Industry conferences are a fountain of education, connections, and inspiration — there’s no doubt about that. However, they are also a whirlwind of several days with never enough time to do everything you want. A successful experience will have you heading home with plenty of notes and ideas, as well as a pocket-full of business cards.
But, that’s not when the magic stops. In fact, the real beauty of the conference experience comes after everyone has gotten home and settled back into their offices. That’s when you get to take advantage of all of the exciting new connections you made while away. That’s when you form those lifelong friendships and advantageous business partnerships that you simply couldn’t do during your busy conference schedule.
So, whether you’ve just gotten back from Catersource or you’ve got your sights on a conference later this year, here are a few tips for nurturing relationships post-conference.
Make a pre-conference networking plan
Indeed, one of the best ways to maximize your networking follow-up is to meet the right people. And, if there are specific people you want to meet, you need to plan in advance. Review the conference materials and identify the speakers that you’d love to connect with, then figure out when and where their sessions are so you can attend. If there are companies at the tradeshow that you want to engage, reserve a slot of time for networking on the floor.
There’s no doubt that you’ll have a pen and paper for taking notes in educational sessions, so keep those on hand while you’re networking. When you meet people and receive business cards, jot down a note that will help you to jog your memory when you get home. For example, if you meet someone in the coffee line during lunch, mark down “coffee line” on their business card. That way, you won’t end up at home with a pile of business cards and no idea who any of them are.
Be as timely as possible
As they say, the early bird catches the worm — if you want to get noticed after a conference, you need to get your emails out ASAP before people get buried in work again. The sooner you can connect after the conference, the more context your follow-up will have. I’m not saying you need to send emails out from the plane (although, by all means!), but make it a point to do so within 24 hours of arriving home. At the very least, connect with them on social media to make an early impression.
It’s not just about your initial outreach; you also need to continue that relationship via email and social media. Check-in with them often and see what they are up to, and how you can contribute to the conversation. If you see they’re traveling to your area, see if they can meet you for a coffee! If you’re traveling near someone, let them know you’ll be in their neighborhood and ask for some local recommendations.
Attending a conference requires an investment of your time and money, so you naturally want to get the most out of it as possible. By building connections and nurturing those relationships, you can take full advantage of all of the networking opportunities presented at a conference.
Kevin Dennis is the editor of WeddingIQ and the owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services, a full-service event company based in Livermore, California. Dennis is the current international president for WIPA.