How To Survive Conference Networking


It seems that most every enrollment officer I know has already attended or will be attending professional conferences this spring, summer, and fall. For some people (yes, even admission professionals!), conferences are exhausting and anxiety producing. The constant chatting, the full schedule, and the lack of time alone can be really draining, leaving some people feeling worn out and unavailable for meaningful learning or connection, and wondering if their investment was worth it.

There are other people who love conferences. They love meeting new people, they love going from event to event, they love the “hallway” and “cocktail” chatter. It is easy for them to navigate these situations with ease and grace. 

If you’ve seen me at conferences, you might think I’m one of the latter. However, the truth is, conferences can be a little challenging for me, and I can feel anxious about what table to join, or what to talk about with people I don't know, nevermind wanting to be sure I maximize the learning opportunities. So how can an introvert (or even an ambitious extrovert) make the most out of attending these events? See below for my top tips. 


This summer, I realized that conferences are the perfect time (and often, only time) for me to connect in person with my clients, who are spread around the world. It definitely filled me up to be able to see so many wonderful clients in real life! While you may not be in this exact situation, remember that conferences are ideal opportunities to meet people you’ve admired from afar, those you have seen present webinars, or re-connect with people you may have met in previous years. The in-person time is incredibly valuable for developing or renewing relationships that matter.


I had one of the most rewarding interactions ever at the coffee table one random morning at a conference a couple of years ago. It was a “break”, and I walked down a hallway to answer some email on my computer. As I was about to sit down, I took a deep breath and thought, “this is not why you are here! Go get some coffee and see what happens.” Sure enough, I ended up meeting a woman who I had been wanting to run into and we developed a lovely professional partnership. Bathroom lines, registration, waiting for the elevator, you’ll be surprised at what happens.


We can’t always do this. Usually we are rushing back home to family and work obligations. However, I find that I’m able to integrate my experience much more effectively if I keep my schedule somewhat open for a day or two after I’m home. This allows me to recharge as well as organize my thoughts from the conference. 


I always focus on making a great new connection with just one or two people, rather than feeling like I need to meet everyone. This allows me to interact in the ways that feel most authentic to me. As you plan your conference attendance, it may be worth reflecting on your own style and what works best for you. 


Remember that everyone is at conferences for the same reasons you are. We all want to meet each other, make connections, have interesting conversations, and learn from each other. Once I observed these qualities in others, I was able to relax more easily.

As conference season continues, I encourage you to reflect on your reasons for attending these events, and to be intentional about your purpose and goals. Like most things, investing in some preparation ahead of time can allow us to be ready to learn and absorb as much as possible. What are your tips for getting the most out of conferences?