Business conferences are a great way to discover the latest trends, gain knowledge and to network with your peers. The connections you make at an industry event can lead to new opportunities and have a material impact on your career.
However, a short conversation and an exchange of business cards does not make anyone part of your network. There is a huge difference between someone you have met once, and someone with whom you have cultivated a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship.
To be sure that you will have meaningful contact after a conference you must make plans on how you will reach out to the people you met. Sending a generic email blast to everyone you encountered does not have the power of a customized follow up. Remember, each person is an individual who wants to feel significant.
Here are three tips to increase your chances of cultivating a relationship after a conference:
1. Agree to the next steps. When you have a great discussion at a business conference, do not leave the next conversation up to chance. Talk to the person about how much you enjoyed meeting them and discuss the purpose for why you would be following up with them. Get agreement as to the next step. If you are going to send them information or schedule a call, let them know when and how you will be making contact. If you tell them you will be calling in two weeks they will be expecting your call (then be sure to take action and call them!).
2. Send a note. I suggest you go "old-school" and send a handwritten note telling the person you enjoyed meeting them. Many people receive over 150 emails each day, so your email may get lost in the mix. It certainly will not stand out. A phone call is nice, but reaching people at a convenient time can be tough. Handwritten notes show that you were willing to put in a little extra thought to your follow up contact than the average person. If they met 25 people at the conference (most will not follow up at all) and received nine emails and one note via snail-mail... who do you think they will remember as the end of the week?
3. Find a way to help them. Those you just met are more concerned with their own needs than they are with yours. People often meet others and hope their new contacts will refer them opportunities, but never send referrals to those they meet. Set the tone for your new friendship by letting them know you are a giver. We live in a world with far to many who are seeking to take. Make beneficial industry introductions or find other ways to show you are a resource. Create the habit of asking people about the challenges they face in their career, and you will often find easy paths to be of service to their needs.
If you want to create ongoing connections with the people you meet at industry conferences you must "own the follow up". Do not expect friendships to materialize magically. Your efforts to forge relationships will not always lead to a person becoming part of your network. However, if you do nothing then you can be assured that they will be a person you met once at a conference.
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