Networking opportunities abounded at the Association for Psychological Science (APS) convention last week. As I was reflecting on the week’s general highlights, it soon became clear that effective networking was the key to most. Let me be clear here: I’ve been going to conferences for about ten years, and I have a long history of being nervous about networking at conferences (still am!). At this point, I suspect it’s some leftover grad school/new faculty imposter syndrome, but it doesn’t really matter why it happens. What matters is I’m not letting my nervousness get in my way too much anymore.
One of the symposia I went to last week specifically addressed professional networking (sponsored by WICS). Perhaps because of this symposium, I have been reflecting on what I think led to my networking successes at APS. In case it’s helpful to someone else, here are ten things I did this week that I think helped me build my connections. Of course, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list.
My Ten (Relatively) Simple Steps to Networking
- Tweeted regularly. Hands down, best decision. Led to meeting people IRL (read: in real life), and I was recognized by others at times when I didn’t say a word out loud. Importantly, I was re-tweeted, sometimes by APS, Society for the Teaching of Psychology and some major names in the field (thanks APS, STP, Hal Pashler, and Bobbie Spellman!). That means all their followers can see what I wrote. Plus, tweeting helped me stay focused and engaged throughout the conference, and I now have a searchable record of my own (see @cdrawn) and others’ (see #aps2013dc) conference-related thoughts.
- Thanked a few speakers and introduced myself, briefly noting a common connection or a sound-bite about why I was interested in their talks. Each time, I met someone else too, because someone else was either standing there who knew the speaker, or because the speaker said “oh, then you should meet…” in response to my sound-bite.
- Went to a post-preconference reception. Followed up, elaborated on an earlier brief encounter (see #2). Had ONE glass of wine, which I sipped so slowly it wouldn’t have had a physiological effect, but it relaxed me a bit and helped me switch into a more social mode of conversation.
- Grabbed the chance to sit next to a colleague from my institution (who is well-known across the discipline), who sat next to someone else who was well-known across the discipline. Got to know both a bit better through in-session on-topic (and in-joke!) whispers.
- Went to a big-picture session everyone seems to be talking about (in this case, replicability). I knew a bit about it beforehand so I knew the key players and ideas. This meant I could tweet responsibly and thoughtfully on this hot topic, and could contribute meaningful whispers (see #4).
- Stumbled through asking that first question early in the conference in a small symposium so I’d be more confident and more articulate when asking the next one.
- Introduced myself to the speaker/crowd before asking a post-talk question (only after completing #6!). In one case, this meant I gained a couple of followers on twitter, including the speaker, who then tweet-suggested I meet his collaborator on the project who happens to live in my home city.
- Hung out in the lobby lounge. A friend wandered past, who then stopped and introduced me to his colleague. Made dinner plans (see #9).
- Went to sessions solo. Dined with friends. Years ago I would go to a session because my friend was going to it. I’ve learned to spend conference days largely on my own so I can take advantage of spontaneous conversations as needed, follow my own main interests and odd curiosities, and take quiet breaks when I need them. Dining with friends is then especially fun as we share our most interesting tidbits from the day… or not, if we need a brain break! (This is why it’s important to dine with friends IMO, so no need to worry about impressing them. I can’t spend all day and all evening being “on”.) As Lynn Liben at the WICS symposium noted, networking with peers is important: They start as “siblings” but “grow-up” to become the field.
- Followed-up on a twitter exchange. One of the challenges/strengths of writing on Twitter is that it’s limited to 140 characters (10 of which are used by the hashtag required so you’re part of the conversation). Misunderstanding is a real risk. During the conference, I responded to a tweet that I thought had really misrepresented a speaker’s intent, and I hoped it came across politely (after all, I am Canadian!). When I saw the person IRL (see #1), I approached him with a friendly Hi!. He knew immediately who I was, and we were able to further our discussion and finish it amicably.
We can all read other peoples’ papers. In my mind, the real advantage of conferences is the people who are there. Be bold, even just a little, and take advantage of the networking opportunities that come your way. Now, shall we continue this conversation on Twitter? I’m @cdrawn…