Navigating Conferences Like a Pro… When You’re a Rookie

I’ve recently attended some of my first conferences/meetings post-MLIS and I thought I’d pass on the information I learned from my experience navigating them for the first time.

Courtesy of Jatenipet. Pixabay 2014

Courtesy of Jatenipit. Pixabay 2014

Always be prepared to promote

This is the most dreaded aspect of networking. It essentially implies schmoozing and self-aggrandizement, but if you consider it as a socializing you’ll realize it’s an essential part of getting to know others in the profession and the roles they play in their organization. If you’re new to the information profession, it can be a great opportunity to ask other professionals about the path they took to enter the industry. More often than not when they find that you’re new to the profession, they’ll offer you advice. They’ll be curious to know what your career goals are and why you’re attending. This is a great opportunity to ask for their business card or contact information. If you find that you’ve built a good rapport and want to become more familiar with their work/organization, you should offer your business card (more on this later).

The thing about promotion

If you’re at a conference on behalf of an organization, then you’re on the company dollar. Therefore your mission is to network, learn and share. Since I plan on attending conferences to learn more about the profession and network, I couldn’t talk shop about procedures and management. If you are attending on behalf of an organization you’re expected to create professional networks and trace them back to your institution. It sounds intimidating, but if you allow yourself to soak-up as much information as possible, while being open about what works and doesn’t for your information environment, you’ll find others may want to emulate your framework and share theirs in return.

You have leverage too

Believe it or not the pros don’t know everything. Sometimes when you’re new to a profession you can become caught-up in what you don’t know and the list of skills you need to get to that ever distant “next level.” I was very surprised to find that many of the resources I was familiar with escaped the purview of individuals working in the digital records management and archives field. I introduced The Signal Digital Preservation and the Cancer Imaging Archive into a conversation and a few individuals took genuine interest in my explanation of their services. While earning your degree or working in different information environments, you are exposed to a variety of resources and ideas that others aren’t aware of. Don’t count yourself out, you have something to add to the conversation.

Think outside the box

There is no need to be intimidated about approaching new acquaintances during a professional conference. Most of the time you’re meeting with people who remember what it’s like to be at the forefront of a new career. It can be exciting and informative to strike-up a conversation with a presenter. There is nothing wrong with inquiring about lunch plans and meeting outside of the conference venue during scheduled breaks. The relaxed atmosphere of a restaurant is where funny stories of the trade can be passed along and you’ll get to know each other on a personal level. There are several factors that account for good networking and having an outgoing personality is one of them. While being personable is fine, doing so in a respectful manner is most apt.

Handy business cards

If you’re using a conference to network for future employment, then you need to have business cards. At larger conferences you can be one in hundreds of attendees. Business cards are a great way to establish that you’re prepared and professional. However, providing an acquaintance with your contact information is not enough. Perhaps you may want to ask for their card if you want to continue the conversation after the conference concludes. It’s likely that they’ll never take a look at your business card again, so it’s important to follow-up with an e-mail to remind them of the highlights of the conversation you had and how you’d like to collaborate with them going forward.

If you’re hoping to enter a new field post-graduation, at a minimum your business card should include: your name, degree(s) and university, your phone number and e-mail. You can also add a specialization to encompass your career trajectory such as Librarian, Electronic Resource Specialist or Certified Webmaster. For points of contact beyond your phone number and e-mail, providing your website, online portfolio or LinkedIn URL is a great way to showcase your web presence. If you can connect with another professional’s LinkedIn, you will not only increase their awareness of you, but you will be exposed to their extended network as well.

An added bonus

If you are networking for employment, one thing that you don’t want to do is outrightly ask about potential employment with another attendee’s organization. I’ve seen this happen before and it can be off-putting for the person being asked as well as anyone involved in the conversation. If you’re a new graduate or changing careers, the conversation will naturally flow into questions about your career plans. If the person you’re speaking with feels inclined to mention an upcoming opportunity, then it is an added bonus. Otherwise, enjoy yourself and take advantage of the learning opportunity. You’ll be in a room filled with like-minded professionals and everyone wants the most of their experience.

Are you planning on attending any conferences this year? What takeaways do you have from conferences you’ve attended in the past? Let me know in the comments section.

4 thoughts on “Navigating Conferences Like a Pro… When You’re a Rookie

  1. Nice tips!

    I’d add the following three from my experience as a rookie, plus one from my experience as not-a-rookie-any-more:

    1) Don’t just go everywhere with a group of friends you came with. Yes, having a group can really reduce the nervousness. But if you never leave the group, you’re missing out on the benefits of conferences – meeting people and joining networks you didn’t already know.

    2) Volunteer to do stuff.

    3) …especially if that stuff puts you on a stage, attaches your name to a work product others will see, etc.

    4) And the not-a-rookie tip: experienced people want to meet you! It’s not just that you may have something to contribute from your more-recent education (although you do); it’s that plenty of more senior people are excited to meet the future of the field, to help out rising stars, to be able to use their power or networks or knowledge for others’ benefit.

    • As a new librarian myself (less than a year into my first professional position), I absolutely love to meet folks in library school, and I’ll happily put myself out there to further their success and be kind and appreciative. So yes, definitely don’t hang just with the people you already know. Even at workplace meetings, I never sit with my fellow librarians. I choose to sit with other faculty, with IT staff, even the receptionists. Because I need those relationships too.

  2. How do you navigate the stress and anxiety of presenting at a professional conference? I have no problem leading a class of 80 or so students through the semester but the idea of being front and center at a conference is a little terrifying to me.

    • Hi Ashley,
      During my first presentations, I found that the key is to really know your topic – great for self-confidence – and to practice your talk in advance. Memorize your opening and closing lines/paragraphs – a strong start boosts your confidence for the rest of the talk. And remember that everybody in the audience is rooting for you, hardly anybody really notices if you stutter or drop your notes, and you are VERY unlikely to get tough or confrontational questions. As a rule, librarians are exceptionally nice people. But my #1 rule? Stand in the classic power pose for several minutes before your talk. It is the most amazing confidence booster. Check out this Ted Talk!

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