Attending a conference is a whirlwind of education, networking and industry engagement, but the excitement doesn’t calm down on the last day. Instead, it leaves hundreds or even thousands of event professionals with fresh knowledge to implement and new contacts to connect with when they arrive home.
So, if everyone is leaving with a pocket full of business cards, how can you ensure that you stand out from the crowd? What sets you apart from all of the other follow-up emails that are surely going to be sent in the next week?
We spoke with seasoned industry veterans to learn more about their post-conference strategies and how they make the most of the period immediately following a major event. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Provide value.
People attend conferences to gain valuable knowledge, so it’s a great idea to continue that experience after the fact. A cold email is far more likely to see a response (and even get saved for later) if there is some worthwhile information inside it.
“I love to share the best takeaway that I got from the conference and how I’m going to implement it in my business,” says Shannon Tarrant of Wedding Venue Map. “I did this after a recent conference and most of the people I shared it with were not in that session and really enjoyed learning that extra bit.”
2. Be intentional with emails.
Tarrant encourages people to use their email strategy to their advantage as well. “I make sure to send a quick note as soon as possible,” she says. “My email signature has my photo in it, and I always reference something we talked about.”
Trip Wheeler of SB Value elaborates on the idea of including a reminder of how you connected at the conference: “The key here is remembering something personal you talked about. It could be the name of their dog, the fact they were not looking forward to getting back to bad weather, being tired from being on the trade show floor, and so on. This shows you listen and reminds them of the in-person meeting to make recall much easier for them.”
Remember: There’s a good chance the person you’re connecting with met more people than they can keep straight. Make it easy on them by providing them with the quick context of who you are and why you believe your connection is mutually beneficial.
3. Take it easy.
With that said, avoid bombarding anyone you met with a sales pitch right out the gate. It’s not to say they won’t be amenable to it down the road, but you need a trusting foundation with this person before that happens. Otherwise, it will seem like you’re only reaching out for self-serving reasons.
“It really bothers me when people reach out and are immediately trying to get me on the phone or wanting to ‘pick my brain,’” shares Kevin Dennis of WeddingIQ. “Also, when people are immediately promoting something they want my input on. They need to build a relationship first before asking for any of those type of favors.”
Tarrant agrees: “You don’t know if I have a need, so it’s like trying to kiss me at the start of a first date. Slow down!”
Michael Coombs of Michael Coombs Entertainment chimes in, saying “The thing that never works is the ‘information dump.’ This happens when you have attendees that you’ve met--or haven’t--get your email address and don’t try to connect, but only want to sell you and start sending you unsolicited promo kits and marketing material. Typically, the notes aren’t even personalized--just generic garbage.”
Bottom line, folks: Authenticity is the name of the game and don’t waste others’ time (or your own) by reaching out only for selfish motives.
4. Use social media to your advantage.
Social media is an excellent of way of keeping in touch passively. This is a great first step to the follow-up process and can easily be done, even from the taxi on the way to the airport. If you knock this step out right away, it will seem like you’re eager to connect but, really, it will buy you some more time until you get to your computer to compose a full email.
“I like to connect with them on social media, like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn,” says Keith Phillips of Classic Photographers. “I’ll shoot them a quick message right away just to say hi and start the conversation. This way, if I don’t follow up with them immediately, I will come across them in my feed and stay in touch.”
5. Follow up.
Remember all of those business cards you have to sort through? Everyone leaving a conference will likely come home to a packed inbox--not just from new contacts, but from all of the work missed while away.
Wait a few days before sending out your first round of emails, in an effort to let everyone get out from under their inbox. You will likely need to do the same! Then, be aggressive with the follow-up but do so with strategy to avoid coming off as pesky or incessant.
“I’ve read that 80 percent of sales happens after the eighth contact,” shares Wheeler. “I don’t always get to that point, but I will always send at least four to five follow-ups. The key here is to vary your messages. Some are informative, some are fun, some are short reminders, and some are just to remind them you exist.”
6. Touch base often.
Even if things don’t pan out with a connection as you’d hoped, keep in touch with them, since you never know what could happen down the line. Tommy Waters of The Renaissance explains, “When meeting someone that is interesting or has a similar line of business as you, it’s good to stay in contact and chat every now and then to see how they are doing and to see if there are any new ideas to share or more brainstorming sessions to have. You never know when someone that lives across the country may see a trend before you or vice versa.”
Along with all of the useful strategies listed above, I want to end on perhaps the most important tip: be yourself. It sounds cliché, but that’s because it’s true. If you hit it off with someone face-to-face, your tone in virtual communications must be consistent or else you may come across as ungenuine (despite your best intentions).
If you tend to keep it formal, do so in your emails--at least from the start. If you prefer being casual from the get-go, embrace it! Message them on social media instead, or email them a link to something funny about a topic you discussed at the conference.
The idea is to take the connection you made in person and continue it online, so be true to who you are and trust that the right connections will see the value in your authentic self.
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast. Editor's note: The Special Event 2020 runs March 9-12 in Las Vegas.