I attend a lot of conferences each year to promote the UAB School of Engineering, and in particular, the Information Engineering Management concentration of the Master of Engineering degree.

July2018 ConferenceNetworking Web

1. Stalk Your Prospects Ahead of Time

One of the biggest pitfalls of trying to make connections at a conference is not knowing who you want to connect with in the first place. Having a plan about the type of people you want to meet, and why you want to meet them will help you work with a purpose and avoid any nerves that may arise. If you're new to networking or looking for helpful tips to connecting with other colleagues you can find general steps to grow and define your network in our How to Network Like the Professional You Are article.

After you have a basic idea about the types of people you want to connect with and why, start exploring the conference website to figure out who will be attending. You should be able to find lists of attendees, exhibitors, and/or sponsors, and some conference websites will even offer networking tools or events for you to find and meet people well in advance of the event. By searching for the conference on Google and social media you may find an official hashtag that will reveal companies and individuals that are planning on attending. If it is an association event, a lot of associations will include a membership directory, and while not everyone in that directory may be attending, it will give you a good place to start. This extra work could also help you get noticed by your company's leadership as well as others outside of your company.

2. Don't Wait for the Conference to Say Hi

If you know of someone you really want to meet during the event, send a LinkedIn request or ask someone else to introduce you before the event. Time is very limited at conferences, and you do not want to leave the fate of these important meetings up to chance. When possible, schedule a specific day, time, and location to meet during the conference, even if it is for only a few minutes.

Take a little bit of time to look at bios on company sites, LinkedIn profiles, and other information you can find on the person you want to meet and look for connections that you may have with that person. That will help give you a conversation starter and may help you find others who can make a more personal introduction for you.

3. You Are Already On Social Media, Use It

There are meetings that take place at the conference, but don't forget that you can also start up interactions on social media as well. Here are a few ways to use social media to make both those in-person and virtual connections happen:

  • Before the event: Use social media platforms to find and network with people that you want to connect with at the event and start participating in the conversations around the event. Make sure that you post that you will be attending the event and use the official conference hashtag, so that you will show up to others who may also want to connect with you.
  • During the event: A lot of people live tweet throughout conferences, sharing quotes and thoughts about the presentations. If you feel comfortable doing this and can stay balanced with your in-person interactions, I certainly recommend it. It can be a way to discover people that may not have been on your initial target list, and engage with others at the conference over topics you have in common.
  • After the event: This can actually be during or right after the event, but I recommend that you connect with people you've met on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social platforms. Be sure to include a quick note in your LinkedIn request reminding them you attended the conference together. You can also use social media to have follow-up conversations about things you discussed during the conference.

4. Don't Ignore the Vendors

Often being a vendor myself, you could say that I am biased on this tip. However, there is something about vendors that most people forget - they tend to know a lot of people. A lot of vendors attend the same events each year, so they start to become familiar with the people who come to the event and have built relationships with different people over time. While you certainly do not want to waste a vendor representative's time, you can usually find more quiet times to meet them, especially in the early morning.

When interacting with vendors, start with the ones you have an actual interest in their products or services, and then meet with others as you have time. Be mindful of their time and move on quickly if others are waiting to speak as you can always get their contact information to continue the conversation later. There will be some vendors where you are not the right target market for the product or services they are offering. For these, be honest and say something like, "I do not make the purchasing decisions for our company, but I am really interested in learning about your product because I have an interest in this area." That gives the vendor representative the option of moving you along or changing the conversation from sales to more peer-to-peer.

5. Be Bold and Speak to the People Around You

At most conferences, people filter into the session rooms, sit away from others, and immediately turn their attention to their phone or computer. While it may feel a little uncomfortable, go against this natural tendency. Sit next to or at least near someone you do not know and introduce yourself. You can use some easy ice breaker questions like, "Is this your first time at this conference?," "Where do you work?," and "What do you do?" to get the conversation started.

Not all conversations will keep going, but most people want to connect with others and will be grateful that you spoke up first. For introverts, in particular, this tip can be very hard to do, but the rewards could be career or life changing. You never know who you are going to meet in your life, and just saying "hello" to the person next to you could open up new career possibilities, mentoring opportunities, business deals, or a new friendship.

Who We Network With

I hope that these five tips have given you confidence to connect with more people at your next conference. If you are attending a conference we are at, please reach out to us in advance to let us know you will be there, stop by our booth, or find us to say hello. We like to meet all types of people, but in particular, engineers and professionals working in technical careers or industries. We would love to talk to you about pursing a Master of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) or becoming a business partner.

About IEM

The Master of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a specialized concentration designed primarily for engineers and people in technical positions. The concentration presents business systems and soft skills in a curriculum that is based on actual engineering industry needs and is offered completely online.