20 ways to connect after a conference

Putting The Puzzle TogetherThis week I’ll be at my first DoD CyberCrime conference in Atlanta. Following on two HTCIA conferences, two Techno Security events (together with one Mobile Forensics Conference), and a Police Leadership Conference, I’m looking forward to meeting a somewhat different crowd.

And yet, also a little apprehensive. Early on I learned that conferences are alternate realities. All kinds of things happen there that wouldn’t happen in typical workaday life. As I commented on Conversation Agent Valeria Maltoni’s blog recently:

You meet people and have great, deep conversations, you brainstorm all kinds of possibilities. But when you go back to the normal schedule, after you’re all caught up and looking for a little of that ‘spark’ you found in a different time and place… you’re still constrained by schedules, responsibilities, expectations that temporarily didn’t exist at the conference.”

Valeria wrote an excellent post, “30 Connective Things You Can Do at a Conference,” about how best to manage that alternate reality, to network the way you want and need to. Because conferences and networking are so important to the DFIR community, I’d like to riff off her original post and talk about 20 connective things you can do after a conference.

1. On your day of departure—in your hotel room the night before you leave, in the airport, on the plane or train or in a coffee shop during a driving break—take the time to reconstruct your sessions, meetups, after-hours conversations, etc.

  • What did you learn, and from whom?
  • What ideas did you and others come up with?
  • What did you observe, what did you overhear?
  • What patterns do you see?

Write all this down to come back to in a week or so, after you’re caught up at work.

2. Share what you learned with your team. Remember that you’re coloring the information with your own perspective, so if possible, share the slide deck and/or handouts with them and invite their feedback.

3. Revisit your notes. Together with your team’s feedback, decide if there’s enough for new research, a new paper, blog article or podcast. Be sure to set aside time daily or weekly to work on the project (depending on how in-depth it is); when you publish it, be sure to refer to the conference, people and ideas that led you to complete it.

4. Didn’t get a chance to provide feedback to speakers? Make a point of emailing one or two speakers per day after you get back to the office. Be specific about the takeaways you gleaned. Leave the door open for further discussion.

5. Share what you learned about products and vendors with your team. Collect their questions and needs—not just about what the product(s) can do, but what they need to do their jobs better. Follow up with the vendor(s) to ask those questions and see how well they respond to your team’s needs. That response will be an important part of your purchase decision.

6. Take time to think about things you wish could’ve been different:

  • More time meeting new people?
  • Hanging out with old friends and colleagues?
  • Lecture track you would’ve wanted to attend for yourself, rather than work?

Decide to make those changes at the next conference you attend.

7. Start a Twitter, LinkedIn group, forum/listserv or blog conversation about something you learned. (Sometimes conferences have their own LinkedIn groups.)

8. Identify the 3-5 people you connected with most strongly. Make a point of calling or emailing them every so often with things you believe they’d benefit from:

  • an article that recalls your conversations
  • a speaking opportunity at another conference or with the media
  • a congratulations on one of their accomplishments. Comment on their blog; tweet @them; find them on Google+ Hangouts.

9. While you’re at it, think about the things that made you click.

  • Particular ideas?
  • Core themes that connected your conversations and ideas?
  • Shared values?

Again, see if there are patterns—finding them can help you work out where you can benefit the community the most.

10. Set a goal for yourself to speak at next year’s conference, especially if your topic is based on the ideas you heard at this one.

11. Did you meet someone you thought would benefit from knowing a friend or colleague? Make sure you email-introduce them (and perhaps even conference call) the week following the conference. And be clear about the value they would have to each other.

12. Find a way to invite the best speaker(s) to your local area. A Security B-sides event, HTCIA or other association chapter meeting, or one-day training session can be ideal. See whom you can partner with to make it happen. Or, hold a virtual event. Your employer may be amenable to a webinar, or you might suggest the speaker to an event like #DFIROnline.

13. Pace yourself while reconnecting. Follow up immediately after the conference, but then let your relationship build naturally. Remember: conferences are alternate realities. Remind the other people who you are, then let the dust settle so that the ideas you built can stand by themselves for further building.

14. Who organized the event? If you can, volunteer to do something at next year’s conference, or encourage your employer to support it in some way (if they aren’t already) by sponsoring a giveaway or networking session.

15. Between this event and next year’s, you’ll network with more professionals. How might they benefit from coming to next year’s event—especially if they’re based in other countries? Invite them based on what you’d like to learn from them, and tell them you’ll be glad to introduce them to your connections.

16. Did anything you learn at the event change your mind, or send you in a new direction? Use a blog post to write not just about what, but also about how it happened—the old idea you’d never heard expressed that way before, or the unexpected angle. Did it help you solve a problem, or are you still mulling how to apply it in your own professional life? Either way, share it with the community.

17. Join a social network that’s new to you:

  • Well-traveled ones like Twitter, or underrated ones like SlideShare.
  • Volunteer for the SANS blog (if you’re qualified).
  • Create a new Google+ Circle and spend time there daily.
  • Guest blog for your favorite DFIR bloggers.

18. Publicly acknowledge the conference and what you thought was great about it. Mention by name those who made it great: organizers, speakers, people you connected with. A video testimonial can be especially powerful.

19. Traveling to where a speaker or conference connection is based? Let them know ahead of time, and tell them you’d love to get together if they’re available. Use your notes from your conversation(s) or their lecture to drive your conversation.

20. Think beyond your constraints. We get so caught up in our day to day responsibilities, we forget the things that made conferences spark for us. Make the time to recapture it, if not in conversation (that’s not always possible), then for yourself, in your own mind, from your own notes and memories.

“…follow through is key,” Valeria wrote. “Closing the gap between promises made and promises kept builds a solid reputation, and helps you make stuff happen, too.” It takes practice for sure, but the DFIR community is forgiving as long as you’re trying your best, and values face-to-face as much as virtual relationship-building.

What are some things you do to follow through with people you’ve met at a conference?

Creative Commons License photo credit: kenteegardin

6 thoughts on “20 ways to connect after a conference

  1. After a conference one of the first things I try to do is sort through the business cards I collected or was given and put them into 3 piles.
    Pile 1 – recycle immediately, Pile 2 – make follow-up call or email based on the notes I wrote on the card, Pile 3 – keep for potential future reference.

  2. Thanks Greg! Writing this, I was trying to go beyond the business cards, but even writing notes on cards is something many folks don’t do. Thanks for the reminder. BTW, as I write this I’m sitting here looking at a stack of cards from previous conferences, which I should probably go back through. 🙂 At the most recent I collected only those that I felt had immediate relevance, partly because my situation is in flux and partly because it was a group I wasn’t as familiar with as others. (As an introvert, I prefer not to get overwhelmed with too many people at once.)

  3. Excellent post, Christa! I haven’t been to any DFIR conferences yet, so I can’t share any personal tips, but I will definitely make use of your suggestions!

    You have outlined some ideas that go beyond just post-conference follow-through – they are easily applicable to other situations, such as the DFIR online meetups, or even just the online conversations generated by a good blog post.

  4. Erika, great point about following up from virtual meetups as well. It does seem as if connections seem to fizzle after great online talks — I hadn’t considered that, so thanks for pointing it out!

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