Networking at #NASPA18
Networking at any conference can feel overwhelming, especially at a large conference like NASPA’s Annual Conference. Annual Conferences in the past few years have had over six thousand people attend. Attendees include representatives from higher education institutions, the NASPA organization itself, and vendors promoting their products. Several questions immediately surface including:
- Where do I start networking?
- What do I say to start up a conversation with another attendee? How can I end one without being too awkward?
- I traded business cards! What should I do now?
- I arrived at a social, now what?
These are just a few questions that most first time conference attendees ponder. Don't worry, you are not alone.
Where do I start?
Before you even get to a conference, make a schedule for every day. Explore what sessions you want to attend and when they are. Are you going to a session with people also in your field (for example a session about residence life issues most likely will attract residence life people)? Remember to attend the regional meetings as well so you can find nearby colleagues. Do you plan on going to socials? Decide which ones you want to participate in and for how long (some people will want to stay longer than others). Prioritize your schedule prior to the conference and be as organized as possible.
As soon as you arrive at the conference and obtain your name tag, accessorize it with the ribbons, pins, stickers, and/or buttons that apply to you. These will help you start a conversation.
Starting and Ending a Conversation
The easiest way I have found to get to know someone is find something in common with the other person. There are two immediate commonalities that stick out at NASPA. One, everyone there is involved in some aspect in higher education. A vendor is there to sell a product, a faculty member teaches students, and student affairs professionals work with students in some capacity. The other aspect everyone has in common is they are attending the NASPA Annual Conference for some reason. The question, “What brings you to NASPA?” is a great conversation starter that can find other things in common with people. From there, ask questions about the institutions they work at and their role. If the role is different than yours, ask “What is it like working as a (insert job title here)?” You might be surprised at what you learn. If there is an activity nearby (lawn games, walking around downtown Philadelphia, etc.), feel free to participate in that to help break the ice.
At some point in the conversation, you will find the conversation coming to a close. When this occurs just excuse yourself by saying, “It was nice to meet you,” and trade business cards if you feel so inclined. That way, you can keep the conversation going even after the conference.
I just traded business cards with someone. Now what?
Business cards are a great way to continue the relationship you just started building with a colleague. An easy tip is to write down what you and the other person discussed on the back of the card. By writing down a couple of notes, you can better recall the conversation that was had. Once you get back to your office and have a few moments, compose a follow-up email about the conference using the info from the business card you received. It can be as simple as:
It was great to meet you at NASPA 2018! I really enjoyed our conversation about (insert topic here/use the note you wrote down on the business card). Please feel free to reach out to me if I can help you with anything!
You can also compose a message on social media if you want. A quick direct message, tag, or shout out on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media shows your appreciation for meeting them. If you are comfortable taking a selfie with them and posting it, you are welcome to. Make sure to use the correct conference hashtags! #NASPA18
Going to a Social
Every social is different. Due to the location’s size, noise levels, activities, and refreshments, each social is unique. Before going to one, make sure you are invited or it is open to anyone. Upon arriving (either by yourself with a friend or group) look around and see who else is there. Chances are, you will not be the only one who is looking to talk to someone. Make connections and trade business cards to your heart’s content. Stay as long as you want, but before you leave, make sure to thank the hosts of the social for organizing and executing the event.