I love industry conferences like The Special Event because of the rich learning that I get during my week out of the office. Not only do I find the sessions deeply educational, but also, I value the opportunity to engage with my peers in person. As much as Zoom was a rescue for us in the last couple of years, there is nothing like real face time. Here are three ways that I make sure to nurture relationships while at educational conferences.
1 – Schedule meetings in advance
I like to find out who is going to be at the show so that I can make plans to meet up with colleagues. One of the great things about social media is that people broadcast in advance when they’ll be attending different conferences and workshops. Take note. I also reach out to friends and check-in with them. I want to earmark time in advance to connect for a quick coffee during a break or a mealtime meetup.
The reason this is so important to do in advance is because when you get to the conference, things can get busy, hectic, and overwhelming. I find that if I wait to set aside time while I’m there I just don’t do it. The introvert in me ends up relishing in cozy time with room service in my hotel room. But that’s such a wasted opportunity! Conferences are a unique time to exchange ideas and mastermind with trusted industry friends; and that adds to the investment I’m making to be there.
2 – Be a connector
If you’ve been around for a while, then it’s likely you know several savvy event pros. You’re in a distinctive position to be a connector. If you’re meeting up with a colleague for lunch, invite another industry friend that they’d benefit from knowing. This makes their businesses stronger, and our industry stronger. We all benefit when we bring outstanding teams to our clients’ events. It also cements you to both of them in a deeper way.
Another reason that I love this idea of being the connector is that people truly love to feel included and you may just invite someone to lunch that didn’t otherwise have any plans. That goodwill comes back to you in spades. Kindness and inclusion go a long way!
3 – Follow up with new contacts
When I get back from a conference, I’m usually in a big flurry to catch up on missed work. But I can make the most of my relationship investments by setting some time aside to reach out to new people I met. This is made easier if I’ve collected business cards. The reality is that we don’t always do this in our digital age. This too can be done more strategically. As you listen to people speak, or meet people on the fly, start a list of the people with which you want to keep in contact, or check in with.
Set aside the morning that you get back into your office to circle back with the people on that list. Head to their website and grab their email and/or contact info. Thank speakers for the education they shared with you (we love that!). Reach out to new contacts letting them know that you enjoyed meeting them. Follow them on social media so that you can keep up with them. Then add a date to your calendar three months later to circle back with that list. See if there is anyone you’d like to continue getting to know. Is anyone on that list a valuable peer to exchange ideas with? Is there anyone on there that you want to do business with?
Before heading to a conference, you want to come up with your own relationship strategy that you’ll enact before, during, and after the conference. How will you make the most of not only the learning sessions, but also the time outside of the classroom? How can you keep learning beyond the conference, from industry peers? Put your plan in place and you’ll deepen those bonds.