Getting ready for #17SAGA2022: 10 Networking Tips
#17SAGA2022 @Sun City is approaching soon, and we cannot wait to see you! The conference will be a great opportunity not only for you to showcase your work, but also to network with those in industry. Speaking to someone for the first time can be downright intimidating- even scary sometimes- especially when it is someone you admire or a potential future employer. Let’s help build those soft skills by smoothing out any wrinkles you may have when it comes to networking. This is all important for your professional development and sharing knowledge- key goals for any conference. How you network can literally either make or break your conference experience. Of course, we want everyone to “make it” and therefore have the best experience! To that end, we have put together some common useful tips to help you in networking:
1) Do your homework
It honestly doesn’t hurt to do some background research on the people you want to meet and have a chat with. Take a look at the registered delegates of the conference, and if that isn’t readily available look at the programme. If there is a specific person or company you hope to connect with read their website, social media pages or any news detailing their latest work. Show some engagement well before the conference to the people you’d like to meet. If you’re lucky, come conference time they may already be familiar with you from a friendly (not weird) like/comment to their posts.
2) Use social media
Engage, engage, engage! So, this was briefly already touched on in the previous point, but it definitely deserves its own point to drive it home. Look out and make use of the conference hashtags on all social media platforms before, during and after the conference. Hit the like and share buttons and tag people or companies you have, or still, would like to meet. For example, this can be done after a conference session you enjoyed or meeting with the exhibitors.
3) Conversation starters and elevator pitch
Two important things you will be doing a lot of are starting a conversation and knowing how to sell yourself and research in a conversation.
- Prepping yourself in advance for different types of conversations can help you be less nervous. Here are a few examples:
- “Where are you from?”
- “What interested you in attending the conference?”
- “How long have you been in your line of work?”
- “What have been your favourite sessions or speakers so far?”
- What is the elevator pitch? A. A quick 30 second summary of your field of research, also throw in the reason why you are attending the conference.
- Graduates and students can tend to fixate too much on the “elevator pitch” but it’s important to remember that, although the fourth industrial revolution is underway, you will be speaking to a person and not a robot. Hence, do your best not to sound monotonous. Spend some time to learn about yourself and figure out your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and the achievements that you want to make in your academic and professional future. Be honest and sincere to help create smooth-flowing conversations.
4) Have clear goals and objectives
On a daily basis design your schedule well. Carefully look at which sessions and talks you would like to attend beforehand to avoid missing any key talks that would interest you. Everything usually happens so fast and it’s easy to get lost in the flow of things and lose track of time. Learn to overlap your professional, personal, and social networks to get the best out of networking.
5) Take notes
During the conference talks, taking notes is quite important. You may not remember all the interesting talks or questions you had if you rely solely on memory. Taking notes are fantastic in that they create natural conversation starters. Follow-up with the person who presented by asking questions, giving comments, and of course- congratulate! Flattery does wonders to soften any seemingly hard demeanour. Beyond this, however, taking notes will help in your own research. Who knows? Maybe there is a new scientific method/ software/ approach/ idea you can try if you’ve been stuck in your research work.
6) Give speakers a chance to relax
After a talk there’s often a lot going through the speaker’s head. You may realise there’s a long queue for the speaker who you also want to chat to. Give him/her a chance to recuperate or get through the queue of other people waiting to chat to them. You really don’t want to be the unlucky one to chat to them once their patience has worn thin if you’re person no.10 in a queue. You can take this opportunity if you see them super busy to chat to someone else and build another connection.
7) You are not alone- there are many in the same predicament
If you are a shy person to boost morale, go with a friend or two to meet the person you’d like. Note how we say a friend or two- a crowd is pretty overwhelming for some people. Instead of a chilled chat, they can feel more like they’re under attack.
Create a sort of “buddy system”. If you came with no friends- make some! With other students, you’ll feel less nervous to introduce yourself to. They are at the same position in life as you are, so making friends with them should come more naturally. If you see a lone ranger (most of the time they’re trying to not be awkward) go start a conversation. Maybe you’re the knight or knightess they have beeeen waiting for!
8) Be approachable
Some people may want to chat to you. Yes you! Maybe to congratulate you, or ask you about your talk. Try being approachable. Socialize a little, and with more than just your group of friends you may have come with. Another thing is to not spend all your time in some corner on your phone, laptop or tablet, otherwise you may miss great opportunities.
9) Don’t be weird
There are certain things that can weird people. Most of all the time, when trying to network newbies can unknowingly be doing something that makes the other person feel awkward or uncomfortable. Take note of these few:
- Don’t be a stalker (continually hovering about the person you’d like to meet). It makes people feel awkward/ uncomfortable if every time they turn their head, you’re there. Try not to tail.
- Don’t drink too much. A common icebreaker is to chill and chit chat over cold beers or glasses of wine. That’s honestly great at social events. Do be cautious on how much alcohol you consume- keep your head in the game and keep it professional. There’s nothing more embarrassing than realising you made a drunk speech amongst the people you’d like to impress the following morning!
- Don’t breach the personal bubble. The COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone more conscious of “getting too close” to other people. Even though the pandemic is now under control, do try consider people’s personal space.
- Pre-pandemic introductory gestures included handshakes and sometimes hugs, but now it’s a bit different and some may not like that. For safety- you can just reserve such to your close mates, unless you see someone leaning in for a shake and you yourself don’t mind.
- Patting people or jovially slapping someone on the shoulder or back- e.g., laughing at a joke- is really not cool. This is many peoples pet peeve- e.g., me- especially if it’s someone the person isn’t overly familiar with. Again, for safety- you can reserve those for your mates.
- Don’t get too close to (or into) someone’s face even if you have a meek sounding or soft voice. A definite turn off for many folks is when people speak too close to them. A great way to exercise your public speaking skills are to project your voice if it’s low. This also helps when you’ve had a long day and didn’t get a chance to freshen your breath. We all know how stale breath can become just by sitting for hours over conference proceedings. Handy pro-tips are to have some mints (conferences usually provide), and stay hydrated- makes a world of difference for you and those around you
10) Body language
This is crucial and often-neglected part of networking. Body language helps to maintain a level of focus between you and the person of interest. Here are a few pointers:
- Don’t sway from side to side (you are not in a dance competition!)
- Be confident and speak clearly. Avoid the use of crude language (e.g., swearing).
- Maintain eye contact when communicating with someone.
- Indicate your interest in the conversation by nodding and asking questions.
- Never text or look at your cell phone, whilst you are talking to someone. Answer cell phone calls only if it’s urgent and always excuse yourself first.
- If you wish a conversation to end, politely excuse yourself
- Always let other people finish their sentences. Try not interrupt a conversation and if you do accidentally, apologize.
- If networking is done over refreshments or a meal, always be mindful of good table manners.
This is just the starting point…
Those were 10 tips to get you comfortable. For more, click on our references below, to be a super networking pro: