« More blog articles
Networking at Conferences

11 Tips for Networking at Conferences

Posted on: March 13, 2020

Excerpted and adapted from Chapter 10: Connecting from Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World by Jenny Grant Rankin. For more tips on connecting—including finding a mentor, joining professional organizations, policymaking, and more—follow this link to download the full excerpted chapter on which this article is based.

Conferences are invaluable venues for connecting with other educators outside your university. These connections are important for everything from sharing ideas that can benefit your students, to broadening your professional development, to increasing your career opportunities. But networking can be daunting, especially in a face-to-face setting. These 11 tips will help to alleviate some of that anxiety and offer best practices for making the most of your conference experience:

  1. Visit discussion tables.
    You can always sit quietly and listen, so the risk for a shy person need not be high. Though once you have gotten comfortable, your interest in the issue being discussed could prompt you to participate.
  2. Set goals low enough to reach.
    Aim to make just one new connection at an event, as this takes the pressure off, provides a clear metric, and makes later follow up with contacts more manageable.
  3. Get someone you know to attend with you.
    A friendly security blanket can put you at ease, and a more-assertive friend can initiate conversations of which you can then be part even if you are shy.
  4. Volunteer for a conference you’re attending.
    Consider working the information booth or chairing a panel. This positions you for engagement with participants and presenters, even if you wouldn’t normally initiate conversation on your own.
  5. Join social media dialogue during events.
    This is a great way to connect at the conference and also afterwards (through new social media followers and followed). Many conferences often announce a designated hashtag for the event, otherwise you can search likely hashtags and find the one most people are using. Add this hashtag to any tweets and other social media messages you post in relation to what you are learning or doing at the conference.
  6. Carry business cards with you.
    If your employer does not provide them, order or make your own. If you hear a presenter or conference attendee mention something that correlates with your work, you can approach her afterwards, state what you appreciated hearing, and hand her your business card while adding you would love to talk more. Writing a note on the back of the card can help this person remember what you said.
  7. Write notes on the backs of business cards you receive.
    Even if you think, “I’ll never forget this person!” when she hands you a business card, figuring out later who’s who in a stack of collected cards can be daunting. Try writing a note on the back related to your connection. For example, “working on a book like my fourth” or “has brother at BBC Radio who might want to interview me”. These notes are a huge help when following up with people later.
  8. Determine if an expert you admire will be making an appearance you can attend.
    You’ll find that many experts often list their upcoming presentations and media appearances on their website. If you admire someone’s work, look for her upcoming engagements. If you can attend one of these, reach out to the expert in the way described below.
  9. Reach out to speakers prior to events.
    When a conference’s program is released in advance, you will likely spot session topics and speakers devoted to your area of expertise. These can be great folks with whom to connect, but speakers could be drowning in a crowd of other interested attendees if you wait to approach them at the conclusion of their talks. Send a speaker a message by email or through social media well before an event if you want to connect there. Succinctly explain how your ideas might correlate and politely ask if the speaker would have some time for you over the course of the conference (for example, to grab a cup of coffee or sit at the same table during the conference lunch buffet). Posting some positive social media messages (such as tagging the speaker while expressing excitement about her last book or upcoming keynote) around the same time can help your invitation stand out.
  10. Follow up.
    Sheryl Sandberg (2013) of Facebook, Google, and Lean In fame tells of meeting a social media expert at a conference who shared impressive ideas and over time would reach out to Sandberg with some interesting information, but never asked to get together or infringe on Sandberg’s time. When Sandberg later left the Starbucks board of directors, Sandberg suggested this woman as a replacement. This conference contact was then invited to join the Starbucks board of directors at only 29 years of age. When you follow up with those you meet in helpful (not overbearing) ways, this can lead to collaboration in ways that benefit students. It can also open you up to new opportunities to share your expertise.
  11. Facilitate sharing.
    If your sharing potential outgrows the way you and contacts correspond (such as emailing back and forth), graduate to another mode for sharing, such as using a free Gmail account to use Google Docs (www.google.com/docs), where multiple people can collaborate on the same items. Steve Waters of the Teach Well Alliance created a collaboration site on Basecamp (www.basecamp.com) for people to discuss and share resources on teacher wellness. Every day that site propels international efforts to support teachers.