Many of us spend enormous amounts of time , energy, and money attending conferences. These events are often exhilarating experiences, but by the time next year’s conference rolls around we can barely remember anything about the previous one. How can you make sure the lessons, connections, and thoughts you had during the conference stick with you?
I recently attended a conference hosted by The Gospel Coalition. It’s one of the biggest gatherings of evangelical Christians of a certain theological tradition. Of the many events like this I’ve attended, I met more people and gained more exposure to other organizations than at any other. As I left my hotel I had the somber feeling that if this conference went like other ones I would forget it within a few days or weeks. I determined God had blessed me with too many gifts at this conference to let them them be forgotten. In an attempt at good stewardship, we should perform these five tasks to make the most of our experience after a conference.
1) Write down your take-aways.
I was recently reading a book about reading that stated, “The thoughts that linger in your mind about a book are the thoughts that you want to capture. Go back and write those thoughts in the inside cover of the book or in a notebook.” I find the same principle applies to a conference.
After you’ve had some time, perhaps during your flight or drive back home, turn to a blank page in your notebook or open a new document in your word processor and just start writing. What sticks with you about the conference? What ideas do you keep pondering? What stirred you emotionally? When you do this you’ll probably find distinct patterns and themes that will help you internalize some lessons.
2) De-clutter your life.
During a conference you become Velcro for papers, business cards, brochures, key chains, pens, stickers, receipts, hotel key cards, and more. So the first thing to do after a conference is lay out everything you brought back and get rid of anything you don’t need. It’s just clutter and it won’t help you process what you’ve experienced any faster.
I’m a packrat so this step is hard for me. I still have name tags from conferences I attended five years ago. A good rule of thumb I use is this, “If I don’t have a place, it doesn’t need a space.” In other words, if I don’t have a place to file or store the item or I can’t create one quickly, I usually get rid of it. At the end of the process you’ll find the material you actually find useful is pretty minimal, and it’ll be much easier to process the information.
3) Follow up and Follow through.
Remember all those times during the conference you said you’d call, e-mail, or circle back with someone? What happens to all those promises once the event ends? If you’re like me they just become empty words soon forgotten. Instead of ignoring those verbal commitments, why not “let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no”? So send the e-mails, make the phone calls, link to the articles, and so forth. Since such conscientiousness is so rare, you’ll actually surprise people by follow up and following through on what you said you’d do.
4) Develop relationships.
Developing relationships is really a subset of following up and following through, but it’s so important it deserves it’s own segment. Without question, the single most valuable aspect of a conference is the opportunity to make personal connections. Relationships drive ministries, organizations, and businesses. Even though you can watch the conference sessions via a live stream or an audio or video recording, you can’t shake someone’s hand virtually. You can’t hear their laugh or listen to their story with the same quality as you would if you were there in person. So take advantage of all those connections by continuing to build a relationship.
Make phone calls or send an e-mail expressing what was memorable about your encounter with a person. This is also a good way to share your own contact info. In this era of social media, I think the most powerful way to strengthen the bonds of association is to follow a person on Twitter, “friend” them on Facebook, or link with them on LinkedIn. You’ll be amazed at how quickly people return the favor and follow you back on social media. You’ve also now gained entry into some very personal and accessible forms of communication.
You were at that conference or event for a reason. On the surface these reasons may be straightforward: seeing a speaker you’re excited about, learning about a topic in which you have an interest, networking for your business, and more. But God had you there for a specific purpose. He wanted you to learn something or meet someone. He wanted you to change in some positive way. So it is critical to pray and ask God to reveal to you His purposes for that time. As you submit the entire experience to God and ask Him to use it in your life you’ll be encouraged by the clarity and wisdom that emerges.
Of course, all of the above tips can be applied in a variety of contexts. You can use them not only for conferences but for significant events of any kind: a class you’ve taken, a wedding you attended, a vacation you took. And if you make these five simple tasks part of your post-event routine you’ll be amazed at how much more you gain from the experience and what lessons you take with you for a lifetime.
Discussion Question: What are some other post-event habits you’ve developed to help you make the most of the experience?