This month has been a whirlwind. I love traveling but doing two trips back-to-back has me all out of whack. Don’t judge but we got back on Sunday from Mexico and I still haven’t unpacked my suitcase. It’s a problem.
But rather than bore you with my inability to get my life together, I wanted to share some of my takeaways from The Southern C Summit earlier this month in Sea Island. I’ve talked a lot about this conference but it’s only because I so thoroughly enjoy it and because I’ve found so much value in the experience. It’s a big group of creatives in a variety of fields – interior designers, boutique owners, painters, jewelry makers, stationary designers, bakers, I could go on but I’d be here all day.
This year, rather than go solo, I not-so-reluctantly dragged along Lynsey, my business partner at Lemonade. And I know if you ask her, she would totally agree that it’s an event made for easy, constructive networking (not the forced kind you find so often) and a lot of fun too. And we both shared a room with my blogging bff Tiffany from Tiffany Style Blog who I came to this event with last year. BTW Tiffany and I both are sharing our takeaways from the trip today so head over and check out her post here.
Every time I come home from a conference, I am charged up and excited to put into practice what I’ve learned, reach out to new contacts and just generally refocus on my work. But before I start taking care of business, here’s five of my biggest takeaways and tips to make the most of any conference experience.
Find a Buddy
Now that I’ve gone to a couple of their events, I feel like an old pro so I am able to enjoy it more without the high school cafeteria style anxiety that can come with so many conferences. That being said, it was really helpful to have both Lynsey and my blogging bestie Tiffany alongside to navigate the scene. So that would be one of my big tips: try to convince a friend to come along or try to actively connect with a couple people in advance. This eliminates so much of the “Will I have a friend?” panic that can distract you from enjoying and benefitting from the event.
It also makes networking easier when you know you have a buddy to fall back on. I feel much more comfortable navigating a room of new faces and introducing myself when I know that when the conversation ends (or when you need to escape) that you can meet back up. Or even better, that you introduce your new best friend (that you met five minutes ago and totally bonded with over your shared love of chocolate chip cookies and Stranger Things) to your traveling buddy. Knowing someone in advance just alleviates so much of what makes people nervous about conferences in the first place.
And they’ll let you borrow a top when you decide you hate everything you’ve packed…
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Introduce Yourself
One of the reasons I love The Southern C events so much is because of their line-up of incredible speakers. Last year, I was dying to meet Gray Malin. His talk was incredibly inspiring and more than anything, I just love his work so much and wanted to tell him. So I put on my big girl pants, walked up to him and introduced myself as he was wrapping up a conversation. And he was LOVELY. So warm, welcoming and appreciative.
But instead of just walking up to him all willy-nilly, I came up with a game plan in advance. I knew I needed some sort of conversation starter, so I opened with how I won one of his prints on Instagram when he was just starting out. It made an immediate connection so the rest of the conversation was smooth sailing. He won’t remember me from Adam but that short exchange ensured I’d be a life-long fan. And now I can always say I met him.
This year’s conference crush was Elizabeth Mayhew, a women with a seriously bad ass career, currently the brand director from Draper James. Even better, she’s from Louisville. I had met Elizabeth in passing at a couple events but never really had the chance to talk in-depth. So a couple fellow Kentucky gals and I waited like contestants on The Bachelor to steal her from a conversation and say hi. We used our shared home state as an intro and all ended up having the best time with her. She shared more of her background, her experience and more of her personal connection to both Louisville and Kentucky. A couple of the girls even figured out they have mutual friends.
On my end, this little conversation has led to potential Derby collaborations with the brand. But even better, it’s given me a personal connection to a woman with a truly admirable career who also happens to be friendly, funny and an incredible baker (seriously, follow her on IG).
3. Collect ALL the business cards
Yes, I know everyone is on Instagram now but there is just something more permanent about exchanging business cards. It’s a little piece of you and your business that stays with that person and vice-versa. Plus, we know how easy it is to forget names or lose someone in the algorithm.
Plus you get ALL the contact information on the card which sometime may be harder to track down through IG. I like to use business cards as to-do’s when I leave of all the people I want to connect with. Even if it’s someone you can’t do business with right then and there, grab a card. You never know when a new client or project will come your way and you may need their services, product or just want to consult.
Quick tip: jot down a note of where you met them or what you talked about so you can reference it when you reach out later. It’s a great way to jog their memory and will reaffirm that connection so you avoid the inbox delete button.
4. Make Dinner Reservations in Advance for 6
Okay this also sounds pretty silly but at almost any conference you end up having a meal on your own. And more often that not, there are people there who didn’t make dinner plans in advance. Tiffany and I planned ahead and made reservations for six despite only having three seats filled. This allowed us the chance to extend invitations to people we met at the conference and gave us a chance to connect outside of the hustle and bustle of the event.
Just spending a little bit of time with people at dinner gives you a chance to get to know them on a more personal level and make a more lasting bond. Plus, it’s a chance to check out a new restaurant and grab a delicious dinner.
5. Jot Down Five To-Dos Before You Leave
Like I said before, attending a creative conference can fill your head with new ideas, big plans and lofty goals. And while that’s all great, you have to start somewhere. Before I leave (or on the flight out), I like to make a list of five actionable tasks to do in the first week or so of being home.
It can be as simple as sending a picture you took in a cute outfit to one of the brand reps, following up with a contact you met with an idea to collaborate, writing out a list of new content ideas, downloading the program/app/software one of the speakers recommended or just writing a thank you note to one of the organizers. Making a list of five simple tasks that you can put into action right away is a good starting point to make big changes. Plus, the early bird gets the worm!
So there’s my big five. Obviously there’s a lot more that can be said about this but I think these tips can really help in any conference or networking setting. Want to hear what Tiffany’s favorite takeaways were? Head over to her blog for the full scoop.