Maximize returns from conference


After you’ve attended a conference, there’s always a risk that you’ll have no measurable outcomes to justify the time and expense.

I can just imagine conference planners gasping as they read this and employees hiding this column from the boss who signs their expense cheques after the week-long excursion.

But unless you take responsibility to turn a conference into more than just a quasi-vacation, that’s all it’s going to be.

As I reflect on my experience at the recent National Speakers’ Association conference in Phoenix, Ariz., which inspired this column series, and the many anecdotes it has drawn from readers, I’m even more convinced that making a conference a worthwhile investment takes work — the most important of which happens after the conference ends.

The real test of effectiveness comes when you decide how to deal with a notebook filled with ideas gleaned from expert speakers and stacks of business cards collected.

It’s easy to return to the office, but if you just return to business as usual, what was the point of going to the conference? If your purpose was to do more than just have a good time, you need more than fond memories to justify registering for next season’s event.

One major challenge of justifying conference attendance is that it can take several business cycles before you realize the results of your efforts. Plus, there are intangible benefits that can’t be directly attributed to a single event, but wouldn’t have been realized if you hadn’t attended. New relationships with business contacts, for example, take time to grow, so it’s hard to gauge the benefit of any one introduction.

Though it’s tough to measure long-term success, there are some strategies you can use that can maximize your returns:

Before you leave the conference, schedule a two-hour window the following week to debrief. If you don’t do this, once the enthusiasm from the conference is gone, all of the lessons learned will be gone as well. Use this time to review notes and follow up as required.

Review your original goals and objectives for attending. Did you achieve these? If so, how will these affect your work? If you didn’t, why not and what did you learn from this?

Review your scribbles from the various breakout sessions and condense key ideas into one master page. From this simplified list, choose one or two concepts that make sense for you to implement. Many great ideas come out of meetings and conferences, but not all will be right for you. Before you jump on the latest-and-greatest idea bandwagon, be sure to align your actions with your business plan and personality. Someone’s suggestion may work better for you once it’s adjusted to suit your business model.

Review your stack of business cards. Hopefully, before you left the convention, you wrote notes on the back of the cards so you know what to do with each one. Make appropriate followup calls and e-mails. Enter the names in your database and flag these contacts. If nothing happens with your new contacts before next year’s conference, at least you can plan to reconnect with them then.

Choose the one person you met whom you would like to connect with the most. Touch base with that person and add them to your list of priority contacts.