What We Learned at the 2016 Plastics Recycling Conference

Written by: Chris Goger

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Plastics Recycling Conference in New Orleans with my company, BlackBridge Investments. Leading up to the conference, my supervisors held several discussions with my fellow colleagues and I to ensure we were adequately prepared to maximize our experience. Developing a plan of action at a conference or networking event is not overly complicated, but absolutely necessary to maximize your return on the company’s investment in the costs of travel and attending the conference. It’s important to know in advance what you want to get out of the conference, and set some clear goals to make sure you see everything you want to see and meet everyone you want to meet.

With that in mind, we’d like to offer a few of the biggest lessons and key takeaways that the BlackBridge team learned from the 2016 Plastics Recycling Conference:

Focus on One Key Point
The Plastics Recycling Conference was a large-scale event with nearly 200 exhibitors and over 1,600 attendees, and such a big event can be a bit overwhelming or intimidating, especially if it’s your first time to attend a conference of this size. However, the first takeaway I would like to share that was most helpful to me was the importance of focus. If you’re going to be wandering the aisles at a big conference like this, it’s crucial to be able to break down each of your meetings and seminar experiences into one key point. What I mean by this is, you are going to take lots of notes, shake lots of hands, and leave with wads of business cards. Try to break each meeting or lecture into one key takeaway that you can make note of, rather than risk being unorganized, getting flustered, and potentially failing to recognize a promising opportunity. This will allow you to keep a clear head and when you return to the office, pick up just where you left off with that person you met at the conference, or implement that new idea you learned, seamlessly.

Meet With Current Partners and New Prospects

A conference or networking event can be instrumental in building your book of business, as well as growing existing relationships. With that being said, be sure to set meetings with existing business partners, as well as with new prospects. This can be 15 minutes over coffee, or a two-hour dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town – it all depends on the schedule and on how much time each of you is able to invest in the meeting – not every relationship is at the same stage of development, so use your best judgment. Just be sure you make time for both kinds of meetings, and maximize your time.

However, don’t forget that even though you are discussing business, you should avoid gripping the bat too tightly and let your personality shine through. This is a rare opportunity to connect with people on a more personal level – you might have only exchanged phone calls or emails with many of these people, but an industry conference is a great chance to cement these relationships with in-person contact.

Lastly, though it is important to have a plan and set meetings, do not become overly obsessive with structure. Instead of planning every single minute of your day, be open to exploring. Leave some blocks of free time. Sit in on lectures. Grab a drink at the cocktail hour. In short, explore your surroundings and be open to possibilities. You may make your most meaningful connection while riding in the elevator.

Bring the Conference Back to the Office
My last takeaway is how to re-connect with all of your contacts after the conference and work on putting business together. As I mentioned earlier, it is essential to take concise, accurate notes. Upon returning to the office, you will want to organize all of your business cards and notes into your CRM system. Once that is arranged, you will want to send out follow-up e-mails, thanking people for their time and setting the stage to explore the business opportunities you discussed while at the conference. Time is of the essence, as you want to strike while the iron is hot and while your in-person meeting (and favorable first impression!) is fresh on your prospective business partners’ minds. Ideally, your first few days back in the office should be an occasion to hit the ground running and pick up right where you left off in building relationships with people at the conference.

In conclusion, my trip to New Orleans for the Plastics Recycling Conference was an invaluable experience. I am not always the most outgoing person and I was somewhat intimidated at the idea of attending a large-scale conference for the first time and meeting hundreds of different people. However, breaking down conversations/meetings into one key takeaway, planning meetings, being open to exploring the different events and welcoming chance meetings and spontaneous conversation allowed me to thoroughly enjoy the experience. I made many meaningful contacts and since returning to the office have already begun working with several different people I met while down in New Orleans. In short, establish a plan of action, stay organized, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine, and you will maximize your results and leave with a memorable experience.