For all that I’ve attended, I still struggle with networking at conferences. I am simply horribly uncomfortable starting an in-person conversation with a stranger. I don’t think of people as “friends I haven’t met yet.” I’m closer to the mentality of “stranger danger.” Knowing the importance of networking – not simply for me but also for my students – I’ve worked to establish some habits that help.
During Conference (read: any big event with colleagues)
Common Meals: Sit at a table apart from your institution. Just do it. It’s a bonus if you find a table with colleagues from multiple institutions, but typically I find myself with one institution who had a few extra seats. You only need to be brave long enough to claim a seat. At that point, you’ll rise to the expectation of conversing with others and it’ll be fine. It’s always fine.
Volunteering: I find it much easier to start a conversation when I have a defined purpose of being present. Working alongside others volunteering already demonstrates a shared interest in service and the act of doing while talking helps many of us. If the volunteer position has you answering questions for attendees, all the easier to briefly introduce yourself to a large number of people.
Participate in Limited Number Events: I like the comfort of participating in an event requiring signing up in advance with a cap of participants. Typically these events allow plenty of time for talking and it’s the same group of people for a period of time.
Business Cards: Bring them if you have them; make some if you don’t. As you trade cards, write where you met and what you discussed. Plan to follow up after the conference.
Follow Up: Those business cards mentioned a few sentences ago – follow through! Provide information about that neat program your institution is doing; request additional information about the new protocol they are trying at their institution.
Connect on Social Media: We have such easy access to build relationships online. If you’ve had the ability to meet at a conference, why not continue the conversation tucked behind the safety of your screen? Then…
Schedule a Chat: I haven’t done this often, but when I do it always goes well. You’ll be amazed at how simple an introductory conversation can be. Don’t know what to talk about? Buffer provided a great article with 27 questions to ask instead of “what do you do?”
I always enjoy hearing of how others connect – particularly after the game of trading business cards.
How do you build relationships beyond the conference?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Gamification in Higher Ed & Student Affairs with Stacy Jacob & Dave Eng