Measuring Conference Success
Another year, another three to eight conferences.
Most recently, many of you may have attended the Bridge Conference in Washington, D.C., the NonProfit PRO Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. or the DMA in New York City. Was it just another conference for you? Another year of annual meetings and dinners with the same clients and colleagues? Another year of passing out business cards, parties and bull riding (I know I’m not the only one on that darn thing)? You probably spent many hours preparing: working on your booth environment, reading the program and selecting your sessions, writing a session, setting up meetings, standing on your feet for hours, shaking hands, and eating what equates to a plastic pumpkin full of Halloween candy.
And every year you learn something new, meet tons of people and walk away thinking, “That was the best conference ever!” But what really happens when you get back to your office? How do you find the value the conference offered before it slips into a distant memory as you get sucked back into the reality of your day job?
How will you measure the success of your conference experiences this year?
One way to determine your conference return on investment is to set a few solid goals that you aim to accomplish at the time you register for the conference. Is it a speaker you wanted to meet, inspiration you’re looking for, industry knowledge, business contacts? Shortly before the conference, write down those goals: sit in on a session about something brand new, learn three new things I can apply to my career, make five new solid business contacts—whatever it is you hope to really take away from the event.
Then, after the conference and before too much time passes, pull out your notes and conference book (you might find them still in the conference bag, under your office guest chair) and try the following:
1. Go through the business cards you collected
Check for notes you may have made on them and follow up with those people. It’s never too late. File the ones you were happy to have acquired and may want to connect with later. Toss the ones you have no recollection of stuffing in your tote bag. Don’t forget to “link in” the ones you want to stay connected with online.
2. Go through your notes
Look for action items and separate them from the wisdom you jotted down. Maybe there was someone you wanted to follow up with, a tip you wanted to apply to a current project or information you had planned to share with a colleague or client. Add those items to your daily management tool.
3. Read over the wisdom you cared enough to write down
Is there anything you can apply to your current projects? Was there something you wanted to study? What were the themes or key words that jumped out at you, and how can you apply them to your day-to-day? Those words motivated you at the time—how can you use them to motivate you now? Try to find three key words to help keep you inspired.
4. Look back through the conference program sessions to jog your memory
If you didn’t write down your top three takeaways from each session, try to do it now. What content can you share with your colleagues? Was there something you wanted to research? Or maybe you had planned to get a copy of the session PowerPoint.
5. Review the event overall
Were your expectations met? What worked for you and what didn’t? Is there something you would do differently next time? Too many or not enough sessions? Client meetings? Social events? You owe it to yourself to debrief so you can prepare better for the conference next year.
6. Crunch the numbers
And lastly, if you need a mathematical formula to establish your conference ROI, try subtracting any business developed through your attendance—either from contacts or applying new information—from the cost of the event. Hopefully, there won’t be any medical bills from riding the bull!