Tips for Networking at a Conference

This post was originally published on GrantCraft's blog, and was authored by Jen Bokoff, Director of GrantCraft and EPIP member. We think it's extremely useful information in preparation for the JAG Unity Summit. Don't forget to register, if you haven't already. Space is limited. 


I’m asked all the time how I approach networking at conferences. To be completely honest, “networking” can feel like a dirty word to me because it connotes the transactional business card swap where success is defined by the number of cards in your conference tote bag. Instead, I like to label networking done correctly as “connecting,” where success is defined by the quality of interactions and the potential for sincere follow up. With that disclaimer, here are some pointers I can offer:

  • Do your research beforehand. If attendee lists (either specific names or organizations) are available, make sure you know background for ‘important’ people in the room, and ask colleagues/netsuite about existing relationships.
  • Don’t spew information. Instead, ask people questions about themselves and their work.
  • Don’t make people feel like you’re trying to sell them something. Instead, listen to what’s on their mind and respond to that – work related or not.
  • The best conversations are those that aren’t about work at all. Get to know people to really build a relationship. That often means showing a little of your personality. You can maintain privacy, but think about a few topics you could be comfortable talking about outside of work and don’t be afraid to do that.
  • Be careful what you say about other people – you never know who knows who.
  • The best networking often happens during meals and evening activities, so pace your energy levels to make those times count.
  • Never feel stuck or put all of your eggs in one conversation basket; it’s understood that attendees at conferences are there to talk with many people, so it’s always ok to politely excuse yourself. Thank people for their time chatting and end on a good note. And, if you intend to connect again in the future, share that intention; if you don’t, don’t falsely say you’d like to.
  • Write something to jog your memory on the back of people’s business cards as is helpful, and transfer that information into your address book system as a note along with the contact information.
  • Make note of what article or website(s) would be helpful to send to someone in follow up to your conversation, and then follow up! Within a week is usually a good timeline, but up to two is fine.

What tips do you have to add?

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