For many of us, conferences help us connect with the faces behind the minds we’ve interacted with throughout the year. These meaningful face-to-face connections help deepen connections and learning with colleagues who share our interest. My colleague Jared Fox shared with me conference tips from a professional business speaker, podcaster and host named Robbie Samuels.
I realized I could modify these tips to help educators make the best of conferences too. Check it out and I hope you enjoy.
Tips for meaningful conference connections
1) Attend with Intention
When you attend a conference, have an intention and hope for what you will take away from the conference.
Here are examples:
- Gain a better understanding of how to implement the standards.
- Understand how schools are introducing and implementing augmented reality.
- Discover the best resources to support students who are not native speakers of English.
2) Connect Purposefully
If this conference provides an opportunity to deepen connections that are important to you, reach out in advance and schedule some times to connect. Maybe you both share an interest and can meet up at the table of a vendor you are both interested in to chat. If there is a social media lounge, schedule a time to connect there. Or maybe plan to attend a session together. If you’re new to the conference, see if they have any newbie activities. This is a great way to connect with others who may be on a similar journey.
Remember your intention whether making old or new connections. Ask the people you meet what their experience is in your area of interest. This makes a good conversation starter and helps you meet your goal.
3) Draft a Follow Up Ahead of Time
Help ensure you follow up effectively by drafting a few short follow ups on your favorite platforms that you can quickly and easily send after the conference. You may want to email, direct message, or text something like the following.
- Great seeing you at #NameofConference. Let me know if you are free to Skype next Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon to followup on our discussion about 3-D printing.
- Fun connecting at #NameofConference. Let’s set a date in September when I can come visit your MakerSpace.
Doing this helps you bring clarity to who you would ideally like to meet, how you would like to stay in touch, and why your connection is important. It also increases your chances of actually sending a follow up message.
4) Be an Early Bird
Is there a session that you are super excited about? Arrive a few minutes early to that session and seek out the other early birds who share your interest in this topic. Rather than sitting quietly alone or having your head in your phone, walk over and ask them what drew them here and what they are hoping to bring back to their work from the session. Share your plans too.
Think about it. Out of all the people there, you are the ones who choose to flock to this session. Don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to connect with the presenter too. Before everyone else is there, tell her why you are there and why you’re interested in what she is sharing. Give her your card with a pre-written note on the back.
More from Robbie:
5) Intentional Body Language
Are you in a great conversation with someone you’ve been wanted to connect with for a long time? If you don’t want to be interrupted stand in a closed and difficult to break formation. Your stance and pose is not inviting for others to jump in and you keep eye contact with the person you are speaking with.
If your intention is to invite others to your space, have a more open stance. If you see someone interested in joining you, wave them in and welcome them. This is also a good technique if you want to move from a conversation without feeling rude. Invite others in and you can more easily slip away.��
More from Robbie:
6) Build Your Tribe with a Question & Follow Up
You’re attending sessions of great interest to you. Think of a few great questions in advance to ask at the end of the session. Knowing your question in advance will make it easier to ask. It will also make you memorable to the presenter. After you get the floor and ask your question, you could end by saying “I would love to chat with folks who are thinking about these issues. Feel free to talk to me at the end of this session or in the cafeteria at lunch.” Then stick around at the end of the session and make eye contact with folks as they are leaving. Someone may come up to you right then. Talk. Exchange cards. You may connect with others at lunch. This gives you the opportunity to chat with new people at lunch and build your network.
7) Work the Line
If you really liked the keynote or workshop, you may find there is line that forms to speak to that sage on stage. You know, the one you already spoke to because you were there early. Now it’s time to make connections with those in the line who shared your interest and are all lined up to speak to that engaging speaker. It’s boring standing alone waiting. Make it more enjoyable for you, and those who are waiting, and strike up a conversation. If the conversation was really good, consider asking if you could continue the conversation over lunch or at a post-conference activity. Paying attention to networking moments like this will help you meet the kind of people who share your interests.
More from Robbie:
8) Name Badges - Do's & Don'tsName badges are a good way to help you remember that great contact you only see once or twice a year. They’re also a good way to help you connect the work location of someone you know. There are just too many people to remember and these aides are a godsend. For them to be effective, make sure they’re facing the right way, and if you’re sitting at tables, make sure the lanyard is above the table by using a clip, or tie it up to bring it higher.
If you don’t know a person, the “name badge grab” is not okay. It is not the way to get to know someone. Never, never, never ever grab someone’s name badge to see who they are. This is plain rude. If someone tries to do this to you, you have my permission to slap their hand away. Instead, introduce yourself and share with the person why you are interested in meeting them.
9) Business Cards
Innovative educators love their technology, but business cards are still an effective tool for connecting…even in the digital age. They are a great reminder of who you met and how to follow up. They’re not just in the digital ether of your phone or social space. For your own business cards, make sure you share how folks can connect with you digitally i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. It might also be helpful to have the Thumbnail photo on your card that you use in social media profiles.
When you receive business cards from others, it can be hard to keep track. Here’s an idea. Pick four goals or intentions for the type of people you want to meet i.e. 1) science teachers, 2) users of 3D printing, 3) educators using ISTE standards, 4) Google Certified teachers. Have each corner represent your interests and after you meet the person, fold the appropriate corner. It is possible to have none or all corners folded. This will give you a quick way to visually see and sort your cards. You should also consider writing a quick note on the back with anything that is important to remember or follow up actions.
Have a place to put cards of those you want to follow up with now, later, and never (also known as the circular file).
After the conference, sort your business cards and begin sending out your follow ups…which you have prepared in advance.
More from Robbie:
10) Don’t Share Your Job Title
What do you do? I teach 7th grade biology.
Rather than saying your job title, try answering the question by explaining the results of what you do. For example, say: “I help ___ do ___.” or “I inspire ___ to do ____.”
Here is how I might answer this.
- “I help educators bring fun, authentic, and meaningful learning experiences to students using technology.”
- “I inspire educators to become experts in using the technology they love and share their learning with others.”
Then think of a few quick stories that illustrate your work and its impact on others. Here is how I might do this.
- I help educators become experts in the use of platforms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Common Sense Digital Citizenship so they are armed with the most powerful tools to support student learning. These educators then help their colleagues in their school, districts, or boroughs to do the same.
- I help educators use tools like Thrively and SoundTrap to connect students to their passions, talents, interests, and abilities that will best lead to academic and career success.
- I help educators and schools create an intentional brand so they are knowledgeable on sharing their own stories.
Now you try a few different variations and see what works best for you. This will help you feel more confident and also lead to more engaging conversations.
11) Get Social
You can stand out at a conference even if you’re not a presenter or volunteer. Instead, you can stand out by actively tweeting throughout the event. Even if you’re not active on Twitter the rest of the year, even if you don’t have many followers, you can use this tool to connect with fellow attendees and become known by the organizers. You just need to make sure to include the conference hashtag. Bonus for including a photo and tagging others.
12) Reflect & Respond Early
Conferences are a whirlwind of activity. If you don’t take time within a day or two of attending the conference to reflect and respond to those you met, you run the risk of losing the opportunity to make the most of what you learned and with whom you connected.
Spend some time and write down what you learned and take those folded business cards and respond to those with whom you want to follow up. This will give you a great sense of accomplishment and allow you to make the most of your time and investment.
So what do you think? Are there tips here you already do? Are there some that are new to you and you’d like to try? Is there something missing? Please share your ideas and insights in the comments.
Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.
Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.