How to Make a Conference Pay Off

How many times have you returned from a conference only to file the materials and never look at them again? Attending the event is only half of the equation in making a conference pay off. The other half is what you do with the information after you return home.

A great conference leaves you feeling empowered, inspired and ready to take on whatever comes your way. And then you arrive home feeling overwhelmed as you unpack, do laundry, open snail mail and handle all the mundane stuff that needs doing. Not only that, but also you have so much information that you hardly know where to begin to put it to use.

Profit from a Conference in Five Easy Steps

Recovered? Rested? Don’t proceed until you are. For a day or two, focus on recovering and getting through the mundane stuff. You have notes, business cards, programs and handouts to help you remember what you need to know. Then start making your conference pay off with these five steps.

  1. Review your content. This includes notes, business cards, handouts, people to follow up with and anything else that came back with you. Don’t use this time to read it all. Instead, sort the content into three piles:
    • Now: The information most important to you, and items with deadlines.
    • Next: The things to look after you finish working through the “Now” pile.
    • Never: Useless stuff you received and items with the least value. Be ruthless: Toss them in the trash. Let them go, otherwise you risk doing nothing with any of the things you brought home. Tip: Next time you go to a conference, do a review to toss the bad stuff before you leave, as it will leave less to pack and less to contend with when you get home.
  2. Act on the quick “Now” items. Read the notes, enter business cards into your address book, drop a quick note to contacts, link up with contacts in social networks and make a list of action items that will take more time.
  3. Schedule “Now” items that take more time. If you want to, say, write an article based in information received or study notes in depth, put them on your tasks list with due dates to ensure they get done.
  4. Check for information posted online. You may skip this if you have all you need. Sometimes you find a gap in the information you have or wish you had notes from a session you couldn’t attend. Find out if the sessions were recorded or the speaker’s slides have been posted online, and see if the conference had a Twitter hashtag or web site where everyone shared notes.
  5. Complete your tasks. Make sure to follow up on the items scheduled in step 3.

Go Deeper With Your Conference Knowledge

Everyone absorbs and uses information differently. Here are things you can do to make the most of your conference content. Just watch out that you don’t get overwhelmed;  it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to contact too many people, select too much to study or write too many articles.

  • Follow up with people. Did you make any promises to contacts you made at the event? Do those first before pursuing the rest of your “Now” items. Only move onto the “Next” group after you have comfortably followed up and stayed in touch with the higher-priority contacts.
  • Study the materials. Since you sorted out the more important content, study it. How you study depends on your learning style. Looking over it one time isn’t enough for most people to remember and apply the concept. As you learn the material, you’ll find opportunities to put it to work. After you feel you got what you needed from the material,  move on to the “Next” pile.
  • Write blog posts or articles. For some, one of the best ways to learn the material and let it sink in is by writing an article or blog. Make a list of article ideas and then prioritize them. Write articles on the most important topics. Put away remaining ideas for safekeeping.

Next time you prepare for another conference or trade show, check out Judi’s “A Conference Survival Guide for the Web Worker.”

How do you make the most of a conference after returning home?

Photo by stock.xchng user Vicky 5.

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