Why I Used Mindmapping at CLUS – Until This Year

By certskills May 24, 2018 09:05

Taking notes at #CLUS, even planning different methods to use in different CLUS venues, and with the discipline to make myself take notes instead of getting lazy, has improved how much I learn at the show and how much I still remember 3-6 months after the show. Plus, those same principals apply to any kinds of learning you need to do.

Twice now in recent years, I’ve taken a hard look at how to go about taking notes at CLUS and in the office. The first examination of notetaking was around 2011, with the most recent round still happening here in 2018. Today’s post reprises the notetaking options I considered those years ago within a CLUS filter. The goal: to get you to consider taking notes at CLUS, and let you hear why different tools did and didn’t work for me at the show. You might even prefer some of the tools I considered back in 2011!

In the 2nd post in the series (due in a few days), I’ll tell you my thoughts after re-examining note taking this year. At CLUS this year, I plan to try two new notetaking tools.

Attending CLUS is Like Doing the Orlando Parks (All of Them) in One Day

First, for those who do not take notes at breakout sessions at Cisco Live, let me take a brief moment to make the case. That case revolves around getting the most out of a conference that gives us way more to do than we could do – like trying to catch all the Orlando theme parks in a day.

  • If you attended only the organized parts of CLUS, you would need 12-13 hours a day.
  • Beyond the organized activities, several other related events occur. Most attendees end up at dinner with co-workers, or as guests at dinner with their Cisco or partner account teams. Several different Cisco Business Units hold invitation-only events that you might get invited to because of whom you work for, or sometimes by just asking questions at the Cisco booth at the show. So even in those few off hours, you can usually find something to do.
  • Even super-introverts like me end up doing something most of the waking day!
  • Breakout sessions range from 45 minutes to two hours, and you might want to learn something there, instead of using that time to recover.
  • Will you remember much of what you heard that week if you don’t take notes while running hard all the live long day for 4-5 days straight?

Taking notes helps you learn what you hear in the breakout sessions. But don’t take my word for it – just google “notetaking benefits” or check out this one reference.  Notetaking keeps your brain more focused on the talk, even when you are tired. If you never open the notes again, you learn more in lecture if actively taking notes. The benefits go up if you review the notes later even once. Notetaking makes you think more during the session, which helps you come up with better questions to ask vendors at the World of Solutions at the show.


Be a CLUS Superstar: Take Notes, Any Notes!

I believe that if you move from a habit of not taking notes, to taking any kind of notes, you will learn more at CLUS.

However, why not take the best notes for you? I asked myself that kind of question about seven years ago. Next, I’ll take you through where I landed when I first began to take notes at CLUS. You may want to use some of the methods I considered! Also, by looking back, I can better explain why I decided to spend time this year looking at new note-taking tools.


Reasons to Not Use Laptop – from 6 Years Ago

Back six or seven years ago, I decided to change my approach to CLUS and other conferences. In my case, I own the company that I work for, so I can think of every expense as either good for the business or coming out of my back pocket. At $5-6K per CLUS for conference fees and travel, I decided to work harder at getting as much as possible out of the show. Some of my strategies:

  • Take notes at every sit-down-and-listen conference session (breakout, general, DevNet, etc.).
  • Use an audio notes phone app and take audio notes (for speed) after every few conversations at the World of Solutions (WoS).
  • Come to the show with questions to ask at WoS for different vendors, meet the engineer, etc.
  • Review the notes at least once within 3 months after the show.

Taking notes at CLUS creates a bit of a challenge because of the personal space. Some CLUS rooms have tables with chairs, allowing some elbow room. However, many rooms have chairs with no tables, with the chairs interlocked, with no elbow room. The reasons make sense – it’s a massive show, and if they gave more room between chairs, they would have to allow fewer people in the room or rent more and more space, and the event is already too large for most US convention centers. So, we often sit should-to-shoulder.

The elbow room issue changed how I took notes at CLUS these past years – in particular, it ruled out using a laptop. While some sessions and spaces might give you room to use a laptop, others do not, and I wanted to make sure to be able to take notes in the same tools and storage locations for all my CLUS notes. So, no laptop tools for me.


Reasons to Not Use Pen and Paper – from 6 Years Ago

Pen and paper got a serious look back at first serious look at note taking for CLUS all those years ago. I do still find it practical to use a pocket-sized notebook and pen with me at the shows. However, taking more significant notes, using a larger notebook for notes from breakouts with pen and paper, did not work well for me. Why? Well, taking the notes worked well. The problems happened later, in the review and reference stage. In particular:

Taking notes (pen and paper, or any method) gets you to about 1/3 of the benefit of notetaking.

If taking the notes get you 1/3rd of the benefit, what’s the rest? Well, it’s the review that happens later, and then the ability to reference the notes later, at which point you can refine and revise your understanding.


Taking notes in a notebook got in the way of the final two stages. First, the notes were all in one notebook about CLUS. I could have scanned or taken photos of the pages, and moved them to Evernote or Onenote etc., but I never took the time. It was just a bit laborious to try. Because I never converted the paper notes to electronic form, it reduced my chances of ever reviewing the notes (because I might not find them) and significantly reduced the chances I would reference the notes when a random thought came to mind. Those last two steps work best when the notes are in electronic form. So, I looked further for tools that either made the conversion to a digital image much easier, or a tool where I took the notes in electronic form (but without a laptop, for the reasons mentioned earlier).


My Choice: Using Mind Maps These Last 6 Years at CLUS

Mind mapping is a note-taking technique. You can create mind maps with pen and paper, but the technique lends itself to using electronic tools. You record short phrases or single words and show them in a tree-like structure of relationships. Mind maps let you think in outline form, but also to draw more complex relationships, focus on big ideas, remember terms, and with electronic tools, add/refine/revise your ideas. Phone/tablet mind map apps make for great note taking tools – here’s an image of a mind map I created at CLUS 2015 in San Diego at the DevNet Zone using MindNode Pro on an iPad:


While useful, takes notes at CLUS with mind mapping software has drawbacks as well. First, it allows sparse notes, but not detailed notes, in part because of my slow speed with tapping with my thumbs. Maybe someone who grew up thumbing on their phone would be much faster! But mind maps on a tablet still gave me the best compromise of features. So, for these last 5-6 years at CLUS, my strategy has been:

  • Use an iPad with mind mapping software
  • Focus on capturing big ideas and terms
  • Focus on relationships
  • It’s ok to not take every thought down into the notes
  • Store all maps in a cloud storage location so you can see them at any time from any device
  • If your notes from one 2-hour session help you remember 3-4 more facts than if you had not taking notes, then it was worth the effort.

Using a smaller tablet (iPad mini) really helped. I’ve found that mind mapping has worked really well at the show. But I’m going to try something new this year!


Winter 2018: Time to Reconsider!

This past winter, I reconsidered the plan. Why? I love Cornell Notes.

Mind mapping and Cornell notes are two of many different note-taking techniques. When elbow room is not an issue, and I am learning something in any depth, I almost always take Cornell notes. Cornell notes work great when you expect to want to synthesize and master the content you are studying. If you expect to later review, reference your notes, and make additional notes and revise your thinking, Cornell notes can work well for you.

To take Cornell notes, all you need is paper and pen(s). I prefer using colored pens: blue for terms, red for important ideas, green for code/config, purple for headings, etc. However, you can use a single color and use symbols for those features as well. Here’s an example page from some recent notes for CLUS On-Demand session BRKCRS-2810, which I was watching now so I could watch the subsequent sessions live at CLUS18.


Cornell Notes at CLUS 18 – But How?

This winter, I set about to investigate better options for taking Cornell notes. I have found two options that work great at the office. The question remains:

Can you take good Cornell notes within the elbow room constraints at CLUS?

I plan to run experiments with two different tools at CLUS 2018. Next post, in a few days, I’ll give you the tour of each of the two new tools I intend to try. Later this summer after the show, I’ll circle back after the show to tell you how it went. I want to wait until after CLUS, and after I’ve done some review and revision of the notes, to talk more about how each tool worked. More in a few days!

A Final Look at CCNA's 20th Anniversary
#CLUS 2018 Note-taking Plan: Everlast Rocketbook and Livescribe 3
By certskills May 24, 2018 09:05
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May 24, 2018 8:24 pm

Nice Post – makes me want to be better at taking notes. I find that as I type on keyboard more and write less my writing is getting harder to read later on. I am losing the muscle memory of writing.

January 13, 2019 10:20 pm

So what happened with the Rocketbook vs Livescribe showdown?