Thursday, February 09, 2012

Processing The Information After A Conference

Attending a multi-day industry conference can be a great way to meet new people, catch up with your peers, view the latest technologies, and gain valuable education that will help you in your career.  

I recently attended the National Speakers Association Winter Conference in Dallas, Texas.  I am an active member of NSA, and find their conferences and other educational events both informative and fun. I have developed close friendships with many people, and these "speaker buddies" have become trusted advisers who inspire and coach me all throughout the year.  Getting together with them at the conferences is a huge value in attending.

But a conference without content is just a party.  Most industry events are full of informative keynotes, breakouts, workshops and seminars.  The NSA Winter Conference was extraordinarily filled with valuable information and amazing people.  I take copious notes and try my best to learn as much as I can while at a conference.  I am also active in connecting with new people and visiting with old friends.  However, when the weekend is over I often have that feeling that I was drinking out of a fire hose. 

Processing all the information after a conference is paramount to maximizing the ROI.  It is not just the information in my notes, but also the hallway conversations, and the stack of business cards from new people with whom I can cultivate new relationships.  It can be overwhelming.

To be sure you get the most from your conference experience you must have a "Post Conference Routine" that allows you to digest the information, reflect on the event, and create action plans for success.

My routine includes:

1.  Sorting through the business cards.  Not everyone you meet will become part of your network.  Relationships are subjective and it takes a commitment from both parties to create a long-term and mutually beneficial connection.  I take notes on the back of the cards to remind myself of what we talked about in the initial conversation (I do this each night before going to sleep).  Once home (or on the plane) decide whom I desire to follow up with.  At a large multi-day event you can meet dozens of people.  If you try to follow up with everyone you will either never get around to the large task, or do so in a shallow "cut and paste" manner.

I create two stacks:  1).  Must follow up.  2). Nice to have the chance to follow up.  I make the first stack an "A-Level" priority within 48 hours of getting home.  I send handwritten notes to those who provide physical addresses on their business cards.  I email the rest.  If I have time I email those in the second stack.

I also identify the three people who had the largest impact on my experience at the conference.  I make sure my outreach to them is extra special and I tell them our conversation stood out as the most important at the event. 

2.  Transcribing the notes.  I take notes by hand.  I prefer this to typing on a laptop or my smart phone during a presentation.  When I get home I re-read the notes and create a "To Do List" from the tips that inspire immediate actions.  I then retype my notes into a word document.  This not only cleans up the information, but also creates a document I can share with industry friends who were not able to be present at the conference.  

3.  Taking action on one item immediately.  I pick one item on the "To Do List" and get the project started (or completed) my first day back.  There is something about action that drive additional action.  If you can do a few things on your list you are more likely to go back and do more things on your list.

4.  Reviewing your notes again.  I schedule a reminder to review my transcribed notes one month after a conference.  Your notes read once (which is more than most people ever review) is good, but reading them over two or three times over the following months will have a lasting impact.  If there was valuable information presented at the conference it is worthy of review.

5.   Reaching out to the people you met one month later.  Meeting someone one time and a single follow up does not really create a relationship.  You would not consider yourself engaged or married to a person after one date, and the same is true with business connections.  It takes seven to ten meaningful interactions before people really care that you exist.  If you do a good job of discovering information about others when you meet them (or discovering their online presence), you can identify ways to be a resource for them.  If you want people to help you get closer to your goals, the best thing to do is to help them with their journey.  You must find legitimate reasons to converse or the contact will go stale, and nothing is more legitimate than being of assistance to them! 

A conference is more than a stand alone event.  To maximize your investment in attending the meeting you must be committed to processing the information and cultivating the relationships.  

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.


CJ Tracy said...

Great stuff, Thom! Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately, most people aren't disciplined enough to do this themselves. Therefore it is also important for meeting professionals and/or speakers to incorporate action planning/follow up items into their meetings/programs to help increase "return on attendance."

Linda Keith said...

Hi, Thom! Our NSA/Northwest chapter is having a debrief on February 28th. Each of us who attended will bring one thing to share that we have already done!

I'll be speaking at NSA/Austin May 1st. Looking forward to seeing you.