Jun 29

Conference Success

Our director Larry Westfall and I are attending the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC) annual conference this week. Conferences and other professional development meetings and events are a natural component of most career fields, especially in the academy, higher ed administration, and others. Whether you attend an international, national, regional, or local event, there are certain tricks that can help you maximize the networking and learning opportunities they present. Here are some I’ve picked up over the last twelve years of attending conferences.

  • Sit with people you don’t know.
    If you attend the event with a contingent of others from your office, department, or school, try not to spend the whole conference with them. Avoid sitting next to them at meals or in sessions. Branch out and use that opportunity to meet new colleagues and have conversations with other scholars or professionals from different organizations. You have plenty of time to chat with your current colleagues back at home base. Use this chance to gain insights from and build relationships with new ones.
  • Make it easy to learn your name.
    Most conferences provide you with a nametag on a long lanyard. In many cases, the length of the lanyard places the nametag close to your navel, which forces people to look way down in order to see your name. It also means that when you sit down at a table (e.g. at lunch), the nametag will fall below the edge of the table, rendering it useless. Tie a knot in the lanyard to shorten it such that the nametag is higher up on your chest. Placing it higher makes it more visible and could make you the most memorable person at the lunch table.
  • Divide and conquer.
    At conferences where more than one interesting session occurs simultaneously, decide ahead of time which sessions you and your colleagues will attend. Rather than attending the same one, divide the sessions to maximize your learning opportunities. Then reconvene after the conference to share notes and resources.
  • Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
    Whether you use LinkedIn, academia.edu, or some other professional networking resource, connect online with the new colleagues you met at the conference and send them a note within a few days after the conference. Building and maintaining professional relationships takes some time and effort, and the conference or professional development event marks the first step. Send them a relevant piece of information you learned from the conference that they might have missed, or an interesting article you think relates to the content of the event. Adding this value in your follow up correspondence will foster the connection and set the tone for valuable future interactions.

Are you attending any conferences or professional development meetings this summer? Tell us your plans in the comments, and let us know your other tips for success at these events.