I’ve attended many different conferences, for multiple reasons and in different capacities. As a translation professional, I joined colleagues for conferences in niche areas, to retain my accreditation and certifications. As a business owner, I attended industry events to network with the wider business world. And now, as an aspiring academic, I attend conferences to develop my skills as a scholar and gain insight into my new career path.
Like most introverts, I find it easy to sit and listen to interesting talks, events, or training. But launching myself into a room full of people I don’t know is another story.
Here are some of the things I do to make the transition from knowledge worker to networker that little bit easier.
1. Make a list. I always make a list of one or two key questions I’d like to explore during my time at a conference or event. Treating it like a fact-finding mission puts me in an open frame of mind. When I start to feel overwhelmed, the list keeps me on track. And when I get tired and can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea to leave my house/office, the list reminds me why I I want to be there.
2. Search Twitter and blogs for mentions of the event. Follow people who mention the event or add them to your feedreader. If you’re feeling brave, why not strike up a conversation in advance of the event – you already know you’ve got a lot in common. If things go well, you can arrange to meet for a coffee at the event itself. If things don’t go well, at least you know to avoid them.
3. Search LinkedIn for speakers or attendees you might like to meet. What else do you have in common? Maybe you went to the same uni, or worked for the same employer. Check their connections, you might know the same people. Remember, LinkedIn’s real power is in its second or even third degree networks. (If you find nothing, you know they’re not into new technologies. That tells you something in itself). I find this kind of research makes it much easier to walk into a room full of people I don’t know.
4. List the event on LinkedIn, if it’s not there already, and indicate that you’ll be attending. This is a great opening for other less shy people to contact you. You could probably do this on other social networking sites too, but I like LinkedIn because the network is large, professionally oriented and not just for translators.
5. Don’t forget the people you know already. Who else do you know in the same location as the event? Take some of your online relationships offline and arrange to meet someone for a coffee. Let co-workers, colleagues, suppliers or even clients know you’ll be attending, especially if they’re not all on LinkedIn. This ticks two boxes: it lets people know you invest in professional development, and gives them an opportunity to let you know if they’re attending themselves or if know others who are.
6. Search Google Images and Flickr for attendees, speakers or anyone else you might like to meet. This is good if a name sounds familiar, for example, but you’re not sure if you’ve met them before. Now there will definitely be a few ‘familiar’ faces in the crowd. (I used to think this was a bit stalker-ish. Now I don’t care. If someone has put their picture online, why not make use of it? Basic research, really.)
7. Be aware of industry news and hot topics. Read association journals, but do an online search of the web and blogosphere too. Formulate some ideas, opinions or questions of your own – you’ll learn a lot more and will have a ready source of conversation openers for those awkward moments over the buffet. You could also use LinkedIn’s Answers feature to ask questions raised in the speaker abstracts. Not only are you engaging in key ideas, but you’re also doing the speakers and other experts a favour by giving them an opportunity to chime in, if they want.
8. Read up on the event exhibitors or sponsors. Don’t assume they’re to be avoided just because they’re more explicit about their marketing efforts than you are. Exhibitors can be a great source of industry information and may be potential employers or clients in their own right. Best of all, if things get really bad you can engage them in conversation, safe in the knowledge that they have to be nice to you – they’re selling something 🙂
9. Make it easy for other people to find you. If you write a blog, take the time to post some great content coming up to the event. Chances are everyone else at the event will be checking you out too, and you might as well give them something good to talk to you about. Use the event’s hash tag (if it has one) and the location where the event is held, so people poking around on Twitter Search can find you.
10. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Think up conversation starters and graceful conversation closers. Have a few lines ready on things you’re involved with. If you’re looking for a job or new clients, be clear on how you’re going to talk about this. Be concise and to the point – it makes it easier for people to give you an answer. Finally, be enthusiastic. Save your tales of woe for another time.
11. Prepare to be sociable. Look up some recommended restaurants either close to the event or near a transport hub so people can get home easily afterwards. There are lots of sites that can help with this, for example Top Table for UK cities or Eat and Drink for Australia. Keep the number and address handy. If you meet a bunch of people you like, you have a good suggestion of where to meet or can share a cab there at the end of a long day. If everyone is nasty, go there by yourself as a consolation prize.
DURING THE CONFERENCE
12. Make time for wind-down activities – especially if the conference runs over a few days. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to be on full throttle 100% of the time, or the event will be a waste. Take 30 minutes to read the paper, enjoy a cuppa, or head to a gym or swimming pool. Being stuck indoors all day, eating and drinking differently than usual, combined with meeting lots of new people, can really take its toll. Working out what you need to do to wind down will help prevent burn-out, shorten your recovery time post-conference and ensure you feel a lot better heading into the event each day.
13. Never wear new shoes. I hear childbirth is bad*, but I suspect the pain of wearing new shoes to a conference comes a close second. [*Update: I can now confirm my suspicions. It’s pretty much neck-and-neck.]
14. Take the time to follow up with people you spoke to, or wish you had spoken to. Otherwise how is it any different from just following a bunch of people online, and then wondering why nothing has come of it? Connect with these people on LinkedIn or Xing. Subscribe to their blog or follow them on Twitter. (This is just one of many ways to integrate your real-life and virtual networks.) Even better, send an email to thank someone for their advice, to send them information you might have promised them or to arrange to catch up again after the conference.
15. Lie back and light a cigarette. A pat on the back works too.
* Image by the Travelin’ Librarian on Flickr