Cooking up a conference

Cooking up a conference

Two weeks ago I got back from the Support Driven Leadership Summit in Boston. I wrote about some of my experience on the journey home.

Any conference, whatever size, whatever industry, whatever role you play in it, is exciting. The weeks before you land are like prepping for a big shopping trip to your favourite outlet mall to do your Christmas shopping.

Actually… no. This is going to be more like that well-intentioned family-size shop at Whole Foods. You have a list, you know what you need, and you have a skeleton meal plan to buy for.

But when you get there, you find they are out of organic humus and the watermelons are locally sourced and half price, so you stock up. You suddenly find yourself sampling the melon-flavoured apples and buying several crates of them. The sliced white bread that was on your list is apparently sold out (they’ve sold out of ‘poison’), and you know this is the only place you will find vegan chicken nuggets for your teenager back home.

You dash in, grab everything you can, and head for home, exhausted, but spiritually enriched, and piled high with groceries you didn’t know existed. All contained, of course, in Whole Foods “Fresh from the Farm” bags because you left your own cotton sacks back at the house.

Having negotiated the horror of the car park, you make it home with your swag, recipe cards, samples and actual food.

You shove everything (including the lavender chips and chia seed free range crackers) in the refrigerator, wedge the door shut and hope to make use of it sometime. You add your new bags to the bag cupboard (recently upgraded from the bag drawer), and completely miss the tiny vial of Argan oil you wanted for the bento box salad that’s still nestled in the bottom of one of the sacks.

Right now, the dog needs walking and your youngest needs help with algebra. 

The next three days pass in a blur of normality, and before you know it, the asparagus is looking a little iffy, and the fiery rocket salad seems to have spontaneously combusted, leaving behind a mushy mess where once there was hope.

It’s often much the same story when you return from a conference. You go with good intentions, and even specific targets. Maybe you meet most of those targets, gather all you wanted, and then a whole lot extra. But once you’re on the plane home it all starts to seem a bit overwhelming. You have notebooks full of useful knowledge and inspiration, a pocket full of business cards and a head full of ideas. But your mind soon turns to your inbox, to your colleagues, to that project, and before you know it, you drop your bags at the door, your notebooks and cards in your work bag, and head for bed.

People rarely budget time to process the produce they bring home from a conferenceHow do you keep it fresh? The temptation to refer to those notes later is great, and the pressure to spend your immediate time catching up on all the stuff you missed while at the conference is huge.

So, here’s what you should do:

  1. Rest. You’re going to need it. You’ve got a lot to do. Take a few hours to get some space, some downtime, a nap, whatever. Get back in your own timezone and get yourself ready for the next stage.
  2. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and block out some planning time. Actually block it out on your calendar. Unless something is really on fire, give yourself a good couple of hours, minimum, back at your desk, just to process and categorise what you need to do.
  3. Get out your meal plan. Or, in this case, remind yourself why you went to the conference and what your main objectives were. Pull everything that immediately relates to those objectives into the appropriate categories.
  4. Sort through the rest of your groceries and categorise them – make a note to research and process these quickly. Usually these are broad strokes such as: new connections, new applications or products, new trends, new companies, potential clients or employers, and upcoming events and other communities you can assess. You will need to revisit each category as you iterate through the next few steps.
  5. File your new recipe cards and cookery books. Okay, I have to admit this is a little culinary stretch, but one of the very first things you need to do is connect with everyone you met, or heard speak about something interesting. Don’t just hit ‘Connect’ on Linkedin. Make sure you reach out in the manner of a normal human being, and initiate conversations that follow on from the event.
  6. Identify what you need to make use of today, and what can be refrigerated or shelved for future use. Start with your ‘meal plan’ – your priorities. Find your most pressing problems and work to pair those up with solutions found at the conference. There might have been a particular network connection you needed. Or some wisdom from one of the sessions that you now need to process and work into your strategy and operations. Or you might need to schedule that software trial now that you’ve seen a workshop.
  7. Prioritise the rest of your ingredients by expiry date and expense. Go through each category you created in step 4. Start with things that are likely to be time-sensitive and assess their interest or usefulness. Get meet-ups (real or virtual) scheduled with new connections, potential clients and employers. Look into upcoming events and conferences. Join new communities or groups. Then work through everything else and plan to assess it as your needs arise.
  8. Determine if you are missing any ingredients for planned meals, and schedule trips to the grocery store to fill in the gaps… For example, do you need to arrange training, or a sales demo, or need to implement that API to the new app you found at the conf? Get planning, get scheduling.
  9. Do you need to make use of that accidental bulk purchase? Perhaps there are collaboration opportunities to be had. A stew club, if you will. Get together with two or three of your new connections in meaningful ways. Establish common goals and opportunities you can share.
  10. Organise everything into your kitchen cupboards. Get your plastic tubs and label maker ready. Here, I mean that you need, of course, to organise everything in to a meaning and shareable format. This could be a bunch of files, or knowledge transfer sessions.
  11. CookFinally. Make the things, do the things, implement the things.
  12. Look over your bill. Did you get too much of one thing and miss out on others? Look over the true value you got from sessions, speakers, networks and so on. Establish what you’d change for your next outing (less melon-apples, and remember the cotton bags?)

What’s your top tip for post conference actions? Or, indeed, how do you survive a trip to Whole Foods?

This article first appeared on my Linkedin publications on 16th November 2018.