Academic conferences have been a staple in higher education for decades. These meetings are stereotypical as the opportunity for graduate students to meet with experts and drop off their conference papers, but that’s not the true intent of the conference. Instead, it’s the chance for students to network with their peers and those in specialized fields to try to make meaningful connections that will come in handy beyond graduation.
The students who outlast the superficial layer of attendees who turn in their work, then socialize as though it’s a regular opportunity to hang out with friends or leave immediately, are awarded the higher value of the conference.
Effective networking at an academic conference starts when you walk in the door and doesn’t stop until long after the reception ends.
Prepping for the Conference
The itinerary of an academic conference may be scheduled and the keynote speaker placed on the invitation, but when you prepare ahead for all the nuances in between, you’ll walk away with more than what’s scheduled.
During the academic conference, you’ll have opportunities to meet and mingle with experts. Use these to their maximum potential by:
● Rehearsing a clear, succinct, and engaging way to introduce yourself in thirty seconds or less
● Compiling a list (mental or written) of attendees that you want to make sure you meet
● Order your own professional business cards to exchange with relevant people
Practice paying attention to your body language. You want to come across confident, but not cocky. Focus on listening to others to learn, not to respond.
Use Your Time Wisely
You have limited time during the conference itself, so you need a plan of action to make sure you use it wisely. How you set yourself up in the meeting itself will give you a springboard to networking after the conference ends.
Helpful tips to maximize on your conference networking agenda include:
● Trading business cards and taking notes of relevant details on the back of the other person’s card, such as where and when you met and things you’ll want to remember when you speak again
● Collecting email addresses or professional social media pages for experts with a similar field or those who showed interest in your work
● Adding connections in real-time on LinkedIn
● Making notes of important ideas from the keynote speaker and others you have conversations with
● Listing reminders for yourself as things come up that make you realize actions you need to address or take in the future
Stay alert and approachable throughout the conference. This isn’t the time to eat, drink, and be merry. It’s the time to build strong connections by being genuinely interested in what others have to say and knowing how to present your knowledge in bite-sized tidbits to interest them enough to come back for more.
After the Food is Gone, Now What?
Once the conference is over, all of the knowledge you’ve absorbed can pay off. It’s time to put your post-conference plan into effect.
Look over the business cards and notes that you took during the meeting and as you networked. Create a system to organize them. This could be as simple as alphabetical order, or by field. Order of importance is irrelevant since you don’t know which person could be your game-changer.
If there was anyone who demonstrated interest in your work, or you, connect with them first. Reintroduce yourself as someone they spoke to at the conference and send them an outline of what you’re working on or previous papers. Let them know you’re interested in collaborating in the future if they are looking for someone.
Turn to your social media and LinkedIn pages. Connect with those you met on the appropriate forums. Use Twitter’s Storify feed to access the keynote speaker’s slides, pictures, and shared information from the conference.
Then commit to a plan of action to follow up regularly with those who respond. Consistency pays off, as long as it’s used for relevant, legitimate communication. Add comments to their work on your networking pages or send them your updated papers that pertain to their field of interest. Keep referring back to your follow up plan, even when you’re a busy expert! You never know who will be an important connection.
Staying Connected Through Impactio
Another strong networking strategy is to invest in platforms that other academic scholars use, like Impactio. Impactio’s program is an all-in-one forum for experts to use to publish and share their work, but it also connects a community of scholars around the globe.
Create your academic profile, publish work, and gauge its impact. Follow other scholars in your field of interest and communicate professionally with people you’d never have met otherwise. Networking is taken to a whole new level when you use Impactio.