Monday, February 06, 2012

Virtual Hallways - Continuing The Conversation After A Conference

I recently wrote about how "Hallway Networking Is A Key Part Of Conference Learning".  Those who attend business events often cite the conversations they have in the foyer (or at the bar) as being among the highest value they gain from being at the meeting.  Talking with your peers is a great way to better understand what was presented from the main stage or during workshops.  Dissecting the information and sharing best-practices can have a huge impact.

But too often these conversations end after the handshakes and hugs goodbye following the closing session. There are taxis and airplanes to catch and a variety of other commitments to attend.  People return home and set their notes, business cards, and other information aside and get back into their routines.

Regardless of living in the same city or across the globe, it is not always easy to follow up with people you met at a conference, convention, seminar or trade show.  Our schedules are hectic and many people are not even sure how to properly follow up with a casual acquaintance, thus relinquishing these powerful connections to a stack of business cards stuck in a drawer.

But time and space does not mean that the conversations must stop.  You can continue the "Virtual Hallway Chats" for weeks, months and even years.  If done properly it is not uncommon that people first encountered at an industry event can become customers, vendors, co-workers, influential and trusted advisers, and friends.

To cultivate a business relationship you must have a purpose.  Expecting people to just keep conversing about industry topics by osmosis is not realistic.  Not everyone you met at a conference will be someone you will want or need to keep in your network. Sending LinkedIn or Facebook requests does not really advance a connection.  In fact, when we end up with too many connections that have no meaning, our social media tools become nothing more than large phone books of random people we have encountered (or not encountered!).

Your first day after a conference is critical in determining your priorities.  You must sort through your notes and the list of people to whom you spoke and gain a perspective on what you learned and those you met.  Along the way you should have written some information on people's business cards or made similar notations in your digital files.  This will make it easier to remember who is who (trust me, if you meet a lot of people over several days, some of them will quickly fade away from the front of your mind).

Next you have to take action to follow up with the ones that made an impression on you.  Your purpose for following up will vary depending if they are a potential client, vendor, referral source or just someone you enjoyed being around, and the methods you use and the words you select should match that purpose.   Create three categories: A) Must follow up.  B) Should follow up. and C) No follow up (it's okay, not everyone you meet will matter to you.  But also remember... not everyone will make you a priority!).

Now get to work.  Discover the best way to follow up with each person on your A and B lists.  This does not mean a cookie-cutter email to each of them, nor does it mean having your assistant send LinkedIn requests on your behalf.  Some people should be followed up by phone or even a hand-written note (yes, this is still done, and it works to make you stand out).  For others a personalized email will be sufficient.

But remember, one meeting and a follow up does not make someone part of your network.  It makes them someone you met once.  You must develop a shared purpose of why you would cultivate a long-term relationship.  Discussing ways that you can work together, and seeking ways to bring value to them will set a foundation that can lead to an ongoing and mutually valuable friendship (do not make it a give and take... simply make introductions or otherwise help them succeed without keeping score).

Continuing dialog will not happen by accident.  You need to be intentional if you want to cultivate meaningful connections.  Do not let "I'm Busy" reign as you continued excuse, only to find later you let powerful people drift away.  All opportunities in life come from people, so make the investment in getting to know more of the people you meet at events.

Own the follow up and you will find that the real ROI from attending a conference could arrive week, months and years after the event is over.

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. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com 

2 comments:

Terry Coatta said...

I think that associations have a particularly good way to extend the value of their conferences: through private online communities that are made up of their members. One advantage of such communities is that they allow the continuation of group discussions beyond the conference itself (rather than just one on one discussions). In fact, I think the online community can, in a sense, become a part of the lifecycle of the association -- after the conference it allows the connections/communications to grow and be productive, but as the next annual conference approaches, it provides a means to help guide what will be included in the conference. The conference and the community become extensions of one another.

Thom Singer said...

Terry-

You are right on the money. Some associations have built wonderful communities that allow for the ongoing conversations.

However, many have not, as one of the first questions I get from clients about how to build a networking culture into their annual meeting is about why so few people participate in their online forums, etc...

I fully agree that it is ideal when the online community is a year round extension of the events.

I am curious what others are seeing... are most associations having success or limited participation?

Some examples of groups that are doing great would be helpful to everyone (if your group takes the human-to-human interaction thing to a new level... let us know!)

And, even with the group chats, building real one-on-one friendships is never a bad thing!