Many of the 1,200 plus people who attended the National Speakers Association Conference (#NSA10) are probably feeling reminiscent of a fraternity party Jagermeister induced hang-over this morning (not that I would know that feeling first hand).
Even those who did not go to the Hotel Lobby Bar every night or hit the Foundation Gala or the Cigar Peg Party (and Cigar Peg Hospitality Suite) are exhausted from the information overload that the program provided.
From Friday through Tuesday many of the nations top professional speakers and others attended non-stop keynote presentations, break out sessions, "Ideation Sessions", and VIP parties in and around the Marriott World Center in Orlando. Meeting, greeting, and networking prevailed in the crowded hallways.
(Everyone else who reads this... imagine 1200 professional speakers in one place. There is not a lot of silence in those hallways!).
But without follow up, all the mixing and mingling is a networking failure. Missed opportunities to cultivate relationships are a waste for people who put in the effort to meet interesting people in the first place.
Lifelong friendships can be formed at these types of events, but giving someone a business card does not make them part of your network!
One of the main reasons sighted for attending a multi-day conference like NSA is the "networking opportunities", and yet most people are horrible at the execution of creating meaningful connections after such an event.
I regularly present a program at industry conferences called "The Conference Networking Catalyst" (I did not do this presentation at this conference). When I do this program the final piece is always about "Following Up".
Meeting someone once a year only at a conference is not a real relationship. To establish a powerful connection you must continue the conversations, get to know each other better, and become a resource. To be part of someone's network you must matter in their life.
If you want to succeed in establishing this type of relationship with someone you met at NSA (Or any industry conference) you must reach out to them before too much time passes away.
YOU must own the follow up.
While not everyone you met will become an ongoing and mutually beneficial contact, some of the people can have a future impact on your life. To increase the chances that they will remember you down the line you have to let them know you want to keep in touch.
It takes seven to ten meaningful interactions with people before they become a part of your network, thus you cannot assume that a few drinks at an out-of-town conference will bring them to think of you again after they return home.
Here are five tips to enhance your follow up:
1. Be timely. You must make contact within one week. If you wait too long it will appear as if they were not important enough to make it to the top of your "To Do List".
2. Stand out from the crowd. Most people will never follow up, so doing this will make you more memorable. Email is fine, but also very common. Most people get hundreds of emails a day. I suggest sending a short handwritten note to let them know you enjoyed meeting them and are hopeful your paths will cross again in the future.
3. Do not send a Facebook or LinkedIn request immediately. The ways in which people use these tools differ. I do not link to anyone in these two social media communities that I have not had a meal, a beer or a cup of coffee with (meaning approximately and hour long conversation). I call this "The Coffee, Meal or Beer Rule" - and the beer part does not count if we were both in a group setting in the bar!
Ask the other person if you can connect with them in these venues before sending the invite.
4. Read their blog and leave a comment. People who write blogs appreciate comments. To have a new friend from NSA chime in on their discussion would be appreciated. If you read their blog regularly you will get a better understanding of them as a person and lead you to reasons to reach out in the future.
5. Not everyone will want to be your friend. Sometimes there is no "there there" in establishing friendships. If the other person is not reciprocating your efforts to establish an ongoing connection, do not be offended.... just move on. Not everyone will become part of our networks. You have to look for people with whom you really had a "spark", and then work on building the fire. No spark, no fire!
CHALLENGE.... Before this Friday reach out to five people you met this week at NSA, by email or handwritten note (handwritten not is best!), and tell them why you enjoyed meeting them. Avoid having to look back in six months and realize that you killed your networking success by neglecting to follow up.
Have A Great Day.
PS- Thank you to everyone I met at the conference and to all my old friends who I got to see again. I am honored to be part of this community of Speaking Professionals. My connection to NSA is an important part of my career!
*Disclaimer, part of this post came from my March 17. 2010 post immediately following the SXSW Conference.... but the information is still relevant to anyone who attends a multi-day conference.