Networking at a Conference

22 November 2013, 01:41 pm

Conferences are what you make of them. Whether you are an experienced academic or a student aiming for a career in research or academia, there are countless benefits you can take from attending conferences. One of the most important elements of attending a conference is meeting new people or catching up with those who you have met in the past and want to make contact with again. Whether you’re the conference scenes’ answer to the smooth-talking Bill Clinton or someone who finds it tough to approach new people, being able to network effectively is a key skill to possess.

Here’s 5 quick and easy steps on how to get valuable experience from a conference.

Do your homework before the Conference

A lot of conferences publish the list of registered delegates attending a conference in advance. This is a fantastic opportunity to see who is attending a conference, what their specialisations are and figuring out from that which sessions they are more likely to attend. You will then know who you want to meet specifically and/or the type of people you want to meet. By waiting for the day of the conference to arrive and making a list of who to target then, it leads to a waste of precious time. It also allows you to do some research on the person and see their publications in advance on LinkedIn, ResearchGate and Mendeley. This can help to find a good conversation starter. One tip is to start by looking at the keynote speakers as these are most likely to be the influencers in your area.

Talk to the people next to you

There is usually a period of time between when you enter the seminar room and when the presenter starts speaking. There is not much you can do during this period, maybe check your emails for example. There is an opportunity to talk to the person who sits beside you. They are at a session that you are also interested in so you don’t know who they are or who they may know. You may see them later in the day talking to someone you want to meet and could introduce you. While you have a list of people you need to meet, everyone at the conference is a potential networking opportunity.

Form a mutually beneficial relationship

Networking is like the Tango – it takes two. While you have an aim to meet certain people to gain a contact or information from, you should also think how you can be a help to them. They are more likely to keep in contact and remember you if there is something you can offer them in return.

networking at a conferenceImage Courtesy of Venture Accelerator Partners Inc.

Business Cards

Some say that carrying business cards are becoming less and less important as social media grows. I beg to differ. If someone hands you a business card it means they want you to contact them. Anyone can ask to Connect on LinkedIn. There is no guarantee that these requests will be accepted however. A business card is more personal and it is also a good way to end a conversation politely if someone is taking up too much time. Another advantage of business cards is you can easily write a quick note on them about the conversation you had or to remember to send them on that interesting article you read. You can mark these with when and where you met this person, so when you are looking back at the business cards you have collected after the conference you know exactly “who is who”.

Follow up

The reason you “targeted” a particular person in the first place is you thought they could bring you value in some shape or form, whether you are at the early stages of a conference and want ideas or setting up a potential future collaboration. You have to remember that this person could be in contact with dozens of people at the conference, and may not remember the conversation you have had with them. Being interested in the person at the conference followed by no contact for weeks or months and then an email out of the blue when you need something is not good practice. Put yourself in their shoes – would you reply? Follow up with even a thank you message and that you enjoyed their talk.  You could also send an article you found on an area they are interested in. This looks good on you and also keeps the channel of communication going. You can miss a huge opportunity by not following up and can lead to networking at the conference being an utter waste of time.

Networking is art in itself. It is particularly important ìn research conferences as it like a social network in itself. While you may be there to present research, don’t miss the opportunity to network and make contacts that could lead to future collaboration.