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Conference Strategies 2: Dealing with Follow up Challenges - A Follow Up Toolkit

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Article first published December 2018 for PRS Foundation, Keychange project.

Doing follow up can challenging.

It isn’t difficult really, any more than going to the gym is, or giving up eating cake, unless you really don’t feel like it in which case somehow despite your best intentions, the gym or the cake abstinence never quite happen. And all too often after promising someone we’ll follow up with them at an industry event, we just… eh, don’t… get round to it. And eventually so much time has passed it would be embarrassing to follow up now. So that’s that. Right?

Do you really want to let that fabulous new connection, all full of potential to move your career forward slip through your fingers? No? Good, I don’t want you to miss out on it either.

So what’s going on with this follow up shenanigans in the first place? Why do so few people (and it is almost an epidemic in my experience) follow up after a conference or networking opportunity?

My theory? You’re a creative and/or you work in a creative industry. Research shows that you are very likely to be someone who has both introvert and extrovert traits. And networking then following up your new connections is a cross trait activity.

Take this scenario: After the high-energy funtimes of a good conference or networking event, getting home you experience a matching quiet or low energy spell. You might simply be exhausted or you might be ill (we know about the perils of mass gatherings to the marrow of our bones since Covid) or, in other words you might be experiencing a prolonged visit from your inner introvert after your extrovert has been in charge for the past few days and blown through all your energy or appetite for the outside world.

If your quiet spell is down to one of the first two, you’re tired or ill, a little rest and time to recuperate and you’ll be firing up your laptop and pulling out your list of folk to follow up no problem. Away you’ll go, turning your new connections into career advancement. Go you!

If however, it’s more a case of that last one, then like so many other people you’ll find that the you who was in charge at the conference (or networking event, or showcase, or open mic, or backstage hangout or whatever industry shindig) and making wholehearted promises to be in touch within the week is now frustratingly absent. Vanished. Not interested at best or stressed at worst at the very idea of sending out emails or help! phoning. Or should it be a WhatsApp? Or no, text is better, not everyone uses What’sApp, but what if they hate being interrupted by text? Maybe a voicemail, but what if I just babble embarrassingly or forget to say who I am? At this point your egoic voice has rushed into the quiet of your introverted spell and is making hay while the sun shines.

In 15 years of networking for my own business, and supporting clients who struggle with it, I have spotted that this “extrovert makes promises and then the introvert tries hard to pretend you did no such thing”, is a frequent occurrence. Most creative people exist on a fluid spectrum of both introversion and extroversion. We are not one or the other, we’re somewhere between one and the other depending on the situation. It’s part of what makes us amazing. It also explains why we are so horrifically bad at following up really promising leads.

Because out there in social situations our extrovert is, mostly, front and centre and making us new friends. But when we get home, to the security of our home, or studio or beloved bed, our introvert uncurls and reaches for the duvet or blanket and is not in any humour to give up the control to our extrovert. And additionally, it’s when we’re in our quieter introvert mode that other inner voices, like our tricksy ego, can make their feelings heard in a way they can’t so much when we’re out being sociable in professional places or professional in social ones.

So by the time our ego, which in fairness to it, is simply trying to keep us safe by keeping us small and comfortably not moving ahead from where we are, gets involved with our follow up we’re got a struggle on our hands. Like getting up and going to the gym after an epic night out.

We’ll follow up tomorrow. They won’t expect to hear from us so soon. They probably didn’t mean it anyway that we should get in touch. They were probably a little drunk and just trying to be nice. Maybe I didn’t hear them properly over the music…

Our egoic voice will try anything to get us not to follow up a promising lead. Because living our best life and realising our full potential and making good money and making a difference in the world would be madness! Who would want that?

Our ego certainly doesn’t want that. And in the quiet of our kitchen, alone, we don’t have any other voices to fight back. And so a week passes. And then two, three. And then it would be embarrassing to follow up, right? (Which is another reason why I strongly recommended in my first article about making the most of conferences, giving the person you’re follow up a date by which you’ll be in contact. It can be enough to kick us into action, if we think someone is expecting to hear from us by a date and will judge us if we miss it).

Other than committing to date so we, and they, know we’re serious about it, what are some other solutions to the follow up struggle?

7 Tools to Avoid Doing Battle with Your Introvert and/or Ego in the First Place.

1 - Follow up on the spot. Literally – get their email address or phone number and send 2 lines there and then with your new connections standing next to you.

Great to meet you. Really looking forward to having a meeting next week. Let’s do it!

I’ve known a couple of people do this to me. The efficiency is breath-taking. But it really works. The ball is now in my court and they are clearly keen and serious about speaking to me. My ego has no wiggle room to make me doubt because – it’s in writing. And that matters. Try it for yourself. It’s also easier to word things when the person is pretty much next to you and you’re in jovial happy to meet you energy. Less second guessing all round.

2 - Do it on the way back home/to your hotel room. If it’s a virtual conference, do it before you get out of your chair after the Zoom window closes. Before you slip into your safe, introvert-welcoming sanctuary and flick all your extrovert switches to off. Or (outside of conference situations) in the Uber/train/bus on the way home whilst you’re still high on life and your extrovert hasn’t been overthrown by your introvert as you cross your front step yet.

But what to do if you were enjoying yourself so much at the time and the cab journey home was a blur and it’s the next day and your introvert is winning the battle of brushing aside your intuitive knowledge that this contact is one you really don’t want to mess up with.

3. Change location. Go somewhere where your extrovert is going to come to the fore. I do a lot of my more challenging follow up (the ones that really make your heart race because they could be EXACTLY the perfect person/opportunity) in my favourite cafe. I know the owner, it’s a light and lively space, I even have my seat that she teases me she’ll put a reserved sign on one of these days. It totally activates my extrovert self and I can get down to the serious business of making that call, or sending that email.

4. Get reinforcements. Gather up someone else or several someones who also need to thwart their anti-follow up introverts. Pick a place where your inner extroverts will happily show up and blitz your follow up together. You can even be organised and schedule it in advance for a few days after you get back from your conference. This is also a great way to overcome resistance stories like – I don’t know what to write or my written English isn’t good enough etc because the people with you can help you as sounding boards. If a small voice is telling you this all sounds a bit extra, ignore it. When in resistance or self sabotage getting external support is a key tool.

5. Get reinforcements – Gold level Sometimes we get a contact or connection that is so totally perfect we freeze and can barely to look at the opportunity without it feeling like looking into the sun. It’s almost too dangerous to contemplate. Sweaty hands. Heart racing. But we are not doing the follow up. At this point you need to employ a strategy I call, My Fake Manager. Find a friend or colleague who has your best interests at heart (and possibly has a need of this kind of support themselves and you can do a mutual exchange – so many freelancers and indie folk in the creative world, trust me, there are more than enough people to swap with) and get them to do the follow up call or email for you. This works like a charm. I have yet to meet a creative person who can’t talk a good talk or email a good email on behalf of someone else’s creativity.

So no excuses, OK? You can do this follow up thing like a pro.

And yet…

Based on having had this conversation with a lot of creatives, here are two more next level classic But Tamara! follow up challenges.

But Tamara, I did follow up and they didn’t reply. Ouch! Been there. It sucks. It also doesn’t actually mean anything, that they didn’t reply. Maybe the internet ate your email. Maybe their kid is sick and they haven’t caught up with their emails/voicemails yet. Maybe a million things.

6. Follow them up again. I am willing to contact someone three times, an initial contact and 2 follow ups to say, did you get the message I sent on x date? I may also vary the means of communication in case that’s the problem. After that I am willing to accept that fate is currently saying no. (I say currently because I’ve had a couple of great leads or even follow ups after great and positive meetings go cold as the Baltic in February (and I know how cold that is – I’ve been ice swimming in the Baltic. In February). Rather than deciding this person obviously doesn’t like me or deciding defensively that I don’t like them any more – a very typical reaction when we feel rejected, but not a helpful one - I make my peace with it and move on. I can think of at least 3 occasions when those dead leads turned back up again a few years later (the music industry is a pretty small world) and turned into something real. Never think that looking professional and building trust is wasted time. It will come back to you somehow.

On another occasion I realised that my follow up person hadn’t replied to me because I hadn’t actually sent the follow up email to them. I’d sent it to the mutual contact who introduced us, but not to the actual person. So I forwarded the email with a joking covering message begging them to believe I was far better at coaching that I have ever been at sending emails. And they turned out to be a client who really valued humour in their work and we clicked as client and coach and collaborators. Not only no harm done but the perfect way for us to meet.

When a follow up doesn’t reply, don’t make it mean anything about you. Follow up again til you’re sure you’re not getting anywhere (whatever feels right to you) then let it go. Sincerely and whole-heartedly. (I actually brought up a ghosting by an amazing contact in an energy healing session once because it was still annoying me a full year or so later. About three months after the energy healing we met again the contact and I – at another conference! - and we started up again from where we left off and it turned into a couple of amazing pieces of work for me. Seriously- LET IT GO.)

Here’s another classic follow up challenge.

But Tamara, it’s been two/six/twelve months since I promised someone (who would have been a great contact for me) to get in touch and I haven’t. That is too long, isn’t it, Tamara? It’s over. I blew it.

7. It’s never too late to follow up Sweet soul, you did not blow it. It’s never too late… well in some cases it might be partly – if you’ve, say, missed a deadline for being considered for something. But please remember – a big part of follow up is demonstrating that you can be trusted to be a good person to work with. Even if a key deadline is passed you can still show yourself as a good person to work with. Honest. Willing to admit your mistakes. No-one expects anyone else to be perfect. (And if they do let me assure you, you probably don’t want to work with them). Try something like this.

Dear [name of person I should have followed up 3 months ago]

I am so sorry I missed that deadline/have taken so long to get in touch. Unfortunately, life intervened/sabotaged my best intentions. Please know that if there is any way I can be considered for the next [thing/go] I would be really grateful. In the meantime, I saw this article (attached) and remembered our great chat. Have you seen it already?

Is there any way I can take you for a drink or offer coffee and cake as an apology for letting so much time pass before I got in touch? Aren’t all meetings better with cake?

Yours hopefully

That kind of thing. Write your personality into it. I have a thing for cake. Sorry, not sorry. Makes you look like you’d be good to work with, no?

So there you have it. Seven ways to deal with Follow Up Challenges. It’s never to soon to follow up. It’s never too late to follow up and start building trust again.

That said, if the whole idea of networking brings you out in a rash – my third and final article about getting the most out of conferences might be perfect. It’s about quality vs quantity and networking intuitively.

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