So you got funding and are on your way to a national conference — congratulations! I’ve pulled together some of my tips to making the most of your time and energy to strategically build your network. Some of these things I learned on my own, others I learned because of some very caring and honest mentors.
Before you leave
Networking happens before you leave home. I especially like Ed Cabellon’s advice to contact 3 people in advance and make specific plans to meet up with them at conference. As you’re browsing the guidebook, look for sessions from people you want to engage with or topics you want to learn about. Attend these sessions and follow up with the presenters post-conference.
In case this needs to be said, bring your business cards. Download the LinkedIn CardMunch app to your smartphone before you go. The app scans images of business cards and uploads the data into a contact that can be connected to LinkedIn. My only complaint about the app is the lack of personalization – it will send a standardized message when you send a LinkedIn connection request.
Be Open to the Experience
Conferences are often the only time people are able to reconnect with friends, colleagues, and cohort members who are spread out across the country. While this is a great chance to have your family reunions and reconnect, be mindful of making time to both nurture AND grow your network.
Make yourself easy to approach. If you are constantly traveling in a pack or standing in a circle with 6 BFFs/posse, you may be intimidating to walk up to. That said, don’t expect that everyone will approach you for networking – be ready to put some effort into it.
Social Media is often called the great equalizer – giving everyone a place and voice in the conversation. It has removed barriers to contacting celebrities and made it easy for people to feel connected, without ever meeting face to face. That said, meeting in person the first time can be awkward.
Use a Twitter and LinkedIn pictures that looks like you – ideally using the same professional photo on multiple platforms. Make yourself easy to identify. I also like to wear something that stands out – a colorful jacket, scarf, pin – that makes me easy to find in a crowd. Connecting with a person you met in a session can be easier when their green sweater stands out in the sea of black blazers.
Attend tweet ups and meet ups to connect with other people you’ve interacted with online. If you meet someone you recognize, something like “I follow you on Twitter and really enjoy your thoughts on ______ and am excited to get to continue the conversation face to face. On the other hand, don’t act like a Justin Bieber fan when you meet someone from twitter. We’re all SA pros and normal people, but yes – I am that girl from twitter.
But I’m an Introvert!
I’ll be honest and own that my Introversion/Extroversion breakdown is about 40/60 with a lean toward extroversion. Conferences ratchet that up to more of a 30/70 split (and then I tend to hole up in a cocoon of introversion when I get home). That said, being an introvert doesn’t mean networking is out of the question – it means doing it in a way that is meaningful and comfortable for you.
Introvert doesn’t mean shy. Find ways to engage in 1-1 conversations and networking opportunities and build in time to process/recharge. Plan coffee dates, take quiet time to write thank you notes, meet presenters after sessions, and sneak away for some you-time.
For some expert advice (from an introvert), read more from Amma Marfo.
My philosophy is to build and nurture a network before you NEED it. No one likes the friend who only calls when they need something. Be genuine in your networking efforts. You’re not competing to see who can collect the most business cards.
What are your tips for networking at conferences?