Over the years, I’ve attended, spoken at, and been a vendor for hundreds of tech conferences. After screwing up the follow up for many years, I’ve finally developed a system that allows me to hold on to the good vibes generated at the conference long after it’s over. The key to this system is the follow-up email.
AirVenture is Disney World for airplane nerds. Meeting people there is easy. Keeping in touch with and following up is where I struggle. It’s the week after the event where the energy starts to fizzle. Obviously, this isn’t unique to Airplane Disney World, but to conferences and symposiums of all colors.
The best thing you can do when meeting someone is to exchange contact information with them immediately.
Don’t grab a business card and go right to the next thing. This almost never works. Goldfish syndrome sets in and you’ve forgotten the name, face, and why you were excited to meet that person in the first place. Send an email, right then and there while you’re still chatting. Let them know what you’re doing, and explain why.
Don’t have email on your phone? Bring a millennial!
Airventure (and all other shows) are about people. Vendors are people too.
When approaching a vendor, “celebrity,” or industry expert, the first thing to do is keep in mind the experience of the person you’re talking to. Remember that everyone here is busy and overstimulated. They have probably not slept very well, and are tired from talking all day, being outside, and traveling. The vendor, celebrity, and expert, in particular, are in constant demand for attention and conversation, with long hours on their feet and few breaks.
But our goal is to turn this person into a valuable contact. How can we make that happen in this chaotic environment?
Story Time! Last year when researching engines at AirVenture, I had a specific question about how a gearbox is built on the Viking Engine. Because it’s custom made, I was curious about how they settled on that design and wanted to discuss the robustness with an engineer while looking at it. The other questions I had, like fuel consumption, installation on my Zenith build and the like were reserved for the follow-up email. Those were technical details that didn’t need to be answered in person. Besides without taking notes, I’d have forgotten them all anyway.
The art of the follow-up email is simple. Send it a week after the event is over as a reply to the email you wrote in person to exchange contact information. BUT write it while you are still at the event and everything is still fresh in your head. The important thing is to save it as a draft and wait that extra week to keep it from getting lost in the noise. Like you, that person is busy and will be in a much better position to take time to answer your questions via email or follow-up phone call. I like to use an email program called Spark that allows you to schedule an email to be sent in the future. You can compose the whole thing while you’re still at the gabfest and then have it sent automatically later on.
Since I started using this system of the week after follow up message, the value I’ve found in interacting at these events has increased dramatically.