Planning to Network

In my last post I introduced the idea that some anxiety related to networking can be relieved by planning ahead. In workshops that I deliver to graduate students I use a formal networking scenario to get the students to brainstorm idea of what they can do prior to attending a conference that will increase their networking effectiveness. I list several ideas below:

1) Practice your 30 second and 2 minute research summaries. These are sometimes referred to as “elevator speeches”. If you only have 30 seconds to introduce yourself and your work what should you say? If the person that you are chatting with seems interested and engaged in what you are saying you will want to have some follow up points ready.

2) Practice your handshake. This advice may strike some people as outdated, but usually when I meet someone for the first time I shake their hand. You want to practice this skill so that you deliver a firm and confident handshake. Avoid the limp noodle handshake and the bone-crusher handshake at all costs.

3) Ask for advice from your mentors. Ask your research supervisor for advice. Has anyone else been to this conference before? What can you expect? Does anyone have any tips or suggestions for you?

4) Commit to doing a research presentation or a poster. Doing a talk gives you excellent visibility and serves as a natural ice-breaker if someone has seen your presentation at the conference. Doing a poster allows you to chat with new people that you might not otherwise meet. Put together the best talk or poster that you can and practice, practice, practice! Invite those people already in your network to come to your session or poster and return the favour.

5) Make prior arrangements to meet with Dr. Bigcog at the meeting. If you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. with Dr. Bigcog then plan ahead to set-up a time to chat while at the conference. If this is not feasible, do you know anyone who will be attending the conference who can introduce you to Dr. Bigcog at the meeting?

6) Look at the conference program in advance and decide what you want to do and who you would like to interact with. Develop a networking plan before the conference. What amount of networking do you want to do in order for you to consider this conference a success for you personally and professionally? When will you need to take breaks to recharge your energy?

7) Apply for any awards that are available and that you qualify for. These include travel awards, presentation award, etc. Being an award candidate and winning an award can provide you with excellent exposure and aid in your networking efforts.

8) Be creative about your networking opportunities. Can you meet new people by sharing housing at the conference? Can you volunteer to help out with organization or registration?

9) Prepare professional looking business cards. Having cards already made sends a professional message rather than having to scramble for a pen and paper to jot down your contact information.

The next step is to put your plan into effect while attending the conference. Check back for my next blog post for how to maximize your potential to network while at a scientific meeting.

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