However, I've heard people lament that it's very difficult to know how to network at conferences. I too found this difficult at first, so I began reading a lot of books on the topic, observing successful shmoozers at conferences, and really just practicing every chance I can. So I'll share a few tricks I've learned in case they're useful to others.
There are three things to consider when networking at conferences:
- Who to talk to
- What to talk about
- How to join an existing group of people (maybe containing someone identified in #1)
I always make sure to talk to peers and friends to recharge. Even when the senior academics are nice people, as a junior academic it's can still be daunting to approach them cold.
As for what to talk about in general, that's a bit trickier, and perhaps deserves its own post. If I am talking to a senior researcher then I'll often ask specific questions about the field, like, "I heard about this new journal. Is it worth publishing in?" Sometimes I just chat with people about conference-related things, like their thoughts on the plenary speaker that day, the food, travel war stories, etc.
How to pick a group of people to join is the easiest, surprisingly. I learned a great analysis trick recently which I'll try to recreate with my mad clip art skillz.
Imagine you're at a coffee break and you don't know anyone. You see this distribution of people:
|Clip art from Clip Art Heaven|
When I saw a similar graphic, I was asked: which is the easiest group to join? Which is the hardest? What's amazing is once I learned about these people configuration patterns, I started spotting them all over the place.
Usually, (B) is the easiest to approach, because she's just standing alone holding a pie. (C) is also alone, but she is busy trying to review a journal paper and each a sandwich before the break is over. Just looking at postures, (C) is giving off a "don't bother me" vibe, and (B) looks like she wouldn't mind chatting with someone.
The next easiest group to join is (D). The two people are talking to each other, but they are holding very open postures. Their bodies are turned half toward one another and half outward. This is one of the best groups to join, because they are open to others. Contrast them to the two people in (A), who are so intently chatting they are nose to nose. This is not a pair to disturb unless you have a really good reason to do so. Similarly, (E) looks very closed as well, but it might be possible to join.
Last is group (F), which is the hardest to join. These four people are all turned inward toward each other, and look to be fairly close knit. If you don't know anyone in this group, it's probably good to not try to break in right now.