August 31, 2017

Planning for Serendipity: Successfully networking at Fall Meeting (or other conferences)

Posted by AGU Career Center

Conferences are a great place to grow your professional network, and with some careful planning and flexibility, you can maximize your chances of making valuable connections.  Though the abstract deadline for Fall Meeting has come and gone, it’s not too late (or too early) to start developing your networking action plan.

Summer (4-6 months): Submit Your Abstract and Book  Accommodations

Submit Your Abstract

Start your networking well before the meeting.  Distribute a draft of your abstract to respected colleagues, soliciting constructive criticism. It’s also a subtle way to update them on where you are professionally. 

Book Accommodations

Before confirming travel plans, contact friends and colleagues who live in that city.  Share your approximate travel dates, and see when they are available.  It might be worth extending your trip to meet up with them.

When booking your hotel room, remember that conference hotels will have the highest concentration of fellow attendees – thus many opportunities for running into people in elevators and the lobby.  

September (3 months): Register for Events and Start Marking Your Calendar

Register for the conference and ticketed events

For the AGU Fall Meeting, there are some great networking events that require a ticket and typically fill up fast. Some ticketed events to consider: the Student and Early Career Scientist Conference on Sunday, 10 December; various AGU Section and Focus Group luncheons; and field trips.  

When the preliminary program comes out, add standing events to your calendar.  For AGU Fall meeting, this includes the Ice Breaker Reception on Monday, 11 December from 6-8pm, and the various AGU Section and Focus Group events on Tuesday, 12 December.   Also review the Town Hall sessions, where government agencies, academic programs, and others solicit input from attendees, and start bookmarking those that are of interest.

October (2 months): Map the Expo Hall and Start Drafting Your Schedule

Map the Expo  

There will be almost 300 companies and organizations in the Exposition Hall.  Read through the list, research ones with which you are unfamiliar, and decide who you want to visit.  You can even print a map of the show floor and mark your route to make sure you don’t miss anyone.

For organizations in which you are particularly interested, find out if any of their employees are presenting.  If so, you may want to attend the presentation before visiting their booth, so you have something to talk about. 

Draft Your Schedule

The final program will be released in mid-October.  Mark your calendar in pen for your own presentations (oral or poster), and let friends know when and where you are presenting, so they can stop by.

Next, search the program for sessions that apply to your work, and identify the ones you need to attend.  Search by keyword to find individual presentations in other sessions that are of interest, and consider adding those as well.  If you find a speaker of particular interest, learn more about them and their company. 

Use the Online Planner, also available in October, to identify networking opportunities, science communication workshops, career building and other activities that you want to attend.

Make sure to include travel time in your plans – it can be a long walk from one to the other.  And don’t plan every minute – leave some free time, to take a break from being professionally “on”, or allow for talking with new friends.

…but leave some openings 

Be sure to leave a few lunch and evening time slots open on your schedule. You will meet lots of new people at the conference, some of whom you may want to talk to for longer periods of time than available at specific networking events.

November (1 month): Download the App

Download the meeting App, and make sure you stay up to date with any changes to the program.  Familiarize yourself with its features, so you don’t have to waste time on-site. 

December: Last minute prep, the main event, and following up

Early December: Finish your schedule and pack your business cards

Put your proposed schedule in your calendar on your phone, including locations. Pay attention to time zone differences, so you’re not showing up an hour early or an hour late.  If you want a backup, print a paper copy of your personal schedule as well. 

Don’t forget to include lots of business cards when you pack!

December 11-15: The Main Event

As soon as you leave home, consider yourself on-stage until you are back home.  At the airport, on the shuttle, in line for coffee – look for opportunities to strike up conversations with fellow AGU members.  Make sure to obtain contact information for those with whom you make a real connection.

Follow your schedule, while taking advantage of unexpected opportunities.  Make written notes of who you talked to about what, and anything you promise to do or send.

Late December: Follow up!

After you get home, follow up!  Within a week, send any information you promised, and use personalized invitations to request LinkedIn connections from people you met.

2018 January (1 month later): Keep the Conversation Going

Send emails to follow up on conversations that may have stalled over the holidays.

Getting back to work in January is a great reason to touch base and re-establish the connection.

2018 June-August (6-8 months later): Reconnect

Abstracts will be coming due again – use this as an excuse to contact people and see if they are attending in 2018, and the cycle starts all over again. 

Lisa M. Balbes, PhD, has been a freelance technical writer and editor at Balbes Consultants LLC for over 25 years.  She is the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).