My niece called the other day asking for assistance. She was going on the job market and attending a conference where company reps and recruiters would attend. The first thing I asked her was, “Has your major professor talked you about what to do?” I wasn’t surprised by her answer – no. So, I told her that she wants to be better prepared than I was attending my first meeting.
I remember my first conference – early on in my graduate career. I was clueless of what to expect. Good thing I wasn’t on the job market. Good thing I had a fellow grad student with me. Together we managed to navigate the large meeting and exhibits.
If I knew then what I know now, my first meeting would have been even more successful. First thing I do now is to scan the pre-program to identify speakers with whom I want to connect. I may do some research on them. Read some of their papers. Check them out on LinkedIn and Google them.
Next, I prepare a question or two to ask. A question that is more open ended. One that requires more than a yes or no answer. I always like to follow up with a “How so?” You always get more information that way.
When scanning the program I look for any pre-conference workshops where I can add something of value to my “tool box”. Find additional people with whom I can connect. I look for any dinner or reception opportunities where I can network.
Coffee breaks are important times. I use them to seek out people I want to meet or with whom to reconnect. I’m always keeping my network current. Finding out new pieces of information that can be helpful. Sharing what I am doing is important so my information gets circulated as well. Plan coffee breaks well – they are important. Make sure you plan to get some coffee too!
Go to the meeting prepared. Have you ever thought about your business cards? What you don’t have one? Even graduate students need a professional business card with current information. Business cards are important. I always present my card with my name facing the individual to whom I am giving the card. Why would I do that? I want them to remember me and know my name. It’s also very appropriate in different cultures to do it that way.
You can present your card to the speaker or to your new contact and write on the back of the card the question or the “ask” you want the person to do. For example, you may want to ask for a copy of their paper or survey instrument.
Write that ask on the back of the card. This serves as a reminder to your new contact of what it is you are wanting. It also helps them remember you when they return home. That is important!
You may be asking your new or existing contact for a referral. Maybe this person can’t assist you. Always ask, “Professor Smith, who would you recommend I speak with about X?”
They may give you a name of a person to contact. You can write that on the back of the card they gave you. Always ask Professor Smith if you can use their name when making contact with the person. That will assist you in your next step when you reach out to that contact you are now connected through Professor Smith.
Something simple as, “Mr. Newperson, Professor Smith suggested that I contact you regarding X.” The door is now open for you to engage Mr. Newperson in a conversation.
When you are meeting someone and exchanging business cards, take an extra second to carefully present your business card so the person receiving it can read your name. When you receive theirs, take a moment and read it before putting it in a safe place.
I make sure I have two designated places to store my business cards. One place is for my card, so it is readily available when needed – I don’t want to fumble around looking for my card. The other place is for the cards I receive. Never shall the two meet. That could be embarrassing if they get mixed together and you give out someone else’s card for yours. I also don’t want to be seen shuffling though business cards to find mine – I did that once – not recommended.
It doesn’t take much to be prepared and your time and effort will pay off in a successful experience at the conference. Much like my niece’s experience was.
Here is a quick recap.
- Prepare before the meeting by scanning the program
- Planning your strategy for each part of the program
- Draft a few ice breaker questions
- Have your business cards ready
- Ask for a referral