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5 Tips for Conference Networking

Posted April 2, 2014 by Denise DeGennaro in Networking Buzz

In the higher education and student affairs world, conference season is upon us! Around this time, many professional organizations host their annual regional and national conferences. I recently returned from a regional NACADA (the National Academic Advising Association) that took place in Newport, RI. What a fantastic experience!  Not only was Newport a nice place to visit, but the conference was an amazing experience. I connected with some coworkers from a previous job and internship, and even some individuals who had interviewed me for positions when I was first job-hunting! I got to network and meet so many other fantastic individuals from my field. If you haven’t been to a conference, I would highly recommend going!

If you’re job hunting, it’s a great way to connect with people who are doing the hiring. If you are happy in your position, it’s a great way to re-energize and learn some best practices.

If you aren’t sure of your industry’s professional organizations, ask around the office  or do a quick Google search. Some memberships and conference fees are pricey, but are definitely a good investment. Your job may even foot the entire bill (or part) if they have money allocated to professional development. If you can’t swing it, keep an eye out for more local, one-day style conferences or workshops. Here’s the caveat – a conference will not give as large of a return on investment unless you network!

Try these strategies next time you’re at a conference or workshop:

  1. Have a stack of business cards on hand! Don’t have one? Print up a batch here. Whenever you receive someone else’s business card, write a note on the back that will jog your memory about your interactions with the person.
  2. Take advantage of downtime. Before conference sessions begin, there is usually a bit of downtime while you are waiting for it to begin. Instead of sitting there and texting or checking your email on your phone, take the chance to turn to the person next to you and make conversation! Ask where they are from, what brought them to the conference, etc. You’ll likely find you have something in common, after all, you are in the same line of work!
  3. Stay after presentations. Though you will likely be going from session to session, take a minute to go up and thank the presenter, ask a question or give a compliment, and exchange business cards.
  4. Don’t dine alone! Whether you are attending the conference solo or with coworkers, meals are a great time to get to know others in your field. Use this opportunity to widen your circle. Grab a seat at a table and introduce yourself to the others. If you are with coworkers, see if they’d be up for dining with a different group. After all, you see them practically every day!
  5. Follow up. Hopefully you’ll return from your conference with a wealth of knowledge and new contacts! Remember those business cards you collected and wrote notes on? Take a minute to email a follow-up and thank them for their time and say it was nice meeting them, and refer back to something you spoke about.

Networking can be daunting, but if you take small steps to get outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be successful!

About the Author

Denise DeGennaro

Denise DeGennaro is a student affairs professional who helps undergrad and graduate students (and sometimes friends and family) at all stages in their transitions from school to career. She is an expert resume and cover letter writer and reviewer. Denise received her Master's in Higher Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Outside of work, Denise enjoys all things girly and loves testing out the latest beauty and nail art trends.