end of the day, you've collected lots of notes, pictures, scans and business contacts on your device. Before you hit the pillow to recharge for tomorrow, take a few minutes and organize all of these artifacts from the day. Create logical folders in Evernote, and make a note for whatever sessions or topics you were interested in. Attach the pictures you took to the applicable notes. Make any notes about people to contact for follow-up or further information ("Who was the person talking about Mormon Choral Organizations?"). Adjust your calendar for tomorrow if you need it so that your automatic tagging will help as much as possible, and capture any lingering reflections/thoughts running through your brain.
Congrats-- you've captured anything that you found useful during a busy conference day. Now get some rest, and get ready to do it again!