Having just returned from the ASHG (American Society for Human Genetics) meeting in San Francisco, it occurred to me to share three top things to consider when networking at meetings. Whether you are trying to do a business development deal, start a scientific collaboration or network for your next job, here are three things to consider;
1. Plan ahead: We are all busy in our daily lives. It is easy to jump on that plane and figure out what you are doing at the conference while you pursue the schedule over coffee on the first day. Instead, start a month before the meeting and identify your goals, determine which people/companies you want to see then reach out ahead of time to set up meetings. This can be as casual as planning to stop by a booth, having a lunch meeting or attending an exhibit hall presentation by a company of interest to you. When reaching out to contact people, be clear, up front why you would like to meet them.
2. Make it a two way conversation: Listen and speak in equal measure. Have your pitch of who you are and what you are doing clear. It is important to communicate to them what you want and why you are meeting with them but don’t forget to return the favor. You may have goals of what you want to accomplish but ask yourself – What’s in it for them? If it is not apparent how they might benefit from your interaction, just ask “What can I do to help you? or offer that you will “owe them one in the future.” You will feel better for helping someone out and this can help keep the door open for future conversations.
3. Follow up: Whether there is a specific follow up action such as setting up a phone interview with a hiring manager, meeting with a scientist at the company or nothing in particular, closing the loop is important. Send a LinkedIn invitation or email them, thanking them for meeting with you that includes your contact info and a point or two from your discussion. It is a great way to develop a relationship, share connections and keep in touch for future opportunities.
If networking is particularly arduous for you, consider setting a goal for every meeting of how many people you want to meet. You can even make a game of it by collecting “X” number of business cards as a metric. One of the best ice breakers, I have heard at a biotech incubator meeting where most people did not know each other was “Hi. I set a goal that I would meet ten new people today. May I introduce myself to you?” If said with a sense of humor and a smile, this can go a long way to starting a conversation. So good luck and happy networking!