How many times have you wondered after attending a conference or event, what you were supposed to do with all these business cards you collected as you try to justify the flight, boarding expenses to your boss or worse still to yourself (if you’re a consultant).
It’s kind of Seinfeldian: the question of how many hours or days after you meet someone at a conference do you follow-up with them or should you follow-up with them at all? Or, let me back up a bit – should I’ve attended that conference in the first place?
The Simple Dollar (via Lifehacker), pretty much reads out a chapter from Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone”. And, it answers many questions that range from “what value do you get from attending conferences?” – to – “I’ve a stack of business cards, now what?”
The problem with events and conferences
I’m sure everyone reading this post has attended quite a few conferences or “networking events” in their careers, but unfortunately many of us don’t do the homework or follow-up necessary to derive some meaningful value from it. As Trent describes in the post, there are two inherent problems with attending conferences:
1. The Boondoggle
I began to realize that there were two problems. For one, I was often connecting with people who were just at the conference to goof off on someone else’s budget.
2. The Follow-up
The second problem is that I just wasn’t good at following up – so why should I expect that the other folks would be?
So, I thought it’d be interesting to break down the tasks one must do before and after attending the conference, so as to get maximum value from it.
PRE-CONFERENCE: Do your homework identifying goals before the event
Once you’ve figured out the Boondoggle problem by candidly answering the question: what lasting value is this particular networking event gonna bring me and / or my company, you now have to ensure that the $ you spent on travel / lodging be put to good use. It’s time to make some lasting connections.
Keith Ferrazi outlines some of the homework worth doing before you attend the event, which includes offering to help the show organizer if he / she needs an extra hand.
First, review the event’s materials, visit its web site, and find out who the main contact is for putting together the conference. Put in a phone call. The person responsible for these kinds of events is generally overworked and stressed out.
I’d just add, more importantly find out if the conference is listed in the LinkedIn events database for one reason, it allows you to find common connections who plan on attending the event and better yet allows you to check out their LinkedIn profile to learn more about them. This is of particular significance for those individuals you’d like to meet at the event.
In addition to LinkedIn, also try finding the same folks on Twitter (Try Twitter User Name Search or if you’re on the iPhone, the Tweetie app should allow you to do the same) and start following them. If you use Tweetdeck create a separate group for them so you’ve a clearer, less-noisy environment to follow individuals you’re gonna meet at the event. Finally, also check out Facebook events to see if the event’s listed there and find out if you’ve missed out on any common connections on that platform as well.
POST-CONFERENCE: How soon (after you make contact at a conference) should you follow-up?
Upon returning from the conference, promptly try connecting with the folks you met and interacted with. Try to recollect the individuals you struck a chord with and follow-up with them. It’s the most important part of building those relationships.
Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Then you’ll be miles ahead by following up better and smarter than the hordes scrambling for the person’s attention. The fact is, most people don’t follow up very well, if at all. Good follow-up alone elevates you above 95 percent of your peers. The follow-up is the hammer and nails of your networking tool kit.
In fact, FOLLOWING UP IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN ANY FIELD.
Trent from The Simple Dollar outlines three simple steps to any post conference follow-up action. Of course, you can choose to reach out to the individual via email. But, I’d recommend you reach out via a site like LinkedIn where connecting once allows you to stay in touch with these folks through the lifetime of their career. Also, use this as an opportunity to add them as a contact on LinkedIn instead of just sending them a message:
STEP 1 – The first follow-up: 24 to 48 hours is always the optimal time to remind them of your recent conversation. This minimizes the chances that they’ll ignore your request. Also, have a recognizable / professional profile picture on your LinkedIn profile to help them recognize you more easily.
STEP 2 – Remind them of your conversation at the event: While sending a connection request or friend invite, please start off with a personalized intro reminding them of your recent conversation vs. the stock message that LinkedIn allows for.
STEP 3 – The 2nd Follow-up: Finally, you may want to catch up with this connection after a month or two when you’ve had some time to get back into the swing of things at work. As Trent suggests, make it a point to add this either to your to-do list or on your calendar.
How does a social networking site change the dynamic of a follow-up call?
Finally, I think it’s important to maintain a history of contacts you’ve aggregated over the course of your attending different events and your communication with them. And, I couldn’t think of a better tool to do that than the recently launched Profile Organizer from LinkedIn (Note: this is a premium LinkedIn feature that has a one-month free trial in Oct 09).
I’ve been using it for some time and I’ve got to say it’s an effective tool to organize the profiles of various individuals you’ve met at the conference by moving them into different folders and adding notes around each interaction. This then serves as the history of your communication for each of those business relationships. As mentioned earlier, you should also follow these individuals by sorting them into groups for e.g. on Tweetdeck.
Once you’re connected to these individuals, you’ll notice their status messages in your network updates field which frankly obviates the need for the 2nd follow-up mentioned above. IMO, a relevant status message goes a long way in re-initiating that contact at an appropriate time rather than by your reaching out to the individual a month or two after your connecting with them.
These are just some of the ways I think you could get value out of events using social networking sites. How else do you think have sites like LinkedIn changed the dynamic for events or conference based networking? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. (disclosure: I work at LinkedIn as a community evangelist, but have been talking about social networking best practices on my blog way before I started working there)
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