Get the most out of business conferences

I recently attended a conference for design business owners in Chicago hosted by HOW magazine and Marketing Mentor. Returning to Minneapolis, I feel invigorated with new ideas for how to run my business, how to provide better service to my clients, and how to eek out some more free time for myself. Now that I’m back, how can I continue to get my money’s worth from the experience? Here’s some things I’ve done that you may want to try:

1) As soon as possible, summarize key points from the conference and create a checklist of goals to meet from things you’ve learned

2) In a related item, at the conference we filled out a postcard addressed to ourselves with a list of goals we’d like to meet in the next 6 months. The conference organizers will send it to us at that time so we can check in on our progress. You can do this yourself with Google Calendar and setting a reminder email for 6 months out.

3) Collect business cards from people you talk to at the conference. Write notes on the card to remind you of your discussion. When you get back, make sure to enter their cards in your database and follow up with emails or phone calls. Leave communication open-ended so you’ll have continued contact.

4) Go through the handouts and goodie bags right away. Make note of vendors that may be useful, take advantage of any time-sensitive special offers that may interest you, and then discard the rest. Chances are you’ll NEVER look at the stuff again! (Don’t forget to keep well-done promotional materials as samples to communicate with your designer).

5) Take advantage of follow-up materials for the conference. In our case, the conference website has an ongoing Blog with video from the conference, taped presentations, hand-outs and more.

One thing I noticed at this conference versus others I’ve attended: you take more advantage of opportunities when it’s on your own dime! If you’ve got employees that you send to conferences, take care to assess their motivations for attending, set goals together for what they hope to get out of it, and hold them accountable for reporting back on what they’ve learned. Consider holding a post-conference bag lunch meeting for them to present photos, ideas, and materials from the conference.

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