Anyone have tips for maximizing networking at conferences?

I’ve got 3 IDSA conferences coming up and a couple other related conferences to attend. I’m intending to go to the IDSA western conference due to the topic, and since it’s so far from where I am (Indiana) I think networking opportunities are going to be more valuable than usual since everyone will be outside of my usual geographic pool of design folks.

Anyone have tips or advice for maximizing my time networking? Whats most effective? I’m a student, but I’m less interested in showing my portfolio and pandering for jobs as I am interested in meeting people that I can have ongoing dialogs with and potentially collaborate with in the future.

My husband hates networking and thinks I’m good at it. I think that I’m not really but here’s what I’ve done. I’ve just gone to the conferences, made friends, and stayed in contact with them. I’ve looked them up when I’m in the area and done real friend things with them. In other words, I was proactive. Over time, that means I’ve made a lot of design friends. It didn’t bring me any short term rewards but over time it’s brought me tons of long term rewards. I have more friends, some of them clients, and I had chances (including the job I have) at some great opportunities because of my long term outlook (I think).

Agree with DesignerX, don’t “network” good networking is really building friendships. Be social, if you hit it off with someone or think somebody is cool keep building and keep in touch. The second you make it about “networking” it tends to feel forced.

This is my humble opinion, different things work for different people.

Networking is a dance between letting people know about you and being generally interested in finding out about them. If one partner tries to hog the conversation it does not make for a good experience. Active listening is a very important skill to master for networking.

The most important thing about networking is taking the first initiative to say hi. It’s like retail sales X dating. Be happy, forward, friendly and open and start with something that can get a conversation going (ask a question, make a comment that asks for a reply, offer to buy them a beer, etc.). Be receptive to what the other person says in return and be a good judge of when someone doesn’t want to talk.

I think you’ll find most designers are probably pretty personable. Most have been in the same situation as you one time or another.


Agree with everything said here. Most people at these conferences know 3-5 other people. They are dying to meet more people, but are shy designer types… Smile, say hi, ask questions, don’t motor mouth about yourself too much, chat for a few minutes and give the person your card (if you like them) and offer them a soft out (like, “I’m going to get a drink, you want anything?”)

My second piece of advice, go to the parties (and the after parties)! That is where the networking happens.

All the above is great advice. My wife and I were just talking about this the other night. In school we were all told that networking is what you need to do the job. Basically go out and see who you can get a job from. After being in the field for a few years, we have both been in several situations where students pretty much say “can you get me a job?” This is not networking. Just because you sat down with someone and discussed a project doesnt mean that person will ever think about you again after you leave the table. You need to find out about them, and not just their job title. I dont want to think that you are only talking to me for your own advancement. Make a connection about something outside of work. This is the part where inviting them to have a drink is important. You are starting a personal relationship and not just a discussion. I know this sounds like common sense, but it is amazing how infrequently students ask about ‘me’.

I second the parties after the events. But just dont be the drunk guy/girl.

Be yourself, be friendly. Make it about a personal connection first. I’ve found I’ve gotten jobs that were better suited for others… I got them because I was the person’s actual friend, rather than just a name or a card in their pocket.

I will say ditto on rkuchinsky’s advice. A friendly smile will go a long way coupled with your lack of desire to sell yourself. Everyone can see a sales pitch a mile away. However, a genuine interest in the person is also equally noticed.

You should start out with the other single folks with a simple "Hi, I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m so & so from… where are you from? Have you been here before? What is your specialty? Etc.

Have a short 30 sec elevator speech in case anyone asks. But I would focus more on having a few questions ready to go for those awkward “now what do we say moments” if the person is receptive to a conversation. And definitely have a game plan or 2 to segue out of the conversation. It’s Ok to say “Great meeting you” and move on.

Work your way up to 2 or 3 people. You don’t want to be interrupting or the weird person lurking and waiting, so timing is everything. So while you are making your way through the solo folks, keep an eye out for groups that aren’t actively interacting together.

Have fun!

Thanks for the advice guys!

Are any core77 folks going to be at the western conference? I may be off, but it seems like I might have a better chance running into some of you there than I would at midwestern.

Ironically I’ll just be at the southern conference this year.