Nourishing Professional Conference Relationships

Aug 11, 2022 / Mind Cart AI

This article will explore how you can make a good impression at a conference as well as how you can get the most of your experience at said conference. These are easy steps to take to continue on your path to career success.

Making a good personal impression at a professional conference


You’ve gone to the papers, and of course mingled outside. You’ve seen people you know, and those people have introduced you to others. You’ve been quiet and respectful. You’ve let others talk, and nodded your head. Now, it’s your turn. You have a minute or two, perhaps more, to make an impression. Your audience may be a colleague about your age and your level of experience. More likely, your audience will be a slightly older contemporary who is a senior in the field, but not the older, seasoned  professional. Or perhaps your audience is one of the masters, someone worth knowing. What do you do?


You don’t start off with giggles and self-abasement. No one is interested in hearing again and again what an honor it is to meet him or her. Oh, perhaps the first two seconds of such effusive flatter might be nice, but few normal people want to be gushed over. 


At conferences most people are self-conscious, recognizing that it’s important to put on a good face and to be at the top of one’s game. So, it may be helpful to relax the other person by asking a few simple, easy to answer questions. These are questions of a very polite sort, rather than piercing academic questions. For example, you might ask: How did he or she begin to research the topic area? What was the inspiration? How did it feel at the beginning of the research effort? What were the factors that stood in the way? 


Asking the person about the human emotions they have experienced when beginning a project relaxes the other person and often leads to a welcomed interaction. Everyone loves to talk about the softer side of the research, about the emotional connections of the research with some other human aspect. And so, such a conversation produces a wonderful impression on the other person. The other person may find you much more memorable because there’s a sense of ‘human connection,’ rather than the forced, formal interaction that is so prevalent in science.


Try to avoid factual questions of a type that can be answered in a simple sentence. That is, it’s really a waste of time to ask more specifics, questions of fact, questions about ‘what specifically did you do?’ Unlike questions about feelings, questions of fact don’t have a life of their own. They are by nature limited, boring, exclusive, and lead to shut down. The presenter doesn’t really want to answer yet more specifics. Finally questions of fact are in some sense implicitly pointing to the incompleteness of the presentation, a ‘no no’ when you are trying to establish a positive reputation.


Another type of question to avoid are statistical ones. Statistics are a cheap way to score points, but at the same time literally the best way to establish zero memorability. Asking the presenter to justify statistics serves no purpose at all, other than achieving a momentary disequilibrium, as the presenter is pushed into a corner. 


Nurturing the relation afterwards


How do you progress a casual meeting at a conference to a relationship that may prove life-long, professionally beneficial, and emotionally rewarding? Start a conversation with a simple, warm question. In that conversation you will have asked your prospective colleague about the ‘human aspect’ of the research, interspersing of course professional observations so the conversation maintains a level of professional competency. The topics surfacing in your discussion, the feelings about specific issues, and especially the emotions involved in certain research endeavors, make excellent points on which you can follow up. Keep in mind that when your colleague shares with you some of the emotions surrounding a specific research project, you have been presented with the possibility of a new relationship:


You know the science of the topic


You know the personal/emotional aspects


You can provide your own emotional responses to this work or to work of the same type, and later follow-up with a few paragraphs on the science of the research.


The combination of emotions and science move you far beyond either topic alone. Science is the long term glue. The emotions, or the personal aspect of the initial conversation and the follow-up letter provide that ‘something’ which sets you apart and makes you memorable.


There’s only one other topic to deal with in this section on follow-up. And that is, the nature of the follow-up by letter or email. You should attach one or two things which are relevant. Make sure that what you attach is polished, because it will undoubtedly be glanced at the very least. Later on, when you want to follow-up again, you can refer to this email and to your attachment. Furthermore, by enclosing an attachment you have the opportunity to write a bit about the topic of the attachment in the body of the e-mail.