So you booked your flights, signed the volunteer forms, have a hotel room reserved, and are ready to attend a conference.
What do you do next?
There are many reasons to attend national and state meetings, from continuing education to meeting vendors and seeing new products, getting the most out of a few days can be a daunting task. Conferences and meetings present you with an amazing opportunity to meet future colleagues and potential employers, but how do you break the ice?
Here are 5 ways to make the most out of networking at conferences:
1. Volunteer to work
First and foremost, volunteer at the conference. It's the single fastest way to get face time with a huge swath of professionals in your field.
- Help work the registration desk
- Scan CEs
- Set up for vendors
Assisting gives you the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to those coordinating the event, as well as those in attendance. When signing up for various work times, try to balance your schedule to give yourself enough time to attend the lectures you want to hear.
If there is an opportunity to help the vendors set up, definitely consider it because it gives you a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself.
2. Go solo
While it can be intimidating venturing around by yourself, spending the entire time walking around with a large group of your friends and classmates doesn’t allow for many opportunities to meet other professionals.
When attending event dinners, find a table with professionals you don’t know; the casual setting can allow for easy conversation and introductions.
Asking a lecture speaker questions about their presentation is another easy way to make conversation with someone, and give you an opportunity to talk them again if you see them outside the lecture hall.
3. Market yourself
It is never to early to start marketing yourself, and a simple first step can be making business cards.
Business cards allow you to reinforce information about yourself, and give your new connections a physical way to remember who you are.
If you will be looking for a healthcare job soon, print off a few copies of your resume just in case you meet a potential employer. Putting forth the extra effort and doing so with a positive attitude will go a long way, the best way to market yourself is putting your best foot forward.
4. Talk to vendors
Vendors and company representatives can be great assets when you’re growing your network.
Reps are in direct contact with a large number of professionals and employers, and can be the perfect liaison between you and potential connections.
Doing some research on companies' new products can give you a conversation point when you approach a booth. Asking questions can help build a relationship with company representatives, and cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship.
Asking for contact information and/or business cards is important so you can continue to stay in contact after the event. Be sure to send follow up emails after the conference, for example: “Hey, John! I am (name), an optometry student whom you met at (convention). I just wanted to say it was a pleasure meeting you and I hope we stay in touch.”
5. Tag along
If you see a favorite professor at the meeting you’re attending, ask him or her if it would be alright for you to walk around with them.
An example might be: “Hello, Dr. Smith! I was wondering if I could walk around with you for a minute” or “Hey, Dr. James! I am trying to meet some professionals who practice in the area, and was wondering if you could introduce me to anyone you might know!”
Most optometry, physical therapy, and occupational therapy schools hold alumni receptions at major meetings, and you can use these group gatherings as opportunities to chat with a group of professionals.
Meetings and conferences can be fantastic opportunities for networking. The large number of professionals you are able to come in contact with in a short time is great for finding potential employment and future mentors.
Wonderful opportunities can present themselves to you with a little preparation and being willing to step outside your comfort zone.