5 Conference Networking Tips

Posted by: IADMS Student Committee 

Conferences—deceivingly pragmatic and academic in form—are nothing short of a whirlwind of emotions. For introverts, extroverts, and professed extroverted-introverts alike, conferences can be exhausting. Conceivably this is because conferences are often set up like the Fast and Furious version of a term in university, where it’s a mad dash to see how many notes you can scribble on a program booklet in a little over 72 hours. Yet perhaps this is because, at any one time, you are surrounded by people. A lot of people. But not just any people, magical people. These people are the people who are interested in the exact same things as you. So how are you going to talk to them? 

As we approach the 27th Annual Conference for the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science in Houston, Texas, USA, the following are a few tips for networking that will hopefully help you feel invigorated by new friendships and meaningful connections:

1. Plan your attack. Take a look at the conference program to get a feel of what’s happening when…and who will be where. This gives you a chance to make a (mental or physical) list of the sessions you’re interested in attending or the professionals you’re hoping to connect with. Once you have your list, do your research. You don’t have to conduct a full-fledged background check, but you should know enough about conference presenters, moderators, and attendees to easily strike up a conversation with them at any coffee break’s notice. (See the complete IADMS conference schedule here).

2. Have something to offer. A business card, a bold elevator speech, a snazzy outfit—give the people you meet something to remember you by. Tossing people squares of paper may seem like an antiquated way of exchanging contact information, especially in our LinkedIn era, but a well-crafted business card could set you apart from the crowd. If you don’t have a tangible representation of who you are, leave a lasting impression with confidence and style. It may seem cheesy, but practice introducing yourself into a mirror (or other inanimate object of your choosing) before you enter the conference space. Fashion a few words that make succinct who you are and what you’re currently interested in, and while you’re at it, piece together your wardrobe strategically. A tie tessellated with your alma-mater’s insignia or an intricately jeweled brooch picked up on your travels across Scotland could be an easy identifier and a perfect conversation-starter.

3. Be the Question-Master. Questions are the functional spine of conferences, and for good reason. A well-crafted question that demonstrates deep understanding and genuine intrigue could spark the kind of dialogue gives rise to life-long research collaborations. However, divining a good question on the spot can be daunting. When all seems to fail or an awkward silence shrouds a conversation, have a list of ready questions to pull from. For example, what’s an opportunity they wish they would’ve taken, what advice they would give when working in ____, or what first made them interested in____.

4. Remember: Everyone is human. Whether you’re a young mind or a seasoned professional, you’ve probably experienced the trepidation and anxiety that comes with approaching a person to strike up a conversation that may lead to an exchange of contacts. But despite the advice bestowed here, you don’t necessarily have to open up with a revolutionary, thought-provoking question or über-complimentary greeting. Sometimes, a simple “hi” and a smile will suffice. Even if you’re new to the conference scene, don’t underestimate the value of the knowledge you already have. Work with what you’ve got.

5. Keep it fresh. Say your conversation did in fact lead to an exchange of contacts (hooray!), don’t let the opportunity pass. Try to send a follow-up “nice to meet you” email (or tweet or digital what-have-you) to those you hope to stay in contact with within 24 hours of meeting them. This ensures that you remain fresh in the contact’s mind and increases your likelihood for future communication.  

Hopefully with these tips, you will be able make the most of your conference experience! Happy mingling! 

Your Student Committee, 
Siobhan, Andrea, Gabriel, Sutton, Madison, Carolyn, and Kali