30 Tips for Networking at Conferences and Other Events

For many people, attending conferences can be exciting or daunting, especially if you want to put yourself out there to network and meet other professionals in your field. If you are a natural introvert, you’ve probably struggled a time or two in adapting to professional environments. Being open to new experiences and meeting new people at a conference can be especially difficult for someone who has introverted tendencies or is new to attending professional conferences.

Try These Suggestions Before the Conference

1 Write your goals down ahead of time. What are the action items for you? What would you like to gain from attending the conference?
2 Plan to give yourself extra personal time. An extra 10 minutes can make a world of difference because you will have time to meditate, journal, or grab that quick coffee or breakfast item.
3 Prepare in advance—but not too much. Try to keep conversations casual and organic instead of scripted.
4 Practice your conversation starters on a vendor. They’re paid to talk and have interesting stuff to talk about.
5 Schedule a meeting with a vendor or product rep. This is a low-risk environment to practice your technical conversation skills.
6 Begin with the end in mind. Knowing your end goal can help keep you on track and prevent your nerves from consuming you.

Use These Tips to Take a Proactive Approach

If you’re asked a question and you do not know the answer, ask for the business card or contact information for the questioner and get back to them. Write the question you want to answer, perhaps on the back of the business card.
8 Dress professionally. First impressions are everything.
9 Force yourself to ask one question per session. Often people will approach you afterward if they are facing the same issue.
10 Write a question that you want to ask the presenter on the back of your business card. If you don’t have business card, they’re a great networking investment.
11 Pack a few go-to questions when meeting new people such as:
– What’s a fun project you’ve done in the last three months?
– What’s been your biggest struggle lately?
– Which presentations have you liked so far?
– Which presentation are you most looking forward to?
12 Charge up your introvert battery before going. Also, make sure to plan downtime during the conference so you can relax between sessions or networking events.
13 Be brave! GIS people are the best and you already have so much in common with other people attending the conference. Everyone is there for the same reason—to learn and grow professionally.
14 Look at the agenda ahead of time and schedule your sessions. Choose a mix of technical presentations, product updates, special interest groups, Expo hall events, and—most importantly—downtime.
15 Scan the room and sit next to someone who is sitting alone. Being in the same situation can lead to a conversation and could help you make a great connection.
16 Use social media, such as LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok, to connect to companies or individuals.

How to Go Above and Beyond

17 Gamify the event: turn the conference into a challenge where you need to meet one new person each day.
18 Approach a speaker of a session or workshop afterward to introduce yourself.
19 Follow your favorite organizations, such as URISA Vanguard Cabinet, and post social media content about the conference. Like, comment, or message them. This could lead to an in-person connection.
20 Attend a panel session. Take notes not only on the questions and answers but also on your observations on how panelists answer questions on the fly.
21 Say hello to other conference attendees and offer them a business card. Most professionals are interested in connecting and learning about the work that you do, no matter what your job title.
22 Sit down next to someone for lunch. Ask their name and what they do to get to know them better.
23 Try not to overthink things and go with the flow.
24 Take advantage of any socials, luncheons, or special interest group meetings. Those events can have smaller crowds and an informal format.
25 If you’re interested in meeting someone but are nervous, ask a colleague to introduce you to them.
26 Try the buddy system. Being next to someone you already know can make you more confident.

Get Creative and Stand Out from the Crowd

27 Wear a badge that lists topics you are interested in. This will encourage people to approach you.
28 Make a list of people you have met virtually over the past three years who you know will be at the conference. Try to meet them in person at the conference. It’s easier to talk to people you already know to some degree.
29 Connect virtually with attendees after the conference by sending them messages on LinkedIn. The next time you see any of those people at a conference, you’ll be more comfortable talking to them.
30 If you are alone at your conference, approach a booth for an organization such as URISA or Esri YPN. Ask the people staffing the booth if they are attending any socials or grabbing dinner and ask if you can join them.

Still a little nervous? This probably has at least something to do with the fact that you represent your organization as well as yourself. That’s OK. To help make conferences less intimidating, you can contact members the Esri Young Professionals Network (YPN) team at YPN, in partnership with URISA Vanguard Cabinet of Young GIS Professionals, came up with these 30 tips for networking at conferences or other events. They can help you build your GIS career.

Stepping out of your comfort zone can be tricky. Conferences—large or small—can be incredibly intimidating. These tips and tricks can help you more easily make valuable connections that will help advance your career

About the author

Alexa Vlahakis

Alexa Vlahakis is an associate industry marketing manager for Esri, who supports conservation and education activities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication studies with minors in human relations and mass communication/journalism from the University of Iowa.