Networking at Conferences and Annual Meetings

“Our networking session is about to begin!” If you have ever attended a conference or an annual meeting, you might have heard those words, and they may have filled you with excitement, nervousness, or even dread. Conferences are an excellent place to make lasting connections, learn more about your field, and present your research, and there are also many opportunities for both formal and informal networking. Research shows that 65-85% of jobs are landed through networking, and it can also be a great way to make contacts for future collaboration on projects.

However, sometimes it can be a bit difficult to think of a conversation opening or a professional way to introduce yourself and your research. Here are some methods to facilitate your networking at conferences, ideas for you to start conversations to maximize opportunities, and strategies to make a lasting impression.

Getting the conversation started

Networking at conferences happens all over! Some of the opportunities might be built into the conference schedule, like receptions or formal networking sessions, opportunities might emerge as you attend conference sessions, eat lunch, or attend social events.

In anticipation of the many opportunities to network, consider:

  • Having a few conversation starters with which you genuinely feel comfortable using to initiate interactions with others, such as, “What sessions have you attended so far?” or “Where are you from?”
  • Sitting next to others whenever possible
  • Going up to other individuals – they are probably wishing to connect with someone too!
  • Being prepared to give a brief overview of who you are, what interests you, and why you are there, and follow with an open-ended question, even as simple as “How about you?” or “What brings you to this year’s meeting?”

Your 30-second narrative

Once you start the conversation, you can move into providing more information about yourself and your research. It’s a good idea to organize your thoughts into a 30-60 second story so you can easily present who you are and the importance of your research, and then keep the conversation going. Here are some points to cover in your narrative:

  • Who you are
  • What you do (your value) – Show through an example instead of telling or listing!
  • Why what you do is of value to research/to science/to future discoveries/to solving some sort of problem or question
  • Ask open-ended questions to continue the conversation

After you finish your conversation, ask the individual for their business card or email! That provides you with confirmation of their name and information if you would like to contact them in the future. Yes, most researchers do still bring their business cards to conferences! If you have your card printed or an electronic business card, you can give yours in return. To make a lasting impression, send a follow-up email to all of your new connections.

For more information on networking, schedule a career coaching appointment at the Center for Career Development.

By Kalle Nelson
Kalle Nelson Graduate Assistant Kalle Nelson