These tips are good for most academic conferences and probably even for non-academic conferences. I know that I’ve used these tips at Social Media Conferences, women’s conferences, and other work related conferences. The Canadian Political Science Conference begins tomorrow night at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. And, these comments are good for graduate students, people on the market, and probably for some junior faculty.
My major point of advice is to first ascertain what sort of conference participation do you want. Do you want to attend, see your friends, and leave? Perhaps you are on the job market and you want to network and help raise your profile. If you’re on the job market, I suggest that you focus on your presentation or attending the presentations of people in your sub-field, and prepare for networking. What does this mean? Have conversations with people–communicate. Ask them if they are enjoying the conference, and which panels did they like best. Yes, this is small talk, but you might be getting to know someone for the first time and then the conversation can hopefully continue.
How do you do this? Smile. Be ready to have conversation with people at the conference meetings. Ask questions during the question and answer period after a presentation. When you’re at a reception (yes, attend some of them), walk around and talk to people. This might be small talk about the food or notice their name tag. You might know someone at their institution. Do you have business cards? If so, prepare to pass them out, when you’ve chatted with someone. You might want more comments from them on a chapter of your thesis or an article that you’re working on.
Likewise, if you’re giving a presentation, talk to the people on the panel and in the room afterward. You might find that someone there wants to chat more with you. Be bold and encourage the group to continue the conversation over coffee, drinks later or to meet at a reception. The only way that you’ll meet new people is if you make an effort. If you really want to meet a particular person, see if any of your mentors know this person and can introduce you.
Go to receptions! Be seen. Talk to people. Wear your name tag. Plan your conference itinerary. Spend pockets doing the networking thing and others attending the conference or seeing the conference city.The organization will help you avoid exhaustion of being “on” during the entire conference. This means that you need to take time to recharge, but be careful to not drink too much at any official conference events. It doesn’t look too professional and you don’t need a hangover. If you’re looking for work and there are certain people you want to meet–attend their talks or attend their campus reception. This is easier if the host site is the department in question. Overall, enjoy the conference and go there with an open mind and positive attitude.