Getting the most out of a Tech Talk


In this post, I’m sharing my approach and some tips for getting the most information and ideas out of tech talks. This method really works for me, and I believe it could be helpful for others too. The goal isn’t to remember everything, but to retain just enough information that I can easily recall a few weeks later. More importantly, it’s about generating new ideas from the talks. Even if I don’t need the information right away, accumulating a few ideas each month can subconsciously influence my decisions years down the line.

Of course, if you’re at a lecture where you need to remember everything, this might not be for you. But if you’re spending an hour or two listening to someone talk while you’d rather be playing Elden Ring, you might as well make it worth your while (and possibly money).

Taking Notes (3 - 2 - 1)

Attending a tech conference should be fun, not a note taking marathon like I’m cramming for a competitive exam. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll forget most of what’s said by the next morning. If I walk away with just one useful idea, I consider it a win.

When it comes to note taking, I stick with the old-school method: pen and paper. No iPads, laptops, or phones for me. Writing by hand is slower and more deliberate, which actually helps with retention. Plus, it’s distraction-free and looks more respectful to the speaker if it’s an in-person event, even if you’re scribbling doodles. And let’s be real, how often do you actually revisit your digital notes?

This approach was inspired by an article I read a few years back. I couldn’t track it down again, but if anyone knows it, drop the link in the comments so I can give proper credit.

3 Takeaways

Capture exactly 3 distinct ideas presented by the speaker as your main takeaways.

  • At the end of the session, make sure you have exactly three key points noted. These should be distinct ideas shared by the speaker. For a one-hour session, three takeaways work well, but for longer talks, you might extend this to five.
  • This is more challenging than it seems. Often, I would find myself with more than three key points from a great talk. The goal is to exercise discipline and limit yourself to just three.
  • When I hear something attractive, I’ll often wait a few minutes before writing it down, anticipating more useful points later, otherwise I might run out of space. Often, I’ll identify a key idea that I really want to remember and jot it down, knowing I might miss out on something else later.
  • Alternatively, after about 20 minutes, if nothing more noteworthy has come up, I’ll go back and write down one of the earlier points. Delaying note taking for a few minutes forces me to recall and reiterate the previous points I considered important before writing them down.
  • It’s important to strike a balance between enjoying the talk in the moment and remembering points for the future.

2 Questions

Challenge yourself to think up 2 questions.

  • The essence of this approach is curiosity. Aim to generate two questions, regardless of how well the talk covers its bases. This keeps you actively engaged and makes you think deeply about the content shared. If one of your questions is answered midway through the talk, think of a new one.
  • During the presentation, curiously reflect on how the topics discussed relate to your personal and professional experiences. Is there anything that the presenter has shared which didn’t work for you before?
  • Try to get your questions answered, either through a Q&A session, speaking to the presenter, or from someone in your network. This deepens your understanding of the topic and also helps build your network.
  • Remember, there are no dumb questions. If they are actually dumb questions, it’s still good, because you’re outside your comfort zone and growing. However, since you have to work with the limit of two questions, make them count.

1 Idea

Brainstorm at least 1 Idea to implement after the presentation.

  • Shift from passive consumption to active creation by identifying at least one actionable idea. As you listen, or reflect after the talk, watch out for that one nugget of inspiration, a concept, technique, or approach that excites you. Evaluate how it aligns with your goals, challenges, or areas for improvement.
  • Once you’ve identified your idea, take the initiative to integrate it into your workflows or project strategies. Whether it’s testing a new methodology, adopting a fresh perspective, or implementing a specific tool, put your idea into action.
  • The goal is not just to attend the talk, but to use it to fuel your career.

Engage with the Speaker

If there’s a chance, I highly recommend talking to the speaker after the session. In my experience, the most memorable talks are the ones where I discussed my questions and other related topics with the presenter. These interactions often clear some doubts that were bugging me through the presentation and sometimes inspire me to research more. However, if the speaker is unavailable or there wasn’t sufficient time for a Q&A session, reaching out to someone knowledgeable within your network can also be incredibly helpful.

Healthy discussion and debate are invaluable for personal and professional growth. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if they seem trivial. I’ve found that seemingly obvious questions, posed by others, often lead to unexpected and insightful answers contrary to my understanding.


If you find a particular session interesting, bring it up with people in your daily conversations. They might have conflicting views you did not explore. Alternatively, you could set up a session with your work team and discuss the ideas and your key takeaways. You are forced to research about it and related topics if you need to teach someone else.


I should have prefaced this entire post by saying that I don’t follow this consistently. That’s not my goal either. This is a numbers game. If I attend or watch 30 talks in a year, and I followed this approach with only 20% of them, I’d have implemented 6 ideas more than I would’ve otherwise.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.