Conference summaries are written for a variety of reasons. For many educators, for instance, attending conferences helps them earn professional development credits. To receive credit, attendees will need to provide evidence of what they learned, and they will often be asked to specify how this knowledge might be applied to their jobs. A brief write up, or a conference summary, might be required in order to get those credits.
While conference summaries can also refer to documents meant for a broader audience, we are going to use the phrase here to refer to the post-conference write-ups meant more for reflection and personal application of what was learned. For ideas about conference write-ups intended for a different audience--for your co-workers or for publication for instance--see the box to the right, "Conference Reports."
A summary, while accurately reflecting the original author or presenter's message, can and should go on to focus on why these ideas were worth summarizing. For your SUA coursework, then, you could discuss how the ideas you chose might affect your leadership behavior or understanding of leadership moving forward.
The following are some ideas for getting your summary started and organized:
1. Think of the 3 ideas that most struck you, across the conference as a whole, and summarize those ideas.
You might think of more than three ideas, or think of more ideas as you go through the notes you took at the conference as well, but three is usually a good number to begin writing about. Exploring three ideas and why they are important will help you be detailed without being overwhelmed; you will be less tempted to overgeneralize, too, if you have to fully explain the significance of each of the three ideas before adding more ideas to your summary. These three ideas can also be used as your topic sentences or section headings to help you organize your thoughts and writing.
2. Think of what the presenters said, who they were, what data they shared, or what their institutional contexts were.
Focusing on these elements can help you think of what support to include in your summary or help you explain how you identified the ideas above as the most salient points you took away from their presentations.
3. Try to tie these ideas to your own context whenever possible.
For class assignments, you will be explaining why you thought these ideas were the most important. This might be because they speak to your experience or the needs of your population. Especially if this summary will go to your supervisor, or if it is meant to demonstrate that you have gained valuable knowledge that you are bringing back to your company, you want to include how you can put these ideas into practice at your own school or organization.
For strategies for writing a conference summary, or "experience report," check out Wade Wachs's blog post, How I Write a Conference Report. While Mr. Wachs is a manager at a technology firm, the concepts and examples he uses are just as relevant to an educational context.
Sometimes a conference attendee is responsible for more than his own learning: many schools can only afford to send one or two representatives from a department to a conference. In this situation, it is important for an attendee to take into account the needs of the department, and to prepare notes or a conference report that provides an overview of the most pertinent presentations to the organization. The report must also be detailed enough that those who read the report without the benefit of the author's presence can still understand the context and relevance of the information shared.
As a leader, you will often attend conferences on behalf of your department or school. It will be your responsibility to attend presentations or sessions of most interest to your group, which is why it is important to plan before attending (see "Conference Preparation").
Once you have attended the conference, you will need to share what you learned with your colleagues in a way that meets their needs. Here, reflective application (see "Conference Summaries") might not be as helpful since your colleagues' needs are going to be more dependent on the jobs they do at your institution or organization.
There are a number of ways to organize a conference report to share the information with your target audience:
1. You can create a presentation, including what you learned at the conference that is relevant to your department or school, and share it at a staff meeting.
4. You can list the presentations you attended, along with the presenter's contact information, and use bullet points to list the most salient information for each session.
3. You can organize the report based on the ideas you learned, using the presentation information as the evidence, like you generally would do for a paper.
4. You can write a memo report that can be shared via email or the institution's intranet, or physically distributed.
Whichever format you choose, you want to be sure to follow your institution's standards for group communication, and be sure the organization of the information is logical for those who will use it. Whenever possible, try to link the information to its relevance at your institution or organization.
For tips on what to include in a conference report, and examples of multimedia event write-ups, see community manager Leslie Hawthorn's blog post,
Some helpful hints:
Contact presenters if you would like to get a copy of their visuals or electronic versions of handouts.
Many presenters are happy to share their own PowerPoints, handouts, or reference lists. Some conferences even allow presenters to share their materials online.
If you share these materials with your colleagues, remind them that they cannot make someone else's work public without permission. If you use your school's intranet, be sure it is not searchable from the World Wide Web. Some of the presentations represent work that is in the process of being published, and you do not want to compromise the author's work.
Be sure to cite or give credit to all the presenters and/or institutions you write about in your summary or report.
You never know where your work will end up, and there is a good chance someone reading your report will not have the opportunity to check with you about presenter information. You want to be sure your reader has all the information needed to either connect with the original author, or to recognize which ideas in the report are yours and which came from the sessions you attended.