Careers advice: Networking at professional conferences
27 April 2022

We all know that professional conferences offer the opportunity to gain useful Continuing Professional Development (CPD), but are you making the most of the networking opportunities? Caroline Egan, Alumni Careers Manager at WBS, frequently encourages coachees to expand their professional networks at conferences, as they offer a unique opportunity to be with peers in their sector.

An increasing number of conferences have returned to face-to-face delivery but even hybrid conferences are now set up in a way which encourages peer interaction and networking in breakout rooms.

Here are some of the things you could do to get the most out your professional conferences:

Prepare

  • Study the list of speakers: they are likely to be particularly senior or influential in your sector, so sign up to attend their session with a view to engaging with them during those sessions
  • Look at the list of your fellow participants: where are they from, who do you want to connect with, and why? Many webinar platforms enable attendees to upload their LinkedIn link to encourage others to connect with them.

Get your elevator pitch ready

  • Have you thought about the ‘personal brand’ you want to project to new contacts? What do you want people to know and think about you now? Take some time to craft an ‘elevator pitch’: a one-minute ‘this is who I am’ aimed at engaging new professional contacts, and starting a conversation and a potential new professional relationship
  • Create a long and a short version. This is  in case you get into conversation and the opportunity arises for a two-minute-long ‘tell me about yourself’ type question.

Dress code

  • The workplace and conferences have become increasingly casual over the last few years, but show respect for yourself, the occasion and your fellow participants by making an effort to adopt the ‘smart casual’ concept, even if you’re at home
  • This is part of thinking through who you are, what you aspire to be, and how you want others to see you – perhaps as potential hire in the future. As the saying goes, ‘you only have one chance to make a first impression’.

Arrive early

  • Arriving at presentations (and even webinar rooms) early might open up opportunities you may not otherwise have. For example, the presenter/speakers usually show up early and you might have the chance to speak to them one-to-one and ask if you can have a follow up conversation later.

Sit up front

  • At a face-to-face conference, sitting at the front helps you stay engaged, but there are other benefits too. Public speaking is always nerve-wracking and speakers welcome audience responses and interaction. Sitting at the front allows you to provide moral support to presenters by providing eye contact and occasionally nodding your head in agreement
  • Presenters will be grateful for your support and may just reciprocate in some other way in the future
  • At virtual events, keep your camera on, turn your email off, and keep your attention on the presentation at all times.

Ask questions

  • Presenters want a reaction – they will be delighted if you interact and ask questions, so this gets you noticed by presenters and other attendees alike. Ask pertinent questions designed to demonstrate your keen interest in their talk, but not to undermine the speaker or show off your knowledge.

Share your story

  • Go to conferences armed with some personal stories and anecdotes. When an appropriate moment arises, tell yours. The best stories show your humility. People love it when you can be self-deprecating.

Be welcoming

  • Many people attend conferences on their own or don’t know anyone else there. Go out of your way to smile: it’s a great way to start a conversation without even speaking. It encourages others to smile back and opens communication without much effort
  • Be welcoming to others, inviting them to join you table or your conversation group. These gestures will send a clear message about the kind of generous peer or colleague you might become.

Keep notes and follow up quickly

  • Ask people you meet if you can connect on LinkedIn and always follow up within 24 hours. Keep a spreadsheet of contacts - who you met and when, and a few details you can use to follow up in future. Stay in touch after the initial connection – share articles, books, webinars and events you come across which they might find interesting…this is relatively rare and it gets their attention and keeps you front of mind should they come across an opportunity in which you might be interested.

WBS offers lifelong careers support and career management resources for all alumni.

For more information on marketing yourself, personal branding and networking, access the WBS Career Management Course here.

You can also access career support at alumnicareers@wbs.ac.uk.

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