AHH, that was a great conference (or symposium or site visit)! Obviously you’ll want to submit your trip expenses for reimbursement right away, but I suggest that you also write and submit a trip report, even if your boss doesn’t require one. A good trip report does more than simply list the things you did, it can also show how valuable the trip was, share knowledge across your department or company, and even justify the cost of sending you out again. It can serve as a record of things you’ve learned and brought back to teach your colleagues (very useful at salary review time!) and can be source reference for new technologies you want to buy or techniques you want to implement. How can you create such a magical document? Here are a few tips that may help:
Do it now. While I don’t think it’s realistic or necessary to expect to turn in a report from a week-long trip on the day that you return, time is of the essence here. Right it down while it’s fresh in your mind, before you get sucked back into the daily distractions that make up most jobs.
But take your time. Make the effort to organize your thoughts in a way that others can follow easily. Go through the business cards you’ve collected and any reference material or flyers you may have brought back to make sure you don’t leave out anything important. If you’re going to be referring to a company or other online resource, do a quick check to make sure you have the right URL and that the pages you point to say what you think they do. While you don’t need an entire bibliography, you will save both you and your readers time in the long run including valid hot links to relevant pages, books, or other resources in your trip report.
Use relevant headings. Yes, I get it, you have tons of notes in order by day and time. Or maybe you have your contacts carefully sorted alphabetically. But for this report, sort things into the categories that your manager wants to see. Depending on your company, this might mean sorting by, say, the product lines that will benefit from each recommendation, or by the departments this new knowledge will help, or the phase of project plan for which you’ve learned a new process. Show that you understand what your manager wants to see.
Summarize, but be explicit. You certainly don’t need to include detailed descriptions of every meal or the environmental conditions in the meeting rooms (unless that was the purpose of your trip), but you do want to include enough detail that someone reading your report can see how you reached any conclusions or recommendations you make. Include relevant background, maybe even some context of what your company situation is, or what you went to the event looking for. You want it to be complete, but not too long. A good goal is 1 – 3 pages, depending on how long your trip was.
Share what you learned. This is obvious if you’re attending a class, and easily defined if you’re attending conference sessions, but it’s also important to include things you may have learned in unofficial capacities. For example, you may have had lunch with someone who shared their solution to a problem your company has been having. Or you maybe noticed that the hotel’s approach to signage might actually help with your department’s layout. Definitely include any trends you notice (such as “The three most popular sessions were about print documents making a big comeback” or “Several people were reporting on why such-and-such a process DOESN’T work well”). If you talked with any vendors or exhibitors, you may have brought back demo CDs or whitepapers. These are all valuable things to document and share.
Share what you think. Go ahead and make recommendations, or express your opinions on what you saw and heard and learned. The straight facts and raw content are fine, but without your judgment and opinion, without your ability to relate the topics to your own work environment, they might as well be reading the program or proceedings. List out your favorite things, or least favorite, that you learned about. Draw parallels where you can.
Focus on value to your company (not just to you). For example, let’s say you attended a class about a new encoding technique that everyone’s buzzing about, and now you’re fairly confident you understand why its so popular. Instead of saying “I learned about DITA (or XML or whatever)”, say “This new technique will reduce our line count by X%” or “If we implement this new technique, we can process our current files X times faster” or maybe even “I don’t think this new technique applies in our situation, we don’t need to spend money on training for it.” Incorporate the BUSINESS reasons (money, time, other resources) as well as the technology reasons.