In my previous post, I discussed how I prepared for an on-site reporting and same-day summary-preparation job at a day-long conference in downtown DC. I covered note-taking tools, audio recording tools, and such easily-overlooked aspects like advance work, a suitable typing and recording surface, and suitable cables.
In this post, I’ll continue by discussing my experiences on the day of the conference itself. Just FYI, this will be the shortest of the three posts. Because it builds on the work done in advance of the event and it prepares you for the work to be done after the event, there isn’t as much to cover. But its length isn’t a reflection of its importance; it is the center of the whole effort.
Before the day of the event, be sure to take the time to map and time the route and the parking, unless you have done the trip before — and even then, it’s probably worth double-checking for peace of mind. Before leaving, check in with your favorite traffic-monitoring app to see if there are any road closures, accidents, or other obstacles that could delay you. All of this may seem like overcaution, but remember: as a freelancer, you are always representing your business to your clients. Courtesies like punctuality convey your professionalism. They’re hiring you to solve their problems, not to hear about yours.
So now you’ve arrived at the meeting site. If you’ve followed the tips in my previous post, you’ve already scoped out the room and know where you’re going to set up. Let’s get started!
During the Conference
Prior to the start of the meeting, once you’ve made your greetings and tended to any necessary housekeeping, set up your table and chair at the location that you decided on earlier. Check for sight lines and audio lines. Do you have a clear view of the speaker area (podium, stage, head of the table, etc.)? Now think about what it will look and sound like when the room will be full. Will your view be blocked by people sitting in front of you? Will side conversations interfere with getting clean audio? Reposition yourself as required to ensure that you will be able to see and hear clearly when the event begins.
Getting Set Up
Once you’ve unpacked your note-taking and recording gear, take a few minutes to test everything out to make sure it works. Run and tape down the power cables, if appropriate. And make sure the outlets are providing power to your gear. It’s easy to overlook this, and to assume the outlets are live — only to glance at your battery indicator halfway through the day and discover that you are down to 20%. (If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you’re lucky!) If there is wifi, get the password if required, and be sure to test it. Remember, once the audience shows up, speeds will probably drop; plan accordingly.
If you’re recording the event, check the audio levels. Set the gear to record, head over to where the speaker(s) will be, and speak a few words at various volumes. At the event in DC, the client was recording video, and I was fortunate to be able to test my recording gear as they tested their own microphone levels.
Use the agenda to prepare a sectional outline in your notes. You can always adjust it later as warranted once the meeting is underway. At the DC conference, for example, a couple of last-minute speaker changes caused some minor changes to the schedule.
When the Meeting is Underway
Perhaps the most important rule for taking notes in a meeting is to save frequently. If you have auto-backup (either to the device, to a thumb drive, or to cloud storage if wifi is available), consider supplementing it with regular manual saves — it’s a good habit to develop. Pauses, slide transitions, speaker changes, and other natural breaks are good times to do this. Consider also emailing interim drafts to yourself as a final backup option, if you have access to wifi.
As you’re writing, insert natural section and sub-section headings as they suggest themselves. Sometimes these will diverge from the agenda, and you can use them to organize your notes later when you are editing and preparing the final product.
I like to break up the audio into separate files by speaker or session. This results in smaller files that are easier to upload or transfer, and it also minimizes the extent of the loss if the file is accidentally lost or deleted. If time and circumstances permit, play a section or two back to test the audio quality (use headphones if necessary).
In addition to looking after your technology, don’t forget to take care of yourself too. Extended fast typing can be tiring; give your hands a break whenever possible. Keep a bottle of water handy throughout the day, and stay hydrated. During breaks, get up and walk around, and chat with people. Make sure your seat is comfortable.
At the end of the event, be sure to save your text and audio files. And then save them again, just to be sure. Be sure to pack all your gear; you don’t want to forget something that you will need later when you are editing your notes into the final product.
That’s it for the on-site portion of a typical reporting and summary-preparation project. Like I said at the outset, this is a pretty short post — even if the conference itself lasted a whole day, as mine did. But if I forgot to mention anything that you think is important, or if you have any questions about specific aspects, feel free to raise them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer.