For me, planning for and attending a conference feels a lot like running a marathon. There's tons of a pre-event prep and once I'm finally on the ground, I barely stop what I'm doing (shaking hands, taking notes, networking with other attendees, meeting speakers) until I get back to my hotel room each night.
Because it requires a lot of mental focus before and during a conference, it's tempting to take a huge mental break right afterward--or more realistically, throw yourself into catching up on all of the work that's piled up in your absence.
Don't give in!
So much of the benefit you'll get out of attending a conference actually comes right after the show ends. I just got back from Content Marketing World in Cleveland and gave myself two full workdays to sort through everything that I'd learned, and reach out to the incredible people I'd met.
Here are a few things I do (and you can too) make those conference hours incredibly productive.
1. Block time to follow up
Once people know you're back in the office, they will definitely try to take control of your time. I make sure to schedule my out of office greeting for one day (or at least a half day) longer than the event to give myself ample time to execute on all of the to-dos and follows up that come out of each conference.
If you do nothing else after a conference--do this! I've found giving myself ample time to follow up can mean the difference between a successful event and a big waste of time.
And on a related note, don't wait more than 2 to 3 business days to do those follow up. You'll run this risk that your "memorable" meeting will become all but forgotten.
2. Make your notes actionable
Throughout conferences, I have my Evernote open, taking notes on everything I learn and the people that I met.
Directly after meetings, I take shorthand notes so I that I don't forget important details that would help me write follow-up emails or pitch ideas post-event.
On the flight home, while things are still fresh, I flesh out meeting notes, pulling out the action items (e.g., Send capabilities deck to XYZ) and putting them into my to-do list.
I also read over and polish up my session notes, and they form the basis for content I write for my content marketing company Masthead Media.
3. Cull content from those notes
Not sure what to write about on your LinkedIn page or company blog? Conferences are an amazing source of fresh ideas for stories--not to mention experts and thought leaders who can provide quotes. At Content Marketing World, I approached one speaker (the head of content for a Fortune 500 company) and asked if I could interview him for an upcoming story. He immediately gave me his business card and asked me to follow up -- I couldn't have asked for a better response than that!
4. Keep networking
There's never enough time to meet with everyone you find fascinating. Keep reaching out to speakers, other attendees and see if you can network in another way (at the next event, on a call, via LinkedIn, etc.). I try to add every great contact that I meet a conference to my LinkedIn network so that I can follow what these thought leaders and industry colleagues are doing and sharing. It often feels a lot more natural for me to engage through social channels (commenting, sharing) then to send an email.
5. Search the conference hashtag
I always search for the official conference #hashtag during the event. It's a great way to find other attendees I didn't meet, read interesting tidbits Tweeted from speakers I missed, and check out Instagram accounts of potential clients. If you do the same, you might be surprised to find that others in your network were at the conference--and you can use it as a reason to reach out.
6. Spotlight your insights
For obvious reasons, it doesn't make sense for everyone at your company to attend the same events--but those events can still benefit your entire group. Put together a few bullets that summarize the chief learnings from the event and put them on the agenda for your next team call.
7. Schedule a future check-in
Put a reminder on your calendar for one month and three months out from the conference to see if there are notes you could refer back to in order to improve your business. Follow up with someone you reached out to and see how they're doing. Look back to see if there are potential clients you didn't think of initially, whether it's the sponsors, venue, caterers, or conference support team.