Today we hear from #ELGL14 conference planning team member Amanda Lamb. Amanda shares with us some great ideas to help us prepare for the very important yet oft-neglected art of networking at a professional conference. Do your palms get sweaty and does your throat get dry when you think about meeting new people? Amanda offers some tips to help you through the networking portion of #ELGL14 (and don’t worry – we have a few tricks up our sleeves to make your conference experience 100% awesome):
#ELGL14 will provide a great opportunity for professional and informal networking (sometimes colloquially referred to as “talking to people”). The conference planners have provided us with all the tools we need for successful networking: great speakers and sessions, down time to mingle, refreshments, etc. Some people seem to have a knack for starting up conversations with strangers, while the rest of us stand awkwardly by the coffee hoping someone we know will come talk to us.
Networking doesn’t have to be painful or awkward. With a little preparation and awareness of what makes a successful networking interaction, it can be natural for everyone. Here are a few tips for successful networking at #ELGL14.
Before the conference
Prep your elevator speech beforehand
You should be able to quickly rattle off two-three sentence answers to the questions “What do you do?”, “How long have you been doing that work?”, “What projects are you working on?”, “How did you get involved in ELGL?”, and “What do you like so far about this conference?” However, your answers should be natural, not memorized.
Know what you hope to achieve from networking
It may be that you want a job, find professionals for informational interviews, want to learn about and meet new people, or just want to not be that awkward person in the corner by themselves. But you have to have some motivation for engaging in networking. That said, try not to be too transparent with your motivation, especially if you are looking for employment opportunities. The people you are networking with should not feel like you are using them to get something.
Initiating a conversation
You walk into a crowded room, and everyone already seems to be grouped together, mingling and chatting. What can you do?
- Find someone you have met before or know well and join their conversation
- Find an opening in a circle of people engaged in conversation (or even just sitting together at a table)
- Find other people scanning the room and go talk to them
If there are no openings in current conversations, stand by a conversation and try to make eye contact with someone. Once you have caught their eye, they will usually make room for you in the group. Don’t interrupt the people currently talking, but listen, wait for an opening, and then join in.
During your conversation
Do whatever exercise you need to do to remember their name, such as using their name frequently in the conversation. You can also ask for a business card to help you keep track of who you’ve met.
Make the conversation about them
Ask them questions about what they do, why they are at the conference, what their favorite session was, what information they can’t wait to take back to their workplace. Your job is to listen, not simply wait for your turn to speak. Remember, people are not likely to remember you for your graduate degree, current job, or anything you say. You will make a much more positive impression if you make them feel heard.
Remember your nonverbal communication
Nonverbal communication can actually be much more powerful than any words you utter, but somehow we are so focused on what we our mouths are saying we don’t think about what our body is saying. Some basic tips:
- Open up your body language to invite conversation. Do not cross your arms or feet.
- Point your toes toward who you are talking to (not away, that signals you want to leave).
- Shake hands with strength and confidence, but don’t try to break your conversation partner’s hand. If they do not offer their hand to shake, be the one to put your hand forward.
After the conversation
Know when the conversation is over
Everyone focuses on how to start the networking interaction, no one thinks about how to end it. Don’t force conversation. Sometimes the chemistry is there, sometimes it isn’t. If you both are struggling to find something to continue talking about, the conversation is probably over. Easy exits include “I should go find my seat”, “I need to go refresh my coffee”, “I see someone I should say ‘hi’ to”, etc.
Follow-up when promised
You collected those business cards, now is the time to make your intention clearer. You don’t start the conversation with “I want you to grant me an informational interview”, but after you have spoken with someone for a while, you might end with “I’d like to talk with you more about what you do, would you be willing to meet with me again?” And if you say you are going to follow-up with them, make sure to collect their business cards and do it. You can also take notes at the conference on the back of someone’s business card to remind yourself about the conversation. Then email them, connect with them on LinkedIn, or at least remember to say hello again at #ELGL15!