The approaching ACS national meeting offers a host of networking opportunities for attendees who want to make new professional contacts: people who could be useful research collaborators or strengthen their job hunts. The prospect of walking into a social event or a poster session full of strangers and striking up conversations can be intimidating. However, even introverts become effective networkers by following a few basic guidelines.
First impressions are important. You want to look confident and friendly. Stay upbeat in your conversations and avoid bringing up negative topics. Have a 20- or 30-second “elevator speech” ready to describe your professional interests and why you are attending the conference. This is often a great way to initiate a conversation after saying hello – just make sure it flows naturally in the conversation.
Dress neatly. Conference attire is becoming increasingly informal. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t wear nicely pressed clothes. Overdress to play safe. You can always remove a jacket or tie.
Establish your conference networking strategy
Begin by establishing your networking strategy. Job hunters should focus on engaging in conversations with hiring managers and individuals working for companies they would like to work for themselves. Newly hired industrial chemists and faculty members should focus on meeting peers with similar research or teaching interests. As a science writer, I often focus on meeting editors and other writers.
You can make these contacts at various social events at the meeting, in breaks during technical sessions and during poster sessions. Also, don’t neglect renewing contact with people you have met before and with friends. Meals often make excellent opportunities to visit with individuals that you already know. I usually schedule these mealtime meetings before leaving for the conference.
Use effective listening skills. This means letting the other person in a conversation do most of the talking. Ask open-ended questions to indicate your interest and learn from what they have to say. These should be meaningful questions. If you promise to provide information, be sure to do this as soon as possible after the meeting. Seek out opportunities to do this; it will provide opportunities to renew your contact after the conference. Active listening enables you to present yourself as an energetic individual interested in others and eager to learn.
Exit conversations smoothly. Thank the other individual. Ask to exchange business cards if you haven’t done so already. You may wish to suggest a follow-up conversation after the conference. If you do, be specific about the topic of the planned conversation.
Large social events
These events, often held in hotel ballrooms, can be intimidating. If hosts are standing at the door, greet them and introduce yourself. They may be roaming the room later and you may wish to strike up a conversation.
Don’t be afraid to approach other people alone in the crowd. They will probably be grateful to have someone to talk to. An interesting conversation can attract others to join you.
Crowded rooms often produce groups of people that are difficult to penetrate. These groups often gather around a luminary such as an ACS president or a famous researcher.
You are often more likely to find interesting networking opportunities on the edges of the room or in the entrance area. Other room locations can attract individuals who are available for conversation. Lines at the bar and at food tables are examples. Do not overload yourself with food and drink. Don’t sit down unless you are engaged in a meaningful conversation with someone else also sitting down. Sitting lowers your profile making it harder for other people to find you. It also reduces your mobility.
ACS divisions and other groups often hold lunches or dinners. These can provide opportunities for extended conversations. When entering a meal room event, claim a chair at a table by depositing your coat or conference materials on a chair. Look for interesting people in the line at the bar or by circulating about the room. If you picked a largely empty table earlier, you can invite others to join you. Alternatively, you can move your stuff to join them at their table.
Reviewing poster session programs can make it easy to locate people you would like to meet. Try to exchange business cards when talking to them. Remember, their poster session objective is to discuss their research – not job hunting. Discuss this research and try to ask at least one good question. Remember, you don’t want to ask so many questions that you put the presenter on the defensive. Contact them the week after the meeting to discuss job hunting.
Remember, it is more worthwhile to find a few good contacts than to collect a big stack of business cards. Use the back of your new contact’s business card to make brief notes about the conversation and your intended follow-up activities. Follow up promptly after the meeting.
As a full-time writer, John Borchardt is the author of the ACS book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers” and more than 1,400 articles published in magazines, newspapers and online. He is also an ACS career consultant.