Going to conferences normally involves a significant investment of time and money. So it’s important to get as much as you can out of them.
One of the most valuable things you can get from a conference is contacts. These can build into a network of people that will be valuable to you throughout your career.
Building professional contacts can be daunting, especially if you are just starting out on your career. But never fear, like any daunting task, contact-making is easier if you break it down into small actionable chunks.
So here are 15 practical ways to make contacts at conferences:
1. Before you start, have your introduction already worked out in your head. It is amazing how any hope of forming a concise sentence, explaining who you are and what you are researching, can evaporate when you are unprepared for an introduction.
2. Talk to the person sitting next to you in a session. Ask them a question about the last talk while the speakers change over.
3. Use your supervisor’s contacts: Ask him/her to suggest key people and make introductions.
4. Attend everything you can; demos, workshops, tutorials, mixers. The more you mix, the more contacts you will make.
5. Make a point of having lunch with someone different every day.
6. Attend the industry exhibits. There are many good reasons for doing this. Check out why here.
7. Ask a question to a presenter. If it is a good question, people will remember you and might introduce themselves to you afterward.
8. Don’t forget small-talk. It doesn’t have to be all about science and in fact, you are much more likely to make a lasting connection if you can find a connection on a personal level.
9. Present a poster, or even better, a talk. Lots of people will want to ask you about your work. Check out these articles on writing posters and giving presentations.
10. Have a networking strategy for mixer sessions. Scan the attendee list to pinpoint the people you’d like to meet and use your strategy to try and make a connection with as many of them as possible. For ideas on networking strategies, take a look at this article.
11. Help other people out by making introductions for them. This builds goodwill, and hopefully, they will do the same for you.
12. Take business cards. You might think that you are “only a PhD student” so you don’t need business cards. But you do.
13. Always keep promises you make – make sure you actually send them that paper or piece of data.
14. Follow up good conversations with a thank-you email and perhaps suggest specific interactions e.g. send them a copy of your next paper, visit them next time you are in their town, or invite them to speak at your institution.
15. Above all, be friendly and be yourself.
Can you think of any more?