Every year, executives from all walks of life gather at one conference... or a hundred. Networking and 'schmoozing' is an essential part of conferences, but it can often lead to a large stack of business cards in your desk drawer and nothing more. How do you keep the people you met as connections instead of just another business card? How do you keep the ideas, knowledge and momentum from the conference alive?
Here are five steps you can follow to make the most out of your conferences:
Organize Your Contacts
You'll meet a great deal of amazing people at every conference you go, but let's face it, not all of them will help you push your career or business forward. Prioritize those who do (or will) in several categories:
1. Follow up for career
2. Follow up for side projects
3. Follow up for industry purposes
4. Follow up for personal growth
After you organize your contacts, there might be some people who did not make the list. That's OK. It's not personal! As any business person will tell you, it's about the 'right here, right now.' You need to maximize those connections that will help you and/or your business grow.
As you meet people left and right, be sure to take a moment to write down on their business card where you met them - whether at a panel, networking session or just mingling around, and jot down a few notes to remind yourself what you talked about. It'll come in handy once the conference hoopla has passed.
Establish an Initial Relationship and Connect on Social Media
To ensure your business cards don't sit somewhere in your office collecting dust, use them to find those new contacts on social media. Send them an initial invite -- LinkedIn and Twitter are the outlets most often used to network or just keep in touch. When you reach out, it's always good practice to send them a brief note including a reminder of how (or where) you met and, if possible, a reference to what you talked about.
Don't send a request alone and assume they'll remember you or what you talked about. Just like you, they were busy working the room, so a little reminder goes a long way in establishing a new connection - not to mention, it's the polite thing to do.
I mentioned how LinkedIn and Twitter are the two most used tools to connect with someone after a conference. What about Facebook? Should I 'friend' someone and make them privy to my family and friends? That's entirely up to you, there's no right or wrong way to go about this. Some people like to keep their Facebook profiles limited to their family and friends for a slew of reasons. That's OK. However, if you feel it's appropriate, then go ahead and 'Like' their organization or project's page.
Word to the wise, before adding your newfound connections to a database; ask their permission to add them to your email lists, newsletters, etc. No one likes to receive unsolicited emails or be added to lists without being asked. Just because someone gives you their business card, it's not a green light to start receiving unsolicited emails. That's just rude, not to mention unprofessional.
Move The Conversation Online
Since you've already created groups for your new contacts and decided what will be the purpose of your new connection (to advance your career, collaboration, etc.), your goal for connecting with them will help shape your conversation and the structure of your relationship.
As a frequent keynote speaker and conference attendee myself, people ask me, how long should I wait to follow up with someone I met with at the conference? My answer is within one week of meeting them. The post-conference 'glow' might take a few days to wind down, and with travel and other potential commitments, that one-week time frame is key to developing that relationship. If you wait too long, the window of opportunity may close and that great lead you thought you had will be doing business with someone else. You snooze, you lose! Don't be caught snoozing!
Agree To Meet Up Again
When you're at a conference, your work, family, social life gets put on hold. All your efforts will be concentrated in meeting and greeting new people and making new connections. But once you return to normal life, your busy schedule will once again be front and center. Don't let these connections fall by the wayside, do take time to meet up with your conference connections. Knowing that you each have busy schedules and limited time to connect, be prepared to make the most out of that short time together. Here are a few pointers:
1. Craft a brief sentence about yourself, who you are, what you do and what you are looking to learn about. As I mentioned before, time is money and your window of opportunity might be 30 minutes. There's no time for your entire life story!
2. Be genuine and positive - Don't use the time you have complaining about trivial things or people you might have in common. Networking is not a good time to vent your frustrations, besides; you never know who their connections are. As the old saying goes, 'be careful whose toes you step on, they might be connected to the ass you'll have to kiss tomorrow'
3. Prepare a few questions in advance - Come to the table with a few items you'd like to discuss
4. Ask about further follow up and when you might be able to connect next - They just might be at the next event you'll be attending
5. Follow up with a thank you email or note. Being polite never goes out of style
Be Human. You do you!
Because we're all human, yes, even me, you will misplace a business card or that napkin you hastily wrote someone's contact information. You'll be busy playing catch-up at the office and up to your eyeballs in backed-up emails, so it's understandable that you might not follow up as quickly as you originally wanted. Do send them a note regardless assuring them you still want to connect with them. Chances are they're just as swamped as you are and treading water. They'll understand and they'll appreciate your honesty and interest. Your efforts will pay off in the long run.