You've gone out, you've wined, you've dined, you've conversed, you've met, and you've shaken more hands than you could keep track of. Now the event has winding down and everyone is heading home for the evening. What you're left with (if the event was successful and you made all the right moves) is a huge potential to make future connections.
But this can be daunting. You can meet so many people at an event that it can be had to figure out the next steps you should take. Luckily we're here, along with Matt, to help guide you. Knowing what to do after an event is just as important as attending the right events in the first place, and it will help keep post-networking anxiety to a minimum.
Taking Stock of an Event
Be it a conference, a breakfast, or a happy hour networking event, it's good to take some time to think immediately after the event is done and you're on your way home. Think about what you just did, where you were, who you met. This will help guide your choices in the future. Was it successful? Was it relevant? Did you meet good new contacts, or was it the same old crowd you always see at these things? Are you excited about the potential here?
Remember that your time is precious, and nothing should be viewed as having only one goal. Attending an event is networking first and foremost, but it is also an ongoing project to help you decide which events and people you want to attend and meet in the future. This is a simple step, but an important one - reflecting back on what just happened will make sure you are attending more events that are worth your time and effort, and not get caught up in the ones that aren't going to help you.
Business Cards Galore!
Matt doesn't waste any time here, making sure you know exactly what you should have in hand. Did you "collect a ton of [business cards]? If you pocketed way more business cards than you handed out, you're doing it right." It's all well and good to get your information in the hands of the people that you think may be awesome connections, but your goal in this instance should be to get every card you can.
Leaving your cards with others is great, but passive. The ball is left in their court, not yours. When you collect a business card, it isn't just getting the information - it's a sign that you've made a good enough impression for them to want you to have it. Think of it in terms of getting a user to subscribe to an email list; if they sign up, it's not only telling you that you have another person to connect with, but that they want to hear from you in the first place. Beyond this, it puts you in control. You've got the ability - and now the access - to contact them further.
As a brief aside, Matt hopes you made the right choice while you were attending the event itself:
"I hope you jotted little notes about the conversation you had on the card itself once you got the chance, right? It's smart. You'll visually link the logo and design of the card and the name on it with the person you met, and the notes will help give context for yourself a few days later on, when the dozens of conversations naturally start to blend together."
This is a great idea if you're naturally terrible with names and faces. Work the people you meet into a narrative, and you're more likely to remember them. It's an old memory trick, because it works. Now you can go through the cards you collected, go over the people, remember what you talked about as well as tiny details that mattered to you in the moment. This makes the next step that much easier.
You've got your cards, and you've got your thoughts straight. Now it's time to sort them into categories. You can't just send out one generic email to every single person you meet. That's lazy, ineffective, and people can spot it from a mile away. How do you sort them? It really depends on your style of communication and the reasons for attending the event (if you were very precise, you could be as specific as having categories for each event you attend). But here are some categories that are good to keep in mind no matter what.
Potential Clients is going to be a pile in which you place all the cards from people that you have seen the chance to work with. Directly, mind you - these people are going to be the ones who talked about needing what you provide, those attendees who you found out were in industries that interest you, or were hinting at needing someone with just your kind of skillset and experience.
Referral Pipeline will be the pile of interesting people that you don't see an immediate in with. This shouldn't take the wind out of your sails, as you should be listening for other clues that working with them could be a great partnership. Can you offer some connections that they might need? Do they know a pool of potential referees to send your way? Having these connections can be just as great as direct work, so keep them close.
Interesting Contacts are going to be those people who you enjoyed talking to, without seeing any in for future work. You got along naturally, you gelled; maybe they even work in something that interests you personally. These kinds of natural partnerships can be useful down the line, so it's a good idea to keep them around just in case.
After this, the categories are completely up to you. Maybe you've been to enough events to know what contacts won't be helpful to you at all, and so you make a trash pile. Be careful with this one, though. Sometimes the future opportunities won't be immediately apparent, and being to hasty means you might lose a connection that can be hugely beneficial down the line. If you've got enough experience with these events, though, it is good to be able to pinpoint potential dead ends. Like we said, time is precious, and if you're sure that nothing will come of contacting someone (at least in the initial wave of following up), you can save a lot of the effort.
When following up with your contacts, timing can be the difference between an agency-changing relationship and a squinted "I-think-that-was-that-one-person-maybe" on the way to the delete button. This is a delicate issue, as you may already have an established timeline. If it works for you, then great. But it's always a good idea to be quick but not overly-eager.
Sending an email immediately after an event can be a little off-putting, and may make you seem a tad too desperate. A good rule of thumb here is to plan any follow-up messages for the morning after. It gives some time to process, but it also plants your message firmly in a period of time where they will (hopefully) still remember you.
What To Say
This can be the most difficult part to balance. You want to make sure your intentions are known, but you also don't want to come off as pushy and rude. Get this right, and you could set up a long future of benefits, so it is important.
You can draft up a general message that everyone you contact will get. This should be a quick thank you, it was great talking with you last night, that kind of thing. After this, you can give a brief rundown of you. Don't be too long or wordy; in the best case scenario, they already remember exactly who you are. This isn't a full biography, just something to jog their memory. Once this is done, you can move into things that are specific to this connection. Snippets of your conversation, or where you saw the opening to work together.
And always, always make sure to make some kind of communication request. Again, be active in your communication. This should be as simple as asking when they are free to chat, or saying that you'd love have a follow up conversation, maybe over coffee or tea, whenever they're free. It's open, it's transparent, it's genuine, and it's smart. Just sending a message reminding people who you are is not enough to really entice them to respond to you. Probing for a potential meeting lets them know that you are serious, and also makes them more likely to answer you - continuing the communication.
Follow-ups and continued connections are a huge deal, and doing it right can be the difference between success and failure. Branching out to find the right connections from current to future work by meeting new people and striking just the right chord is something you should always be doing. Again, we all know that networking can be exhausting; make the right choices, though, and the payoff can be massive.