As important as attending sessions at ALA conferences is, there’s another equally important activity that goes on almost constantly during conferences. Networking. Meeting new people happens in line for book singings, while tweeting about the conference, at socials, and before and after sessions. Four socials that I attended stuck out in my mind: one hosted by New Members’ Roundtable, another by Mango Languages, the Emerging Leaders Mix and Mingle, and the final social hosted by EveryLibrary. Conferences are one of the few instances in my life when I’m a social butterfly. During each of these socials, I met new people, exchanged business cards, and learned more about what the rest of the library world looks like. For those who have been in the profession for a while, networking may come easy, as natural as entering a room. But MLIS students, new librarians, and more introverted librarians may struggle with socializing at conferences. To help out, I’ve pulled together a few best practices (in my opinion) for networking based upon my attendance at ALA conference and others. I’m sure there are even more tips from even better networkers, but here’s what I got:
First, don’t be shy. I know that’s easy enough to write, but test out interacting with new people. It’s not as hard as it seems. Librarians are a friendly and engaged bunch. If walking up to a group full of strangers is too much for you, begin with introducing yourself to one or two people at a session or while wandering around a social. Even better if you can introduce someone you already know to a new friend. This takes a bit of pressure off since all the attention isn’t focused on you. This is a trick I use frequently. Now you’re not only networking, but you’re also a connector!
Second, bring business cards. I honestly didn’t share too many cards while at this past conference. But during my first Annual, I forgot my business cards and all of the sudden everyone wanted one. Just in case, I would recommend bringing at least 25 or so business cards for a conference. Depending upon what you’re attending or doing at the conference, you may need even more cards. If you’re presenting, definitely bring cards.
Third, work a room. It’s very comfortable to stick with the same group of people you already know while at a social, but try adventuring out on your own. I often find myself hanging around with the same people I’ve met at other conferences. But this isn’t going to help if your plan is to meet new people. Maybe have a goal of meeting a certain number of people during a social or day at the conference. Introduce yourself to someone who seems to be hanging out alone or even a group of people. There are so many possibilities available to you if you are a bit brave and willing to move around.
Fourth, know when you’ve reached your networking stopping point. As an introvert, I have a limited amount of energy for being “on”. Eventually, I just shut down and crawl into myself. Even extroverts, I imagine, reach a point where they are overloaded with meeting new people and talking. Especially after a long day at a conference, you may find it hard to talk for a few more hours to strangers. Realize that it’s okay to need some down time at your hotel or (in my case) Airbnb. Self-care is critical. You don’t have to attend all the socials or other networking events. You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking some alone time.
Finally, don’t constantly talk shop. I think a lot of us find ourselves only talking about where we work, libraries, librarianship, and other professional topics. But we’re all people with outside interests, families, and interesting experiences. I know that the focus of the conference is on the library world, but it becomes tedious to only talk about our careers, thoughts about libraries, and our conference experiences. It’s still wonderful to talk about our profession and its importance, but talking about a mixture of topics is worthwhile too. And fun!
Hopefully, one or two of these best practices are helpful. I’ve met many interesting and fascinating people while attending ALA conferences. Socials and similar events give us an opportunity to step out of our comfort zone, test out our networking skills, and learn more about our colleagues. We all are able to network wonderfully. It’s just a matter of realizing that and polishing them up a smidge.