How To (Actually) Network at Academic and Scientific conferences?
“Your network is your net worth!”
How many times have you heard fellow researchers, professional colleagues and seniors talk about how much they’ve gained from networking at conferences? The answer’s probably a lot.
It’s no secret that attending and networking at academic and scientific conferences in your field can be a game-changer for your career or research work. Be it to meet potential collaborators, get new job opportunities or build your own reputation- the importance of networking at conferences is unparalleled.
Yet, for most of us from academic and scientific backgrounds actively building a network can seem like an uphill battle. More so with strangers at a conference.
Good news: it doesn’t have to be that way.
Conferences (when done right) can seem like a smooth enjoyable experience as opposed to being an awkward or forced one- even for introverts!
10 Effective Steps to Network Like A Pro at Any Academic or Scientific Conference
By following a few basic steps before, at and after a conference, you will be able to make the most out of any academic or scientific conference and start building a genuine network in no time.
Pre-Conference: What to do before the conference?
1.Identify your goals and objectives behind attending the conference
This might seem obvious, yet many still make the mistake of going into a conference without any clear goal or objective in mind. Ask yourself, what is it that you want to achieve by attending a particular conference.
It’s not enough to think, “ah! I’ll just present my paper and then we’ll see.” or “I’ll pitch myself to everyone I meet!” Instead, decide whether:
- Ask questions, listen to the details of what others do- to identify any potential collaborations
- Break the ice, have discussions around specific topics with other attendees- to build your reputation
- Share details of your work, ask for advice and opinions- to boost your own research
2. Look up attendees in advance to identify who you want to connect with
This is one of those handy tactics that go a long way in making sure that you’re well-prepared for an upcoming conference.
Look up the conference program online, make a list of speakers and attendees that you want to meet ad connect with.
Do your digging- read about their work, their blog posts(if any), company news and any other interesting information you might find.
3. Get in touch with who you want to meet in advance
Now that you’ve identified the attendees, speakers and vendors who you want to meet- try and contact them in advance.
Reach out via email, LinkedIn or Twitter and introduce yourself. Let them know that you’ll be attending the conference and are keen on hearing about their work. Take a step further for those who you really want to have a discussion with- ask them for a quick coffee or 10 minute chat.
Example reach out:
Hey John! I’m Brandon and i’ve recently been doing some exciting work with xx in our fight against cancer. I noticed that you’re attending <insert name of conference> and naturally got very excited to connect there. Your work with xx is super impressive and I would love to hear more about your opinion on <common topic of interest>.
What do you think? Care for a coffee, maybe?
This way you’ll familiarise your list with your name and face and give yourself a head-start even before the conference begins.
4. Make a list of smooth conversation starters
To break the ice and come across as a smooth talker, it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll start impromptu conversations with strangers.
A few examples are,
- Hi, I’m Dawn and you are?
- So, what brings you to <insert name of conference>?
- Are there any specific panels or presentations on your agenda today? Any suggestions for a fellow researcher?
- Happen to meet anyone interesting here?
5. Think of a few (SHORT) About-Me introductions
Instead of half-baked introductions, it’s a great idea to create a few short introduction pitches for yourself. Think of how you want to introduce yourself to the people you want to meet.
Attendees at any conference are used to meeting a lot of people so you need to make sure your intro is not generic like everyone else’s. “I’m X and I work on Y at Z” is just not enough!
A creative approach would be to include common topics of interest in your introduction itself. You could even talk about why you’re attending the conference. That way you’ll be able to steer the conversation in a desirable direction.
You could try finishing off your introduction with a question. A simple “how about you?” can also work wonders here.
What to do AT the conference?
6. Turn up early for talks and presentations
Especially handy if you’re a newbie to networking, showing up 10-15 minutes prior to a talk or presentation can be an ace in your networking strategy.
Typically before any speaker or panel takes the floor, the room gets a lot of buzz from other early arrivers. Go ahead and strike up conversations with them. Break the ice with “have you heard this speaker present before?” or “can’t wait to hear him/her talk about <common topic of interest>. what brings you here?”
You’d be surprised to find how many of these early arrivers are actually open to talk and even help you, in the long run.
7. Asking Questions is key
Whether after a presentation, at a Q&A session or even a 1-on-1 chat, the best way to move conversations forward is to ask questions.
When you ask questions, you make the other person feel that you’re genuinely interested in their opinion or work. That’s a big stepping stone towards engaging and building good networks.
For the presentations and talks you attend, the research you did pre-conference will also come in handy here. Use what you know to come up with questions beforehand, especiallyu if your improv skills are not upto the mark.
Just remember not to interrupt anyone with your questions. Shoot them from a place of curiosity, not hostility.
8. Your body language can attract the network you deserve
Think about the people you know who stand out of the herd and impress merely by their presence. What do they have that everyone else doesn’t?
It’s most likely: body language and striking non-verbal skills.
When it comes to crowded conferences, your body language can play a major role in how other people perceive you.
Even if you’re a pro at words, if your body language is not upto the mark- you’ll leave no impression on the people you interact with.
Here smiles can go a long way. Make eye contact and shake hands as you introduce yourself.
Remember not to put your posture on the lazy train and never fold your arms when someone else is talking. Needless to say, you need to give the people you speak to your undivided attention i.e. do not let your eyes wander here and there.
9. Take out time for lobby and cafeteria action
Networking masters know and follow this tactic to the T. As a novice however, you might be ignoring these hotspots of networking activity.
We’re talking about the more casual spots at any conference event. Spots like the cafeteria, lobby, gym, or swimming pool even.
It’s much easier to strike up conversations in these areas. You’ll find that people are open to talk about a variety of things- from how the tahini tastes to attractive tourist spots near the conference.
Post-Conference Networking: What to do AFTER the conference is over?
10. Follow Up! Follow Up! Follow Up!
Post-conference follow ups are one of the most underused yet most impactful weapons in your networking arsenal.
Connect with the people you’ve interacted one-on-one with on social channels. “Let’s stay in touch!” or “I would love to continue our discussion and see if we could collaborate in the future!” are basic ways to stay connected.
People are more likely to remember you this way and think about you if anything relevant pops up.
At the end of the day, you need to believe in yourself. Networking at conferences is all about putting your best foot forward, asking questions, listening to other people and sharing your own opinions.
Instead of thinking about what you bring to the table think about what you can learn or achieve from a conference.
Countless scientific and medical conferences take place every year for you to start practising these networking steps- trust us, you won’t be disappointed
One such prestigious and buzzing conference is the European Congress on Clinical Oncology or ECCO which takes place on 5th October, 2019.
If you’re in the cancer research or clinical oncology fields, grabbing a seat at the conference should definitely be on your bucket list.
Learn more about SPG Conferences.
SPG Conferences organise and host conferences in the medical, psychological and biological fields. Attendees range from researchers and professors to certified practitioners, professionals, vendors and healthcare organisations.