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Top tips for aspiring networkers

By Aleksandra Mackowiak - Posted on 3 July 2014

PhD researcher Aleksandra Mackowiak shares her experiences of participating at conferences and her top networking tips for when you’re there.

We hear it all the time “This event offers excellent networking opportunities,” but how do you go about doing this at a conference? It may seem like a daunting experience at first but it really doesn't have to be.

I was of the ‘daunted’ variety before I participated in the Manufacturers Spring Servitization conference – looking at the shift between offering products, to offering services – at Aston Business School, Birmingham last month. However, with a little preparation and some confidence on the day, I found the whole experience hugely rewarding, and I’ve made some invaluable contacts in my field.

So without further ado, here’s my own top tips for making the most out of your conference.

1. Start networking before you get to the conference

Look at the list of the fellow attendees and see what their specialisations or expertise is. In fact, look up the people who will be presenting at the conference. Do some research in advance – visit the presenters’ websites and look into companies’ backgrounds. You will appear far better informed if you’ve done your research. I happened to sit next to Spanish professors – since I knew they were Spanish and I can speak Spanish, it was an easy way to start a conversation.

It’s also important to make sure you know some of the previous work/publications of the leading academics in your area.

2. Don’t be shy – do something so people will remember you

This may be the only chance to meet leading academics in your area and gain some valuable contacts. Don’t be afraid – try to be attentive during the presentations so you can raise any particular points afterwards.

Once the official networking begins, you can talk about your previous publications, your university, and your country – anything that might be of interest. As I was at an international conference, I mentioned Scotland quite a lot – and it worked – some of the presenters happened to be particularly interested in haggis and the Scottish dialect!

Remember not to spend the majority of your time with people who you already know – focus on meeting new people – that’s what you’re here for.

3. Stay positive, open, and focused

Whatever opportunity you get to network directly with the presenter/academic, be sure you get to the point quickly and listen carefully. Make a list of questions in advance that you want to ask. In case you don’t have enough time, choose the most important questions.

Don’t be afraid to make notes – and most importantly – show your enthusiasm! Enjoy talking to the other person. It is much easier to talk to someone who seems excited and interested in the topic. If they see you enjoy your research, they’ll most likely be even more willing to help you out.

4. Approach groups of people chatting

It may seem more daunting to step into larger groups, but it can certainly pay off. Having approached one academic from Aston Business School, I was suddenly introduced to 10 other people in the group. I talked about my research and they connected me to other people who would be relevant in the room.

5. Attend any related informal events

These events are especially important when you want a friendly opportunity to meet the leading academics in your area. Everyone is more relaxed, open, and you get an amazing chance to get to know the other attendees in a more informal way.

Talk to people there, it really is a small world we live in…I talked to a fellow guest who turned out to be the former PhD student of my current supervisor!

6. Finally, stay in touch

Stay in touch with people you met at the conference – you never know when you might need their help or they might have interesting offers for you! It’s really all about showing and sharing who you are, what your interests are and what valuable skills you can offer to the world of academia and industry. All the connections and opportunities you will make at the conference can really have a huge impact on your future career.

Have you attended any conferences recently? 

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