Conferences present valuable opportunities to build your professional network—but only if you follow up. Though it can be challenging to take on a stack of business cards from new business contacts, your efforts can pay off both in the short and long term.
As the excitement from a conference wears off, it can be tempting to let communication slide—taking with it all of the potential for collaboration and connection. To make the task more manageable, organize the business cards you collected into three groups: high, medium and low priority. This helps segment the task into more manageable steps.
While the conference is still fresh in your mind, make notes about each of the business contacts in your high- and medium-priority groups. Jot down what you remember about each conversation and note any opportunities for collaboration. These notes will help you remember each person, making it easier to follow up. If you prefer a digital record, input the notes into a contact file for each person; this is an excellent way to stay productive on a long flight home.
To increase the success of your post-conference follow up, schedule emails carefully. There's no point in blasting new contacts immediately after the conference—your email will likely be lost in the crowd of other conference-related messages. Instead, give the dust a chance to settle for two or three days to allow your new contacts to get back into the swing of their routine. If you're feeling energized, start drafting emails early and schedule to send them a few days later.
When sending an email to follow up after a conference, avoid boilerplate messages; though they save time, they are impersonal and forgettable. Craft a short, personal message that references the things you talked about at the conference. If you mentioned a specific project or article, send a link or an attachment to help the contact remember you. Ask a question or send an invitation that continues the conversation; doing so helps build a relationship.
To begin immediate online interaction, Idealist Careers recommends that you also follow up using social media. Search for each new contact—or check their business cards for links—and become a follower or friend. Remind them of who you are by attaching a short note about the conference. Look to LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Use your judgement about which profiles to follow; a business page is appropriate, while a personal Instagram account filled with family photos is not. Social media is also a good way to follow up with low-priority contacts when you are pressed for time.
When the opportunity arises, initiate a meeting with your most valuable new contacts. Send an invitation to a business event, schedule coffee or invite the person to check out your facilities. Be judicious in your invitations, sending them only to people with real potential for collaboration or partnerships; this saves you both time and effort and allows you to nurture the most valuable relationships.
The process of staying in touch with people you meet at conferences is time consuming, but it can lead to important partnerships and valuable resources for future career development. When you follow up in an organized way, it smooths the path for more effective, efficient communication down the line.
(Photo courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)