Making the most out of conferences: It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you

BY PAUL DELGADO, GRADUATE PROGRAM ASSISTANT
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay 

Do you remember your first academic conference and how nervous you were when you approached that presenter? What pushed you to introduce yourself? Was it your interest in their research or was it a friend that insisted you to go for it? 

For many academics, conferences are one of the main ways to network and make connections with others in their field. However, conferences can be very overwhelming and intimidating when you’re in a room full of experts. It’s very easy to only socialize with the people you know instead of stepping outside of your comfort zone. We’ve all been there. Approaching someone can be very be intimidating, especially if you want them to remember you. Yet, making meaningful connections at conferences doesn’t have to be a nightmare. 

Here are some useful tips to make an impactful networking experience:

1. Check the conference agenda in advance: It’s important to look at the programming days in advance to know which workshops and talks you want to attend. If there’s a presentation you’re interested in, look into the speaker and their research so you feel more comfortable approaching them after their talk.

2. Be intentional about your approach: Remember that collecting personal cards is not the goal. Most presenters and attendees have some networking experience so they will know if you’re just collecting their card to add it to your pile. Be genuine about your interest and be intentional. Always make eye contact so they know you’re actually paying attention. 

3. You want them to see you as future colleagues: The presenters are also there to make a good impression on the audience. When you introduce yourself to them and explain how your research aligns with theirs, you want them to see you as someone whom they could work with in the future. 

4. Don’t skip the poster session: People often skip the poster session to go relax and take a break from the conference. Do not skip the poster session. During this time, you will have the chance to have a 1-1 conversation and ask those questions you’re eager to ask. 

5. Use social media to your advantage: Academic Twitter can be a useful resource for you to meet those in your field that are attending the conference. Connect with them, invite them to your talk, and attend their talk. 

6. Last but not least: FOLLOW UP. The general rule of thumb is to give at least a week before following up. Write a clear email and mention a conversation you had with that person while at the conference. 

Best of luck during your next conference and remember, it’s not about who you know but about who knows you!

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