Conference season is upon us! If you’re like most event pros, you’re probably settling back into the office after a memorable experience at Catersource + The Special Event. Whether you sat in as many sessions as possible or you spent more time on the tradeshow floor, there’s a good chance you came home with new knowledge and new connections. But if you want to maximize your attendance, you have homework to do!
If you’re in catch-up mode from your time off, you might think about saving your conference follow-ups for next week. But time is of the essence, as Wedding Venue Map’s Shannon Tarrant explains.
“The day after a conference needs to have a few hours blocked to create an action plan of the takeaways you want to implement,” she affirms. “If you pre-block that time in your calendar before leaving, you're more likely to achieve it.”
But once you block off time for post-conference reflection, what should you actually do? Here are a few action tasks to help you make the most of your educational investment.
Revisit your key takeaways
Sitting in session after session can leave you experiencing information overload. Design trends, company culture, flavor pairings, money management, client journeys—it can all blend together into an amalgam of knowledge.
But avoiding the overwhelm could mean letting your valuable takeaways languish and forgetting all of the ‘a-ha’ moments from your time onsite.
“Don't wait too long to go over your notes or action items,” stresses Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss. “The longer you wait, the less likely you are to make any changes or put into play some of the items you learned to better your business.”
Whenever possible, Tarrant encourages attendees to “get all your notes and details organized before you get home. Sort through the notes and pull the action items onto your task list with realistic deadlines.”
If you haven’t had a chance to sift through your notes, put it on the to-do list for your post-conference time block. You don’t have to worry about implementing everything immediately; instead, focus on extracting the critical info and creating a plan to address each new idea or strategy.
Reach out to new contacts
You walk away from a conference with more than just knowledge—you also have plenty of new connections to nurture when you get back to the office.
“Your work isn’t done after the handshake,” reminds Jacqueline Vizcaino of Tinted Events Design and Planning. “When following up with contacts, personalize your message and mention something specific about your conversation at the event. This will show them that you truly remember their name and your discussion.”
Sheils agrees, encouraging conference attendees to “send an email, handwritten note, or small gift telling them how much you enjoyed meeting them and that you'd like to stay in touch. You would be surprised how few people follow up with those they meet, and they could really turn into great resources in the future or even good friends.”
And if you want to establish a relationship with a speaker, Vizcaino says the key is leveraging available conference materials, like white papers, presentations, videos, and other resources.
“Refer to these resources when crafting your follow-up message or responding to contacts,” she recommends. “The greatest compliment you could give an educator is to share a win, however small. What matters most is you did the work.”
Of course, building a meaningful relationship requires more than one touchpoint! Continue following up with your new contacts and supporting their businesses—you’ll see the energy returned in no time.
Prepare for your next conference
As you’re working through your post-conference to-dos, look for ways to streamline your approach for next time—whether it’s later this year or the next Catersource + The Special Event conference (Austin, TX, February 12-15, 2024). A proactive system lets you soak in every moment of the experience while keeping you organized from start to finish.
For example, Tarrant suggests pre-writing your follow-up emails ahead of time. “Before attending the conference, have a draft ready to go that you can personalize for each person you connect with,” she says. It’s as easy as saving one of the follow-up emails you’ve already sent and turning it into a template for later!
Kevin Dennis of Fantasy Sound Event Services and WeddingIQ advises getting most of your calendar in order before you touch the ground. “One of the best parts about attending a conference is the networking, right? Make sure that you’re also working in plenty of time for cocktail hours, lunches, and dinners so that you can maximize the face-time with those you wouldn’t normally see. Connect with people you know will be at the conference and offer to meet up, even if it’s for a quick coffee. Keep your calendar open and be flexible!”
Another idea: Develop an easy-to-use system for capturing leads and saving contact information for new connections. It could be as straightforward as creating a dedicated contact list or spreadsheet. Or, if you want an even simpler solution, invest in a digital business card solution that lets you collect and store contact information quickly.
You only get from a conference what you put into it. So if you want to get the best from your experience, dedicate time and intention to your conference follow-up. A few hours can turn your takeaways into meaningful actions that will transform your event business!
Lead photo courtesy WASIO Faces