Networking at Conferences

This post was contributed by Leslie Howard, president of the Boston EMP group and candidate, M.L.A. in Museum Studies at Harvard University. 
Conferences are wonderful places to network, whether regional or national. Over the past few years I have attended both and have picked up some great tips along the way.
At my first AAM conference in 2009, I didn’t know anyone. I was excited for the night events but a little nervous about to whom I would talk. That’s when I remembered an old party trick. At parties, everyone inevitably hits up the food. If you hang out near the food, you’re bound to find a moment to strike up a conversation with someone.
Now that you’ve found someone, what do you talk about? Luckily, you’re probably surrounded by beautiful art or another conversation piece so you can talk about that instead of old faithful- the weather. Other good topics are asking about a person’s museum, job, or city. You can also ask about interesting session they’ve attended. These are sure to start a conversation that could last five minutes, fifteen minutes, or possibly an hour! You could even leave the event with a new friend!
It is also important to have business cards, even if they are not your official museum ones. These are great to hand out to your new friends from the buffet line, or exchange with people you meet in sessions, speakers, and vendors in the exhibit hall. It’s a good idea to go through the cards you received at the end of the day and write on the back a little note about why you have the card, where you met, or something to jog your memory about the encounter. This will help if you plan to do any follow up after the conference.
Don’t have business cards? There are plenty of places you can have them made on the cheap but still look good. You can buy the paper from an office supply store like Staples, then design and print them yourself. Some websites, like Vistaprint, have offers for 250 FREE business cards, all you pay is shipping.
There are usually questions about what to put on the cards, especially if you’re still a student or job hunting. Your name and contact information are given. If you’re a student, you may want to put your degree and concentration and when you expect to graduate. If you’re job searching, you could simply write “Emerging Museum Professional” for your title. Another option is “Independent Museum Professional.” I have seen QR codes on business cards that link to LinkedIn profiles. If QR codes aren’t your thing, writing the public link to your LinkedIn or other networking site is still a great idea. If you blog or use other social media outlets related to museums and your professional work, feel free to include those links on the card as well.
Another networking tip is to print several copies of your resume and place them individually in envelopes. Should you meet someone with an opening or knows of an opening, you can hand your resume over right then! Also be sure to get the person’s business card so you can follow up with an electronic copy.
With some conferences, you can view a registration list. If you see someone on the list you’d like to meet, be on the lookout for that person and don’t be afraid to just walk up and introduce yourself (as long as you aren’t interrupting a conversation). Chances are this museum rockstar will be flattered that their exhibit, blog, or article made an impression. You have nothing to lose by complimenting a person.
Conferences are a lot of fun but it is easy to get run down. Be sure to take some time off to recharge your batteries. The coffee shop is also a great place for some informal networking (see above!). Attend some sessions, dress in layers, eat some food, bring your business cards, and you’re sure to have a successful conference! Do you have any networking tips to share?

One response to “Networking at Conferences”

  1. Dear Colleagues: Happy 2012 and all the best in your career. Remember to visit us at to look for positions in museums, galleries, auction houses and art businesses nationally and internationally. Our popular career services might also be of interest. Stay in touch! Cheers, Geri Thomas, President, Thomas & Associates, Inc.

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