You may think that conferences are about hearing talks on cutting-edge methodologies, novel applications of theory, and the odd groan-inducing pun. These things are all important parts of the conference experience, but really they’re about that activity which is most terrifying to us social-anxious introverts: networking.
Don’t worry – follow our advice and you will also be moderately successful at interacting with your peers and colleagues.
Nathan and I are both here at the #SAA2017 conference to expand our professional contacts; you’ll hear more from him about his experiences later today. Our ultimate goals with networking, however, are different; Nathan is looking for opportunities to work with other scholars in his field of study, find publishing and research opportunities, and establish his reputation in academia. Because I am seeking government employment, I’m focusing on making contacts with people who work with or are employed by federal agencies such as the National Park Service and present myself as someone they would want to put a good word in during the hiring process.
So, here are our tips for networking while awkward:
- Have a goal for your networking – do you want a job? Talk to people in applied areas. Want to go into academia? Speak with faculty and advanced grad students at the universities or in the areas you’re interested. Academics will be more interested in your research interests and theoretical chops, while more people in applied archaeology will want to know about your real-world skills and experience.
- Be Prepared! Get your hair cut, dress in clothing that is comfortable but pulled together. If you feel confident in your outward presentation, you’ll be more confident in your social interactions. This may require dressing slightly outside of your comfort zone, but will be worth the extra effort.
- Bring business cards or networking cards – that way, the people you meet will have a physical reminder of you once the whirlwind of faces, talks and beer muddle memories. Make sure your name, affiliation, and contact information is on the card; you can also include key words for your research interests, links to your social media profiles, or other information you’d like your target to know about you. Leave the back blank so you have room to write additional information on the spot; likewise, get the matte version – the glossy is impossible to write on!
- Before you introduce yourself to someone, take a deep breath and try to speak slower – don’t do what I did when I met Ian Tattersall “HimynameisAngela Iloveyouokbye”
- If you know you have a personal thing in common, mention it! It will make the interaction more personable. Don’t try to force it, but if the opportunity to slide in a personal comment arises, don’t be afraid to take advantage of it.
- If you feel pressed for time, ask to meet for coffee or if it would be okay to email questions later – this will prompt your target to give you their business card, which you can exchange for one of your own. They’re like trading cards, see if you can collect a whole set!
- Attend things that are not talks – business meetings, workshops and social events are more informal and give you an opportunity to meet people with similar interests.
- Find out where people are hanging out and be on the lookout for people you’d like to meet. The lobby of the conference center, registration area and food court are all places that you can find people in a less pressured environment. Keep in mind that they may be too busy to speak with you at the moment, but will likely be open to meeting up later.
- Don’t burn yourself out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you won’t be able to show off your best self. Find a quiet corner to sit and recharge or wander the exhibit hall and poster sessions where you won’t be required to talk to anyone unless you want to. Leaving the conference entirely to go back to the hotel and take a nap is also ok!
- It’s hard to talk when you’re hungry or dehydrated. Eat and drink something other than cocktails at the afterparty.